- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

ANALYSIS:

An untimely death and an unnervingly brilliant performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” make Heath Ledger a virtual lock for a best-supporting actor Oscar this year.

Perhaps that’s why there’s been so little talk about the category’s also-rans.

At the grand reopening of Ford’s Theater Wednesday night, however, actor Ben Vereen sought to stir things up a bit.

He told The Washington Times it was an “injustice” that D.C. native Jeffrey Wright wasn’t nominated for his performance as blues legend Muddy Waters in “Cadillac Records.”

Mr. Wright, who was also in attendance, shrugged off Mr. Vereen’s brief red-carpet campaign, saying, a little wistfully, “It takes a lot to make that happen.”

Cold comfort though it may be, the snub doesn’t seem personal: “Cadillac Records” — a history of the Chicago blues and R&B stable Chess Records — received no Oscar nominations and only one at the Golden Globes (for best original song).

Nevertheless, Mr. Vereen was right: Mr. Wright’s was a standout performance.

The District native is one of the top character actors in the business, and he’s rightly celebrated for his depth of commitment to whatever role in which he finds himself: as Gen. Colin Powell in Oliver Stone’s “W.”; as a CIA counterpart to James Bond (“Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace”); as Bill Murray’s winsome Ethiopian neighbor in “Broken Flowers” — his breakout role.

Muddy Waters’ were no easy shoes to fill, either. The iconic bluesman had an outsized, mojo-laden personality of his own, and Mr. Wright handled it with aplomb, doing his own singing and delivering lines in a slurry-yet-intelligent patois.

Sure, there’s no small amount of politicking and p.r. machinations that go on in Hollywood in the lead-up to the Oscars.

But Mr. Wright was already overdue for Oscar-level recognition.

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