Oscar 2009: Christoph Waltz, Best Supporting Actor, Inglourious Basterds

Inglorious Bastards Inglorious Bastards

Is the Oscar race over in the two supporting categories: Christoph Waltz is a sure winner of the Supporting Actor for Quentin Tarantino’s WWII fable, “Inglourious Basterds,” in the same way that Mo'Nique is for "Precious."

Waltz, the 52 year-old Austrian-born actor, will be nominated for the supporting Oscar as Tarantino's WWII fable-fantasy is very much an ensemble picture. Brad Pitt is the biggest name in the cast (and gets star billing) as Lt. Aldo Raine, but he gives an entertaining but one-note performance and will not be in the run this year.
Waltz had deservedly won the Best Actor kudo at the Cannes Film Fest, where "Inglourious Basterds" received it world premiere, and Cannes' acting awards do not distinguish between lead and supporting ones. Since then, he has swept numerous critics and journalists awards, including the Broadacast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globes.
Like all of Tarantino pictures (the good and the mediocre) the best elements of “Inglourious Basterds” are the characterizations, dialogue and acting, and the helmer should be commended for gathering a superlative multi-national cast, which speak in at least three languages (English, German, French, and a bit Italian, too). Even so, amongst a uniformly accomplished troupe, Waltz shines in every scene he is in, and he sets the tone for the rest of the picture in the very first (and best) scene.
Let me elaborate. Chapter One of "Inglourious Basterds" begins in rural France, during the first year of the German Occupation, by depicting a French farmer named Perrier Lapadite (a terrific Denis Menochet, blessed with soulful and expressive eyes), who’s hiding a Jewish family in the cellar of his house. In the first heavy-duty dialogue-driven scene (this is a Tarantino picture, after all), Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa, known as the "Jew hater," unexpectedly arrives at the farmer’s house and begins interrogating him. Two glasses of milk later (I am not kidding), the farmer is forced to reveal the whereabouts of the Dreyfuses, the Jewish family he’s hiding, which leads to the first of many massacres of bullets flying all over the place.
Ultimately, the film belongs to Waltz as Colonel Landa, the only character that interacts with each of the other ones. It’s a pleasure to watch Waltz as he deploys his snake-like charm and courtly manner as well as nastily aggressive voice (when needed), not to mention his fluency in four languages. His scenes with Bridget at the movie house and with Aldo Raine in the woods at the end of the film are priceless, largely due to Tarantino’s exquisite control of language and tone.
Reportedly, the part of Col. Hans Landa was initially a casting challenge and Tarantino was apprehensive about finding the right actor. But upon auditioning, the thespian immediately set Tarantino’s mind at ease. Producer Lawrence Bender recalls: “Christoph starts his audition, and Quentin’s reading with him. “Quentin and I looked at each other, and I could see in his eyes, and he could see in my eyes that we found him. It was just so amazing that Quentin was so concerned, and literally hours later the guy walks in that can do it in English, French, and German. He was just killing it.”
For his part, Waltz said at the press conference in Cannes: "It's one of the best parts I've ever read. It's so tight-footed that I wasn't concerned with the evil part at all." Waltz's interpretation to his terrifying role is serious, matter-of-fact, subtle, and multi-nuanced, lacking the campy, over-the-top, one-dimensional approach that a lesser actor would have used.