I've already opined on how boring the Best Supporting Actor Oscar race is this year. The exact same five names have been almost unanimously nominated across the board, and fringe contenders didn't even bother to campaign. Perhaps they figured that it wasn't even worth gunning for a nomination when the eventual winner has been cut and dry for months.
But that being said, how can I complain about this winner? J.K. Simmons is an actor's actor if ever there was one. He's the sort of guy who's put in so much hard work for so many years and knows so many people who adore him and want this so much for him, it's hardly a fair contest. Even casual viewers who don't know his name will probably say, "Hey, it's the guy from the Farmers Insurance commericals!" when he goes up to collect his Oscar. As though the 'veteran-character-actor-finally-getting-some-recognition' narrative weren't convincing enough, his performance in Whiplash is the most memorable of the five, and deserves this honour on merit alone. Couldn't be happier for him.
But for the sake of argument, let's say he wasn't in the running this year. Who would be the most likely to win in his absence? Traditional logic probably suggests that it would be Edward Norton for his fiercely funny turn in Birdman as a temperamental actor who does not play well with others. It's a performance that commands the same sort of screen presence as Simmons', but the role requires a little more range. Add in the Best Picture buzz surrounding the movie, and it seems like a recipe for success that would have worked in any other year. Perhaps Norton will get his due some day, but not this time around.
The lone nominee whose film has no other nominations in any category is Robert Duvall in The Judge. The courtroom drama sorta came and went following a tepid debut at TIFF, and Duvall didn't receive so much as a single critics award for his performance, but that lack of conversation didn't stop him from hitting every significant nomination on the circuit (except BAFTA). At first I was puzzled at how a performance with so little passion behind it was gaining so much traction, but in retrospect it seems kinda obvious: It's ROBERT DUVALL. Just a cursory glance at his cinematic milestones (The Godfather, Network, Apocalypse Now, etc.) is enough to remind you of the respect this guy commands, and deserves, from the industry. At 84 years of age, I think this makes him the oldest male acting nominee in Oscar history. Congratulations, sir.
Will Win: J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
Runner-up: Edward Norton in Birdman
Should win: J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
Should have been nominated: Toby Kebbell in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes