Oscar host Alec Baldwin may also be nominee

Commentary: Actor could be contender for 'It's Complicated'

"Welcome to the Academy Awards, or, as it's known at my house, Passover," Bob Hope quipped as he opened the Oscar show in 1968.

During his 18 stints as emcee of the awards extravaganza, Hope made his lack of an Oscar -- or even a nomination -- a running gag that served him well. (If truth be told, he did pick up four honorary Oscars plus the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award along the way.)

This year, though, playing the Oscarless Oscar host shtick isn't necessarily going to work, since Alec Baldwin, one of the two hosts, could walk home with a trophy if all the planets are aligned just right.

Thanks to his performance in Nancy Meyers' marital comedy "It's Complicated," Baldwin may well prove a contender in the best supporting actor category. Playing Meryl Streep's ex-husband -- a man who has traded in his age-appropriate wife for a much younger model, only to find that marriage isn't always better the second time around -- Baldwin lets it all hang out. Quite literally, when, in the course of wooing back Streep's character, he strips down for bed, exposing his ample girth with the self-satisfied air of a man who doesn't quite realize his best days as a seducer are behind him.

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Baldwin, who's morphed from sleek leading man to a self-knowing parody of the foibles of the alpha male, has already won plenty of plaudits for poking fun at himself: On NBC's "30 Rock," where he appears as Jack Donaghy, vp of East Coast Television and Microwave Programming, he's won two Emmys, two Golden Globes and four SAG Awards.

He's not a lock for a nomination for "Complicated," which Universal releases Dec. 25. Christoph Waltz, who was named best actor at Cannes for his chilling turn as a Jew-hunting Nazi in "Inglourious Basterds," has to be considered the front-runner in the category.

But most of the rest of the race has yet to take shape, with many of the possible nominees coming from smaller films. "An Education" could serve up Alfred Molina or Peter Sarsgaard. "The Last Station's" Christopher Plummer, "The Messenger's" Woody Harrelson, "A Serious Man's" Richard Kind and "The Hurt Locker's" Anthony Mackie are also among those in the hunt. Stanley Tucci could emerge from "The Lovely Bones" or "Julie & Julia." Robert Duvall turns up in "The Road" and "Crazy Heart." And Matt Damon might score for "Invictus."

But if Baldwin does secure a nom, then he's likely to become one of the favorites. While newcomer Waltz would represent the serious choice, Baldwin would be the industry veteran who's sometimes rewarded in the category for a crowd-pleasing comic turn, a la Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine" or Jack Palance in "City Slickers."

Baldwin's willingness to throw vanity to the wind in "Complicated" is even reminiscent of Jack Nicholson's Oscar-winning supporting role in "Terms of Endearment," where Nicholson also let his considerable gut hang out.

If Baldwin earns a nom, it also would add a wrinkle to the broadcast. When Oscar show producers Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman chose Baldwin and Steve Martin as co-hosts, the choice met with a general round of applause. But there were a few members of the Academy who raised their eyebrows at the idea of an emcee who potentially has a stake in the outcome of the game.

In recent years, Oscar hosts like Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock have been more in the Hope mold -- emcees who've never come near a nomination of their own. Hugh Jackman, last year's host, had recently toiled in "Australia," but with just one nomination for costume design, that movie wasn't really a factor in his broadcast.

Oscar show purists might prefer that their hosts have no connection to any of the movies in contention -- the Oscars hold itself above the Emmys, which this year was emceed by Neil Patrick Harris, even as he competed as a nominee for "How I Met Your Mother." Could being a host and a nominee present an unfair advantage? Perhaps. After all, there was Baldwin, front and center, at the Academy's Governors Awards last month, mingling with the cream of the Academy.

On the other hand, a Baldwin nom would provide plenty of fodder for the show's writers.

Martin and Baldwin, through friendly, are already offering themselves up as comic foils. They play rivals for Streep's attention in "Complicated," but since Martin has the more buttoned-down Ralph Bellamy role in the updated screwball comedy, he's not being talked up for awards. "I am happy to co-host the Oscars with my enemy Alec Baldwin," Martin joked when their selection was announced.

Martin has never been nominated for an Oscar, while Baldwin already has one nom as best actor in a supporting role for 2003's "The Cooler." A second nom for Baldwin would allow Martin to play seething jealousy -- particularly if Baldwin were to win.

And if Baldwin is nominated and loses, well, then, simply cue the Passover jokes.