There have been three instances when three actors have been nominated at the Oscars in Supporting Actor for the same film: Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rob Steiger for “On the Waterfront” (1954); James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino for “The Godfather” (1972); and Robert De Niro, Michael V. Gazzo, and Lee Strasberg for “The Godfather, Part II” (1974). The Waterfront” trio lost to Edmond O’Brien (“The Barefoot Contessa”) while the “Godfather” fellows were bested by Joel Grey (“Cabaret”). DeNiro did pull off a win for his performance as the young Vito Corelone.
The chances of all three “Django” dudes getting nominated aren’t good, especially with competition from the likes of Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”), Robert De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook”), and Alan Arkin (“Argo”). There is, however, the possibility of two getting nominated, which would likely split the vote.
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So who gets in? All three are deserving, so it won’t be based on merit. And if two get in, could either become the front-runner?
For months, the buzz has been all about DiCaprio’s performance as Calvin Candie, the villainous plantation owner. Despite being nominated three times — in Supporting for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” (1993) and in Lead for “The Aviator” (2004) and “Blood Diamond” (2006) — DiCaprio has yet to win an Oscar, and his role in “Django Unchained” seemed like the kind of juicy supporting role voters love to reward.
Then came word that Waltz was being campaigned in lead for his role as Dr. King Schultz, the bounty hunter who recruits Django (Jamie Foxx) to be his partner and helps him find his wife (Kerry Washington). Waltz, a previous Supporting Actor winner for Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), wasn’t on anyone’s radar at the time. The move looked like a strategic way of keeping DiCaprio from competing with his costars, as well as giving Waltz a chance to compete for a win of his own.
At the same, buzz was beginning to build for Jackson’s performance as Stephen, Candie’s loyal house slave. Jackson, one of Hollywood’s most popular actors, hasn’t been nominated since Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” (1994), and in early marketing materials, Jackson’s character wasn’t prominently featured.
Now the film has been seen and precursors are being handed out. DiCaprio won at National Board of Review, solidifying him as a contender. It seems likely he’ll be nominated by the Golden Globes, who love a big star in a nasty role.
But not so fast! So far, Waltz has won runner up at the New York Film Critics Circle, the LA Film Critics, and the Boston Society of Film Critics … in Supporting Actor. His lead campaign has switched back to Supporting, giving Dicaprio competition from within his own film. And, as Waltz’s name has popped up more times than any other Supporting Actor contender, it stands to reason that if he gets nominated, he could win his second Oscar.
Then there’s Jackson, whose performance elicits the most ecstatic response from audience members in screenings. Although he’s yet to win a precursor award, we still have the BFCA, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations to come. All Jackson needs is a nomination from one of those groups to become a legitimate contender. Jackson is way overdue for an Oscar, and this could be the perfect opportunity for voters to finally reward the veteran actor.
A similar situation happened in 2006, when “The Departed” had three strong Supporting Actor contenders. Jack Nicholson dominated the precursor awards, receiving nominations and wins from the Golden Globes, BAFTA, BFCA, and various critics groups. He competed against costar Mark Wahlberg at the Golden Globes, where DiCaprio was nominated in Lead for the film. Then, when SAG nominations were announced, DiCaprio was contending in Supporting for “The Departed” and Lead for “Blood Diamond.” And, on Oscar nominations day, it was Wahlberg who got nominated for the film.
There have been fourteen instances when two Supporting Actor contenders have been in the same film: Harry Carey and Claude Rains for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939); Leo Glenn and Peter Ustinov for “Quo Vadis” (1951); Brandon de Wilde and Jack Palance for “Shane” (1953); Arthur Kennedy and Russ Tamblyn for “Peyton Place” (1957); Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott for “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959); Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott for “The Hustler” (1961); Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard for “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967); Jeff Bridges and Ben Johnson for “The Last Picture Show” (1971); Burgess Meredith and Burt Young for “Rocky” (1976); Jason Robards and Maximilian Schell for “Julia” (1977); Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton for “Ordinary People” (1980); John Lithgow and Jack Nicholson for “Terms of Endearment” (1983); Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe for “Platoon” (1986); and Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley for “Bugsy” (1991). Johnson, Robards, Hutton and Nicholson won.