Oscar Beat: The Best Supporting Actor Race at a Glance

     December 6, 2014

oscars-best-supporting-actor-2015

By the time the Academy Awards nominations are announced every year, there’s already been so much prognosticating and discussion about the race itself that in actuality, there aren’t a great deal of surprises.  Sure, every now and then you’ll have something like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close getting into the Best Picture race or Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow being left off the Best Director shortlist (that one still baffles me), but by and large, things mostly seem to fall into place as expected.  Where you can find many of the true surprises, though, is in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories.  This is where beloved character actors can finally get their due, or burgeoning newcomers can find themselves nominated alongside acting veterans; and these kinds of nominees actually have good shots at winning.  This year, the bench for the Best Supporting Actor category is yet again deep with talent, offering plenty of opportunities for some pleasant surprises.

After the jump, I run down the current state of the Best Supporting Actor race in this week’s edition of Oscar Beat.

whiplash-j-k-simmonsThis year’s Best Supporting Actor race actually got started almost one year ago, back in January at the Sundance Film Festival.  I (and pretty much everyone else) was blown away by J.K. Simmons’ performance in the horror-drama Whiplash, but I was unsure if the film would be able to play the long game and remain in the conversation in December.  It turns out, Whiplash has been playing very well to both critics and the filmmaking community these past few months, though its box office take has been underwhelming.  Simmons delivers a terrifically terrifying performance and he’s been a beloved character actor for a long, long time, so I’d be surprised if he didn’t land his very deserved, first ever Oscar nomination.

On the flipside, a twice-before nominated actor is also looking to score a Best Supporting Actor nomination.  The entire cast of Birdman brings it’s A-game, but it may be Edward Norton who steals the show in a role that’s shares a few similarities with his offscreen reputation.  Norton’s sometimes-prickly personality could possibly be a hindrance in securing a nomination, but the fact that he’s willing to address and poke fun at himself in Birdman—and deliver a stellar performance on its own merits in the process—could offset those concerns.  Norton has been very visible during the film’s Oscar campaign thus far (and he’s also fantastic in The Grand Budapest Hotel), and since Birdman seems to be such a hit with filmmakers and actors in the Hollywood community, it seems likely the crossover with the Academy voters will result in his third Oscar nod.

foxcatcher-channing-tatum-mark-ruffaloFoxcatcher is undoubtedly one of the best-acted films of the year, and while Steve Carell and Channing Tatum are both being submitted in the Best Actor category, the final piece of the trio, Mark Ruffalo, will get Best Supporting Actor consideration.  This is a very quiet, very intense film that hasn’t quite caught on with critics the way many were expecting, but Ruffalo is tremendous in a role that genuinely supports the ensemble and brings a vital amount of emotional weight to the entire proceedings.  While it’s possible the Academy could forego recognizing Foxcatcher altogether (it’s admittedly a difficult film to love), I really don’t see how Ruffalo’s performance could be ignored.  Plus, the guy’s incredibly loveable.

Also garnering buzz in the Best Supporting Actor category is Ethan Hawke, who could nab his first acting Oscar nod since 2002’s Training Day.  Hawke is, of course, under consideration for the groundbreaking Boyhood, a movie that’s been chugging along since Sundance and remains an early frontrunner in many categories.  The passion and support for Boyhood is wide, and when the Academy really likes something, they tend to nominate it in a number of categories (though sometimes a nomination is the furthest they go; see: American Hustle’s 10 nods and 0 wins).  Patricia Arquette has been an early favorite to land a Best Supporting Actress nod for what’s arguably the emotional center of the film, but I’m happy to see that Hawke is gaining support for a nomination as well.  He’s not in the film as much as Arquette, but he absolutely nails his scenes, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that he crafted and maintained this character’s arc over the course of a decade.  If the Academy shines a lot of love on Boyhood, don’t be surprised to see it extend to Hawke as well.

selma-tom-wilkinson-david-oyelowoIf there’s a major threat to Boyhood at the moment in terms of “Oscar frontrunner” status, it’s Selma.  Paramount’s timely film about the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama has been enjoying a wildly enthusiastic response from early screenings, and again, if the Academy really takes to the film, that could extend the love to a number of different categories.  The central supporting performance that seems to be garnering the most buzz right now is Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Tim Roth has also drawn notice for his antagonistic role in the film, but it’s Wilkinson that appears to have the best shot at securing a Best Supporting Actor nomination—which would mark his third Oscar nod overall.

It’s clear that Paul Thomas Anderson’s trippy Inherent Vice isn’t going to be an Oscar juggernaut the way that There Will Be Blood was, but it has a solid shot at a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Josh Brolin’s comedic performance opposite Joaquin Phoenix.  Brolin has drawn significant notice as a standout in the film, and a nomination could also be a way of Academy members recognizing the picture without singling it out for Best Picture, Actor, or Director.

Before the film had screened to critics at large, rock star turned actor Miyavi was generating buzz for his supporting performance in Unbroken.  But now that critics have seen the picture, that notion has cooled a bit on account of the mostly positive yet reserved reaction from the majority of reviews.  There’s also Christoph Waltz, an Academy favorite who has won this award twice before for roles in Quentin Tarantino films.  This time he’s up for consideration in Tim Burton’s drama Big Eyes, but the performance is turned up to 11 for the entirety of the film and the movie itself won’t be for everyone.  Still, Waltz is an undeniably talented actor, and given his popularity I wouldn’t be shocked to see him recognized for the film.

inherent-vice-josh-brolin-joaquin-phoenixThough the picture itself took a bit of a shellacking from critics, there are some who think Robert Duvall has a shot at a Best Supporting Actor nod for The Judge.  It’s a fine performance and Duvall is well-respected, so it’s certainly possible (again, expect surprises), but it’s not a safe bet by any means.  Another veteran actor who might’ve picked up support in this category is Tommy Lee Jones, who turns in a swell performance in The Homesman (which he also directed), but he is instead being submitted for the crowded Best Actor category. 

Additionally, Chris Pine has been singled out as a highlight of the Disney musical Into the Woods, so that’s a possible unexpected nomination to keep an eye on.  John Goodman is another actor who many call the highlight of his film, The Gambler, but his limited screentime could prove to be a deterrent.

Alfred Molina has support for his performance opposite John Lithgow in the drama Love Is Strange, a picture that’s becoming a bit of a critical darling.  There’s also a strong case to be made for Tyler Perry being recognized for his excellent work in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, which was one of the more inspired casting decisions of the year.  Logan Lerman continues to prove himself a formidable talent in the harrowing World War II drama Fury, in which he plays a fantastic foil for Brad Pitt’s character, and Riz Ahmed’s brilliant performance opposite Jake Gyllenhaal is integral to the success of Nightcrawler overall and absolutely deserving of recognition.

dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-andy-serkis-jason-clarkeAnd then there’s the issue of motion-capture performances.  20th Century Fox has officially launched a campaign for Andy Serkis in the Best Supporting Actor category for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but I still don’t see an Oscar nod for a motion-capture role happening anytime soon.  It’s impressive work to be sure, but the performance is ultimately brought to life by a team of animators and technology in concert with Serkis’ live-action work.  Those in the industry remain wary of opening that door.

There was no lack for great supporting male performances this year, and there are also some really terrific supporting female performances that I’ll be taking a look at next week.  For now, here’s how I see the Best Supporting Actor category as it stands, ranked in order of likelihood to secure a nomination:

1. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2. Edward Norton, Birdman

3. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

4. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

5. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice

6. Tom Wilkinson, Selma

7. Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange

8. Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes

9. Robert Duvall, The Judge

10. Miyavi, Unbroken

Click over to Page 2 for Updated Predictions for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and Director

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