If putting out a fire is worth an Oscar, Christopher Plummer deserves it for ‘All the Money in the World’

If Christopher Plummer doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his supporting performance in Ridley Scott‘s “All the Money in the World,” someone should create an award called “Fireman of the Year” and just give it to him.

Film burns hotter than anything and “All the Money” was set ablaze when Scott announced in November that he was going to repeal and replace disgraced Kevin Spacey’s performance as J. Paul Getty with Plummer in the role and still make his long-planned Dec. 22 release date.

With a recalled cast that included stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg for a nine-day reshoot, and the 88-year-old Plummer carrying the director’s water, the fire was put out. “All the Money” was released on time and the changes are seamless.

This was supposed to be Spacey’s Oscar nomination. The trailer for the movie purposely withheld the image of Getty, performed by Spacey under transfiguring make-up, until the very end to underscore the audacity of it. But whatever performance he gave behind that mask is lost to posterity, unless Criterion can pry it out of Scott for the inevitable “special edition” DVD.

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Meantime, Plummer should be taking his bows. This is not just a last ditch effort to salvage a movie; his role as the cranky, self-absorbed, simultaneously richest and stingiest man in the world is the linchpin of the story of his grandson’s sensational 1973 kidnapping for ransom.

I counted 16 different scenes Plummer is in, with a total screen time of nearly 20 minutes, just a few minutes shy of the marks set by Best Actor winners David Niven (“Separate Tables”) and Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs”). It’s hard to imagine how Scott managed to put him in so many locations in such a short time, but that, too, is seamless.

I believe Plummer will be nominated. The actors branch of the academy is different from the others in that actors tend to watch and judge performances by how well they think they would have done with the roles. If they find it difficult to project themselves onto the characters because the performances are that good, they will remembered at Oscar time.

Way back in 1990, I sat behind actor Harry Hamlin at the Century City premiere of “My Left Foot,” in which Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed quadraplegic artist Christy Brown, and from the timely shaking of his head at what he was seeing from Day-Lewis, I imagined him asking himself, “Damn, could I do that?”

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During an interview I did with Paul Newman about that same time, I asked if it was true that he had turned down the role of Joe Gideon in Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” because he thought the character was morally irredeemable. He nodded yes. I asked if he’d seen the movie. He nodded again. I asked what he thought of it then. He held an index finger to his temple and pulled the trigger.

If Newman, with his resume, was only able to see the depth of a character through watching another actor’s performance (Roy Scheider played Gideon and got an Oscar nomination for it), imagine how hard it might be for actors watching Plummer, knowing that he had to crash the script, memorize his dialogue and work hours that would be brutal for men half his age and well … where’s my ballot?

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Again, there is nothing in the performance to suggest it was done hurried or slapdash. It is a full portrait of a lonely old man, a miser of epic proportion, who wouldn’t surrender what to him was pocket change to pay the ransom for the grandson he claimed to love most among his progeny. In fact, he only agreed to put up the ransom money after figuring out how to make it tax deductible.

Getty isn’t the nicest character in the movie, but he’s the juiciest, and Plummer handles him as if it were the role he was born to play instead of the one he was called upon to rescue.

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