The Academy Awards are just 6 days away so it’s time for me to make my final Oscar predictions. I have had the privilege and (mostly) pleasure of seeing every nominee in the major categories. So each day this week I’ll give you my take on each category, who I think will win and my own personal pick. Now, without further ado here are the nominees for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall (The Judge) – What else can be said about one of America’s finest actors that hasn’t already been said. Robert Duvall’s legacy has given us iconic performances from The Godfather’s Tom Hagen to The Apostle E.F. to Lt. Col. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. Even his few minutes on screen as Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird seemed to indicate greatness inside. However, The Judge is not part of the pantheon of his finest work. It’s not entirely his fault. The script couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be. Was it a legal thriller? A romantic dramedy? A father and son reconciliation? A Chicago big shot lawyer goes back to his rural small hometown community? A child dealing with an aging parent? The answer is yes. Unfortunately it was all of those things. There was just way too much going on in this movie for him to settle into more than a one-dimensional curmudgeon which made it impossible to make any connection with Duvall’s Judge Joseph Palmer.
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) – The running theme you will find in anything written about Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood is “What and undertaking!” This is certainly true. Where Patricia Arquette’s performance is the heart of the film, Ethan Hawke’s is the soul. Watching all of these actors age 12 years in the span of a 3-hour film is obviously most evident in the children as they grow. But it is Ethan Hawke’s Mason Evans that has the most well-defined character arc. Credit goes to Hawke because he makes this great undertaking look completely effortless.
Edward Norton (Birdman) – One of the many great strengths of Birdman is the brilliant casting. Nobody else could have played serious Broadway actor Mike Shiner better. Norton is an “actor’s actor” but he achieves a connection with his audience that eludes most method actors. He took what could have been a caricature of the slightly off-kilter, volatile theater-type and gave him depth and humanity.
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) – This is definitely the most subtle of the five supporting actor performances and it fits perfectly. The story of Foxcatcher features the dysfunctional relationship of Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz and Steve Carell’s John du Pont but it’s Ruffalo’s steady, grounded Dave Schultz that serves as the counterpoint accentuating just how messed up they really are. Without it the film would drift into the surreal and if the performance wasn’t so incredibly solid it would have been swallowed up.
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) – Just thinking about J.K. Simmons as Terrence Fletcher sends a chill down my spine. Not just because he embodies the spirit of R. Lee Ermey’s Marines drill instructor (I heard this film referred to as “Full Metal Drumkit”) but because Simmons is so stinking good in this movie. I’ve encountered people nervous about seeing the film because the trailer is so intense. And while Whiplash has plenty of tense moments, there is so much more to the story. Simmons’ layered performance as transcends the kind of cartoonish character this could have been. With all due respect to Mr. Ermey, there isn’t anything more to his drill instructor than what we see on the surface. Terrance Fletcher could have ended up the same and we all would have enjoyed crazy J.K. Simmons in that drummer movie. But he made it so much more. Definitely my tempo.
OSCAR WINNER: J.K. Simmons
SELBY PICK: J.K. Simmons
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) – Again, the undertaking of this film is enormous but Arquette’s performance as Olivia Evans is the heart. And it’s so much more than the usual mother archetype. She’s pretty flawed but not in a way that makes her despicable. Her struggles are a part of her relationship with her son, Mason, Jr. but they don’t define it. Plus, I give extra points for Arquette’s courage to age 12 years on screen, with all the fluctuating body issues most real-life women deal with over the years. A lesser actress couldn’t have pulled it off.
Laura Dern (Wild) – This was one of the surprise nominations for me this year but for the most part I understand what the Academy was thinking. Bobbi, Cheryl Strayed’s mother, is out there and kooky. She’s a free-spirited hippie type and represents the core relationship that drives Cheryl to her journey. But there just wasn’t enough there for me. But that’s my general complaint with the whole movie. Frankly, I would have preferred to see Carrie Coon get nominated for Gone Girl.
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) – Keira Knightley is an underrated actress which is saying a lot for someone who scored a couple of Oscar nominations in the last 9 years (Pride and Prejudice) but also was just on the outside of the Best Actress race on two other occasions (Atonement, Anna Karenina). Her work here as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game is subtle but sharp. She has a strong screen presence but never overtakes the scene. Playing opposite one of the year’s best lead actors (Benedict Cumberbatch) she exemplifies what a great supporting role can truly be.
Emma Stone (Bridman) – It’s hard to believe this is Emma Stone’s first Oscar nomination. She’s done such excellent work for so long it just seems like she’d have been nominated already. But this was the juiciest role she’s been given so far and she made the most of it. Her performance as Sam Thomson, Riggan’s daughter, is such a critical part of all of his world’s moving parts and the one that grounds him the most to reality. There’s a lot going on under the surface and she lets it boil over at just the right times.
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) – Playing the Witch in the adaptation of a Sondheim musical in the hands of a lesser actress would have been campy, goofy, over-the-top, silly or just plain bad. But this is Mary Louise we’re talking about. She’s great. She’s always great.
OSCAR WINNER: Patricia Arquette
SELBY PICK: Emma Stone. But really, any of them besides Laura Dern.
I’ll see you tomorrow with my Best Screenplay predictions.