Friday, January 23, 2015

One Category at a Time: Supporting Actor

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.
Following close behind Norton in number of votes (or so I imagine) is Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher. His quiet, grounded performance as the ill-fated wrestling coach Dave Schultz is a masterclass in understatement. It's not normally the kind of role that ends up winning awards, but it's also the kind of role that's frequently overlooked for nominations, so it's encouraging just to see him in the running. Despite the lack of a Best Picture nod, Foxcatcher's five nominations suggest that it has a level of support in the Academy that perhaps should not be underestimated. It's likely going home empty-handed, but this could be a category in which its fans speak up.

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.
Rounding out the five is Ethan Hawke in Boyhood. When the film first premiered there weren't many pundits who had Hawke chalked up for a nomination. Patricia Arquette was being singled out among actors in the film, and some even felt that he was basically playing himself. Of course, he wasn't, and there's something truly special about the effortless believability he brings to his character. As the season settled in and no other contenders for this category really announced themselves, Hawke started becoming the defacto name to fill out the ballot. I couldn't be more thrilled for him. Even though he's watching Arquette and Linklater accepting awards all season while never hearing his own name called, that smile on his face clearly reveals how happy he is just to be along for the ride. I'd love to see him and his costars win the SAG Ensemble Award this weekend just so that he can personally share in one at least victory before the season ends.

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

1 comment:

  1. Not sure how many people will associate Simmons with the Farmers commercials, I think more would associate him with Law & Order or Spider-Man, personally. Either way, he will make a handsome winner.

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