Category of supporting actor is somehow under the radar, leading categories get the most spotlight, best film and direction are considered “the most important Oscars” but supporting actor is here somewhere, especially this year not mentioned enough. Some of the actors had great performances, J. K. Simmons in particular, and the category is considered “decided in advance” from all that I could read. Prognoses are that J.K. Simmons is safe-bet. But, is he? Can any of the other nominated actors jeopardize his win and why? Why is Fletcher in “Whiplash” so above everybody else, especially Norton (school of method-acting in “Birdman”) or Duvall (Hollywood legend, moving part of father vs. son story in “The Judge”)? Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood” and Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher” are considered less likely to be in real competition this year with all predictions I’ve read, but their performances were also very good and I personally think that this category is much more difficult than other critics are saying. In the following text, I will try to shed some light on that, why I think that to be true, and at the same time give my prediction about the category. It’s not as easy as one can think. This is a difficult category with great performances to choose from. So, let’s go!
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher” was for me one of emotionally the strongest performances in the movie. His role as big brother Shultz was the only one exclusively “white” in the movie. He’s nothing but positive, innocent victim and martyr in the same time. He’s everything opposite to Tatum and Carell, reason fighting complexes, insanity and deranged ambitions of a lunatic. He’s “All American” in the true sense of the word. His expert, he’s a coach, father-like figure. All those emotions Mark Ruffalo has brought to the screen perfectly, his timing and expressions were impeccable and in contrast to his performance that of Channing Tatum looked pale in comparison. The nomination is well deserved here, but winning doesn’t seem likely. His exclusively positive characterization is a minor detail, but it could turn to be the biggest obstacle to win the award. Fortunately, in other movies, like “The Normal Heart”, which Ruffalo did this year he was so good that we can rest assured he will be nominated again. He is that good.
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood” is maybe the only “shaky” nomination for me this year. He was better in “Predestination” than he was in “Boyhood” but I think that the Academy chose to give a nod to him because of his devotion to the 12 year project. His acting was in his standards, good but not excellent and I consider his performance as the weakest of all nominees in this category. I don’t think that it was a bad performance, I just think it had the least emotional impact considering other nominees. His character was pretty simple, it didn’t have any emotional turmoil, it was written straightforward. A father that was irresponsible found responsible later in life. But that transformation wasn’t on the screen. He’s the same from the beginning to the end. I didn’t find a close connection to his character during the movie. That can’t be said to the mother played by Patricia Arquette. “Boyhood” is an important movie for me, I’ve already written why in the review, but Ethan Hawke simply didn’t cut it for me to win the award this season. Not in the competition he has, especially the following trio.
Robert Duvall in “The Judge” was the opposite of Hawke in “Boyhood”. His character was county judge that was “head of the family” and his strength has cost his relationship with his son, and he never even met his granddaughter. When his son finally turns up in a small rural community they all live in, family secrets come out and one important event will cause their relationship to start again. That road will not be easy, it will be bumpy and in the difficult situation Duvall’s acting was wonderful. There are two scenes which caught my eye in particular: toilet scene in which Duvall needed help in an embarrassing situation and scene on the witness stand where he reconsidered his pride in the context of his son. These two scenes were truly Oscar worthy, but his competitors have even more to offer. Duvall is a legend, he already has one Oscar, but in comparison to Norton and Simmons he’s close but not that good. They had powerful movies combined with powerful performances, and “The Judge” is not anything special as a movie. It’s a family drama with court elements.
Edward Norton in “Birdman” reminded me of Marlon Brando in “Streetcar named desire”. He was a self-righteous prick, arrogance was pouring out of him, he was all into “the truth” of method acting and his character was a tough actor to work with. He even wanted a real sex – scene on the stage. That was so close to mentioned film, and to Bertolucci’s “Last Tango in Paris” that it gave me chills. However, there was one problem with his character in “Birdman”. In the last third of the movie his character “disappeared”, wasn’t so important for the plot. Keaton carried the movie and Norton fulfilled his purpose. The nomination was justified, even winning wouldn’t be undeserved, but there is one thing which Simmons has and no other nominees haven’t and that puts him in front of all others, even excellent Edward Norton.
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” is critics favorite for the award. He’s my favorite too, but I found something biographical in Fletcher’s philosophy. Sometimes, to achieve the impossible, you must suffer and you must commit yourself to the goal completely. Nobody in his right mind couldn’t approve Fletcher’s methods, he’s an arrogant bully who doesn’t see people at all. He sees only possible geniuses and ones that are lacking the talent. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.” – said Fletcher. His philosophy is justified in his head and he doesn’t have any regrets (except maybe that he didn’t create the next Charlie Parker). However, in the awards context, his performance was the best mainly because he carried the film. Without J.K. Simmons “Whiplash” wouldn’t be as powerful and as good as it is. He could be nominated in the leading category too, since he and Miles Teller shared approximately the same screen-time. That fact alone, gets him on top of the nominated lot. Nobody else of the nominees has carried that much of the movie as J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”. I could even argue that “Whiplash” is movie of dialogue, movie of two equally insane and antisocial individuals. Except two of them all the other characters are episodes.
My opinion doesn’t differ from the mainstream, but I don’t think that’s a flaw in this case. All of the nominees were excellent and shades are making the difference between them. Somebody must come to the top in the end. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Simmons doesn’t win, if Norton carries the statue home. However, I really don’t think that’s likely. With all due respect to all of the nominees, my opinion is that Oscar goes to J.K. Simmons. Supporting actor who became the first association with the movie. In time, you could forget Miles Teller, but I’m not so sure that you’ll forget Simmons. We’ve all met someone like him one time or the other.