In some years past, Best Supporting Actor has been the first award given out at the Oscars, and the winner’s speech has set the tone for what’s to follow. And while its order in the night’s festivities has become less predictable as of late, all of that category’s nominees this year have won Oscars before, so we know what to expect from them. There’s the whimsical Austrian, the improv-trained old guy, the grumpy old guy, the dramatic ham, and the Robert De Niro old guy. Here is a look not at who will win or whom we want to win, but whom we’d probably most enjoy watching win.
5. Tommy Lee Jones
When you’re a grump, you’re a grump all the way. We ain’t mad at him — it’s just his style. Silly glasses aside, his acceptance speech when he won for The Fugitive was at best workmanlike and at worst snore-worthy. Of course, he was deferential, but the man just didn’t bring it. And that was his first Oscar; imagine what he’ll be like this time if he wins: “This award is a good award. I will return to my seat now. Thank you.”
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Jones and Hoffman are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The former underplays everything and the latter plays everything up. A notorious scenery chewer, Hoffman draws out the moment, leaving no dramatic pause unpaused. This also stems from the fact that Hoffman doesn’t seem to prepare his speech ahead of time. When he won for Capote, it took him a while to get to something compelling — the bit about his mom — but even that went on too long, as it was obvious Hoffman was responding to the applause he first got for it. It all just felt like Hoffman playing a Hoffman character, and we want humanity.
3. Robert De Niro
You never know which De Niro you’re going to get: the tightlipped, averse to interviews and public speaking De Niro, or the funny (albeit a bit awkwardly so) De Niro. The first De Niro skipped his first Oscars, when he won for Godfather II, and gave the below boring and uncomfortable speech when he won for Raging Bull. The second De Niro, the old De Niro, has grown accustomed to tossing zingers, some of which are more appropriate than others. His acceptance speech at the 2011 Golden Globes for the Cecil B. Demille Award was both super funny (when he joked that they decided to give him the award before seeing Little Fockers) and at times hard to watch (when he joked about the wait staff being deported). There was also his speech at this past October’s Hollywood Film Awards, where instead of thanking people for the award, he joked about how he doesn’t win enough awards anymore and that he’s gotten too good at handing them out. This small bit of unpredictability might make for a fun speech, you know, if he shows up this time. (Just kidding, he will.)
2. Christoph Waltz
Waltz has that certain, “How did I even get here?” excitement that really only foreign actors have when winning these awards. Where many of his competitors feel like little boys on Sunday morning, forced to put on a suit and go to church, Waltz buzzes like that same boy ripping his suit off after services. His appreciation his first time out felt exceptionally genuine. His journey metaphor was nice and not too sweaty and his closing line, “This is your welcoming embrace. And there’s no way I can ever thank you enough, but I can start right now,” was perfection. That being said, at this year’s Golden Globes, he somewhat reused that metaphor and was maybe too fawning toward Quentin Tarantino. However, if he can bring the excitement that he brought to his recent appearance on SNL, it could be a great turn onstage.
1. Alan Arkin
Arkin wrote a perfect speech when he won for Little Miss Sunshine. He stumbled a bit in places, but ultimately the man gets it: Get in, tell the truth, get out. (Also, he gets that by writing a speech beforehand, the audience doesn’t have to wait for you to remember your agent’s assistant’s name or whatever.) That small yet deeply human moment when his voice broke when thanking his family was what these award shows are all about. If this Sunday he wins his second Oscar, we hope he brings the same level of class and authenticity.