Like many moviegoers across the country this weekend, you may have bought a ticket for David Ayer's new drama "End of Watch" instead of the more hyped offerings such as "Trouble with the Curve" or "House at the End of the Street." And guess what? You made the right choice. One of the better reviewed movies recently, "Watch" follows the working relationship and off the clock friendship between two LAPD officers played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Gyllenhaal is already being positioned as a contender in the very, very competitive best actor race, but the film's best chances at awards recognition may just be with Mr. Pena in the supporting category.*
*And yes, I clearly realize you could make the argument Pena should also be in the lead field, but SAG and Oscar should buy the supporting claim (maybe).
Granted, the $7 million budget and Los Angeles setting make "Watch" a perfect movie to crash this year's Independent Spirit Awards in a number of categories, but Oscar is a substantially different beast. Pena, however, deserves any hype he can get because he delivers a more honest and nuanced performance than his more heralded co-star. Moreover, the best supporting actor five won't be easy to crack for anyone other than Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") and Alan Arkin ("Argo"). It sounds hard to believe, but Pena has a chance and the award season stars may finally be aligning for the 36-year-old actor.
Pena biggest advantage over some of the other contenders in his category is that he's actually a longtime Hollywood veteran. He's starred in major prestige films such as "Crash," "World Trade Center," "Babe" and "Million Dollar Baby." Plus, he's had his share of big Hollywood studio releases such as "Tower Heist," "30 Minutes or Less" and "Observe and Report." He's also starred on "The Shield" and "Eastbound and Down" working steadily in both movies and TV since 1996. So, in the game of landing a SAG nomination he's worked with a lot of other actors and is respected and well liked. He casts a wide net of recognition in both SAG circles and the Academy's acting branch. Call it cynical, but everyone knows Oscar is a popularity game and if the voters like you personally more than someone else or are rooting for you that can put an underdog nomination over the hump. Obviously, Pena's chances are more complex than his level of notoriety in the LA area acting community. And yet, if his publicist is smart they will make sure Pena does as many SAG events and Q&A's as possible for "Watch" and pray Open Road makes it one of the first screeners to hit the industry watch pile this Fall. And if that happens? We may have a story on our hands Jan. 10.
For more on Pena and his experience working on "Watch" check out the interview embedded at the top of this post.
"End of Watch" is currently playing nationwide.