Much as I enjoyed The Fighter -- and its uncharacteristically broad performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo -- when I read the Oscar nominations yesterday and saw that the three supporting actors all got nods but that the lead (and title character) Mark Wahlberg did not, it confirmed a long-held suspicion that what gets honored during awards season is the most acting rather than the best acting.
Bale alluded to this when he accepted his Golden Globe for the role of Dicky Eklund, the jittery and strung-out half-brother of welterweight contender Micky Ward (Wahlberg). Bale said something to the effect that"loud" performances like his would not be possible without "quiet" ones like Wahlberg's, and that in the past he had delivered quiet performances and seen the loud ones get the attention. (He was referring to his implosive Batman in The Dark Knight, which won the explosive Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar.)
As the loudmouthed matriarch of the Eklund/Ward clan, Melissa Leo likewise gives a "loud" performance, one that wags refer to as "Hey, chowdahheads, gimme tha Oscah!" And so does Amy Adams, bossy and prickly where usually she is deferential and sweet. Oscar likes acting that looks like acting rather than acting that is the invisible disappearance of actor into role. Oscar likes change-of-pace performances, when good-looking performers gain weight and deglamorize, as with Robert De Niro in Raging Bull and Charlize Theron in Monster.
Given this year's nominees, this bias favors Bale and Leo in the supporting roles and Colin Firth (The King's Speech) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan) in the lead roles. But I would be happy to see the more modulated work of Annette Bening (best actress nominee for The Kids Are All Right) and Hailee Steinfeld (supporting nominee for True Grit) be rewarded.