By Daniel J. Hoag

The 83rd annual Academy Awards take place on Sunday, February 27th, 2011. With the ceremony only a few weeks away, the Haiku Review begins a series of spotlight features focusing on individual categories.  Up first is the race for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

Christian Bale, The Fighter
It’s hard to believe this is Bale’s first nomination, especially considering the fine work he’s done in Rescue Dawn, American Psycho, and the viral recording in which he screams insults at the poor director of photography who happened to have the misfortune to be doing his job in Bale’s line of sight.  In The Fighter, Bale plays Dicky Eklund, a washed-up boxer, raging drug addict, and source of a lot of family dysfunction for his brother, Micky (Mark Wahlberg).  The part of Dicky calls for the kind of showy method acting that Bale specializes in (see The Machinist), and at first you may think the actor is hamming it up.  But at the beginning of the credits of the film, viewers get a glimpse of the real Dicky Eklund, and you’ll realize just how spot-on Bale’s performance is.

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Winter’s Bone was high on the list of the Haiku Review’s best films of the year.  This was due in no small part to the performance by Deadwood star Hawkes as Teardrop, the uncle who attempts to dissuade Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree from looking for her missing father.  It’s to Hawkes’ credit that he so successfully manages to take his character–a dangerous, offensive backwoods criminal–and milk some sympathy from audiences by finding the humanity buried underneath Teardrop’s course exterior.

Jeremy Renner, The Town

Hot on the heels of his Oscar-nominated performance in last year’s Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, Jeremy Renner steals the show in Ben Affleck’s excellent crime drama.  Renner plays James Coughlin, fellow hardcore thief and close-knit pal of Affleck’s Doug MacRay.  When MacRay falls for the woman they kidnapped on their latest heist and begins to rethink his criminal ways, Coughlin’s fuse begins to shorten and he becomes dangerous and unpredictable.  Renner’s simmering performance helped take The Town from ordinary genre flick to highly-respected Oscar contender.  Affleck’s career thanks him.

Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

For all the talk about Annette Bening’s and Julianne Moore’s excellent Kids performances (and they are both excellent), it’s nice to see Ruffalo get recognized for his own contribution to this critically-acclaimed domestic drama, particularly since his character, Paul, seems to get the proverbial short-end-of-the-stick after the film’s dramatic dust settles.  Bening and Moore play a couple whose children decide to look up their sperm-donating biological father.  When their trail leads them to wayward spirit Paul, his introduction into the mix causes familial seams to begin to unravel.  Ruffalo brings his trademark charisma to the part and gives a tremendous, understated performance that’s far more than all right.

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

As Lionel Logue, speech therapist to King George VI, previous Oscar-winner Rush (Shine) gives one of the best performances of his career.  Indeed, one of the greatest joys of the film is watching the banter between Logue and the stammering monarch, played by Lead Actor nominee Colin Firth. There’s an elegant charm as the royal student struggles against the unconvential methods of an eccentric teacher, who, at his heart, would rather be doing Shakespeare.  Firth and Rush make Speech a likely heir to the Best Picture throne.

Who deserves to win?  In any other year, Geoffrey Rush’s playful performance would warrant an Oscar speech, but unfortunately for him, he’s up against a brutal, hard-to-ignore contender in Christian Bale, who seems poised for the K.O.