After starting our Oscar predictions yesterday with the technical categories, both big and small, we now get to the good stuff. Unfortunately, there isn't much suspense to either of this year's supporting awards, but there are still plenty of terrific performances to cover.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall—The Judge
Simmons. He's already won pretty much everything else,
sweeping the Holy Acting Trinity of the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and
Screen Actors' Guild, not to mention twenty-nine other
awards as recognized by IMDb. Seriously, the guy's won everywhere from
Austin to Vancouver. The only remotely theoretical challenger is Norton
in the event of a Birdman sweep, but that's just not happening. Mark this one in ink.
So every year, I make it my mission to watch as many Oscar-nominated
movies as possible prior to the telecast. This year, across the 18
non-specialized feature film categories (i.e., everything except Best
Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, and Best Foreign Language
Film), a total of 31 different movies received Oscar nominations. I
watched all but two of those movies. One that I missed was Glen Campbell... I'll Be Me, a documentary that randomly popped up in the Best Original Song field. And the other, sadly enough, was The Judge,
a tepidly received October release that supposedly features a typically
excellent turn from Robert Duvall. (It's currently sitting atop my
Netflix queue, but it isn't actually available on Netflix until
Tuesday.) So I can't officially opine as to whether Duvall deserves to
win this award. Sorry.
Moving on to the four contenders whose performances I actually did see: Ruffalo is quite good in Foxcatcher,
capturing his character's tentativeness and quiet fraternal affection,
but he isn't in the same class as the other three nominees, whose
portrayals happen to be my three favorite supporting performances of the
year (of either sex). I've already declared Hawke to be the secret star of Boyhood, with his casual charm and astonishing naturalism. Norton is similarly the best thing about Birdman—he's
having an absolute hoot the entire time, but he also supplies some rare
and genuine pathos to a film that's too eagerly ironic. But Simmons has racked up those 32 precursor awards for a reason. He's simply incredible in Whiplash,
somehow adding the tiniest intimations of sadness to his ruthless
conductor without ever softening his powerful ferocity. It's the
crowning performance of an already brilliant career.
MY IDEAL BALLOT
Joaquin Phoenix—The Immigrant
Christoph Waltz—Big Eyes
As mentioned, Hawke, Norton, and Simmons combine to form a monstrously
talented trio. Phoenix brings his inimitable brand of soulful melancholy
to The Immigrant. Waltz is a terrific villain in Big Eyes, running the gamut from sneakily suspicious to outright terrifying to just plain pathetic.
My ideal winner: J.K. Simmons—Whiplash.
[One note: My friend Brian argued that Simmons should be considered a
lead actor, given that he has considerably more screen time than your
typical supporting performance. It's a fair point, but the problem is
that Miles Teller is unquestionably a lead in Whiplash, and in
general, it's incredibly rare for multiple actors of the same gender to
be considered co-leads for the Academy's campaigning purposes. (This
results in hilarious category fraud like Daniel Brühl being labeled a
supporting actor in Rush.) To wit, only once in the past 30 years
has a movie received two Oscar nominations in the same lead acting
category (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon for Thelma & Louise),
so it's understandable that Sony Classics steered Simmons into the less
competitive supporting field, even if Teller never really had a shot at
a lead nomination. (This is the part where my father starts grumbling
about how Dustin Hoffman would have won Best Actor in 1969 for Midnight Cowboy
if Jon Voight hadn't siphoned off votes.) At the same time, it would be
spectacular if someone casually asked Simmons whether he felt he was a
lead or supporting actor in Whiplash, followed by him suddenly erupting, "SO YOU DO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!"]
Also deserving: Toby Kebbell for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (because Andy Serkis shouldn't get all the love); Tyler Perry for Gone Girl (for having an absolute blast and barely being able to contain himself); Matthias Schoenaerts for The Drop (for being quietly but insistently dangerous); and Michael Fassbender for both Frank (for somehow delivering a compelling performance without a head) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (for showing what true power looks like).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Keira Knightley—The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep—Into the Woods
Arquette. As with the Best Supporting Actor field, you could make an argument that Stone could play spoiler if Birdman
racks up wins, and it's slightly more plausible here, given that
Arquette hasn't been quite the steamroller on the circuit that Simmons
has. In other words, she's only won 25 additional awards compared to
Simmons' 29. Don't be a hero. Arquette is a no-brainer.
Sadly, this field is much weaker than its quintet of male counterparts.
(Thankfully, the same is not true in the lead categories.) Arquette is
the sturdy anchor of Boyhood, but she's completely overshadowed
by Hawke, not to mention Ellar Coltrane's impressive "I'm literally
maturing before your eyes" performance. Dern is fine in Wild, but I liked her considerably more in The Fault in Our Stars,
where she invests an archetype (the doting, grieving mother) with
considerable color and pain. She's nevertheless superior to Streep, who
is effective but, aside from one stirring moment, ultimately unmemorable
in Into the Woods. (If voters wanted to pluck a random cast
member from that film, they'd have done better choosing Emily Blunt.)
Stone is quite good in Birdman, bringing real spunk and unpredictability, but her performance still feels like an echo compared to Norton's.
The clear winner here for me is Keira Knightley, who
plays opposite a tremendous Benedict Cumberbatch and somehow holds her
own, creating a character of steely resolve and quiet yearning. It isn't
the best performance of her career—it probably isn't even in her top
five—which means it's merely spellbinding rather than historically
MY IDEAL BALLOT
Emily Blunt—Edge of Tomorrow
Christelle Cornil—Two Days, One Night
Keira Knightley—The Imitation Game
Jena Malone—Inherent Vice
Blunt is effortlessly persuasive as a tough-as-nails action heroine. Marion Cotillard received all of the acclaim for Two Days, One Night, but Cornil is startlingly poignant in her brief screen time. Malone positively pops off the screen in Inherent Vice. Swinton's sustained run of greatness is approaching "UCLA under John Wooden" levels.
My ideal winner: Keira Knightley—The Imitation Game.
Also deserving: Jillian Bell for 22 Jump Street (for stealing every scene); Jennifer Lawrence for X-Men: Days of Future Past (for not mailing it in); Stacy Martin for Nymphomaniac: Vol. I (for doing the impossible and bringing some heart and happiness to a Lars von Trier movie); Emma Watson for Noah (for her unimpeachable tenderness).
Up next: the Screenplays.