2015 Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

It’s Oscar season, and over the weeks leading up to the awards, I’ll be rolling out nine blog pieces breaking down (what I consider) the eight major races – Picture, Director, both writing and all four acting categories.

Like with most things on this blog, this will be a mix of fact, popular opinion and my opinion – the three of which don’t often intersect. Then I’ll post a full list of my Oscar picks right before the show as best I can.

On to today’s posting: Supporting Actress

 

The Nominees
Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Who Could Win: Emma Stone in “Birdman”
Who Should Win: See below
Who Should Be Here: Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer”

I’m starting this off without anyone in the “Should Win” column – I can’t decide between Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone, and part of me wants to bring Laura Dern into it as well. So this post will be as much an update as me working through my choice here.

Let’s start with Keira Knightly, one of my favorite actresses. Unfortunately, she’s been nominated for the wrong film. Though The Imitation Game is a terrific film and it’s been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and Knightly was terrific in it, it’s not her best performance of the year. That came in Begin Again – a movie she carried and lifted with a luminous performance. Knightly will be held back in this competition because her character isn’t quite as showy as the other two – it didn’t allow her to show her full range of ability.

Next up is Meryl Streep, who seems to get nominated for an Oscar every time she does a film. There’s no question: Streep is one of, if not the, best actress alive today, and she has no “type”. She’s the first call anyone has a relatively big role for a woman of a certain age, and there’s virtually no role she can’t hit out of the ballpark. That said, her role as the witch in Into The Woods is well done and fun but the film is relatively unforgettable when it coms down to it.

Despite the above, Laura Dern in Wild seems to be bringing up the rear in many of the early Oscar straw-polls, despite a terrific showing and stealing the show every time she hit the screen. Her role played the full gamut of emotions, sometimes within single scenes, and her chemistry with Reese Witherspoon sparkled. But all anyone seems to talk about with regard to Wild is Witherspoon (who of course is the driving force in the film), and that’s probably hurting Dern a little bit.

Patricia Arquette is the run-away Oscar favorite right now. Watching her over 12 years of filming was both amazing and a little unsettling – I’m not sure how many people would want to watch themselves age 12 years over a period of 2 hours and 40 minutes. There was little in the big bag of acting tools she didn’t pull out and use to great and wonderful effect, and I wonder if the 11 major gaps in shooting allowed her (and others) to “leave it all out on the field” every time. It’s one thing to really go for it when you only shoot for a few days – but on a 90-120 day shoot, you have to save a little bit.

Birdman was full of show-stealing and Oscar nominated performances, from the top on down. I wrote on Monday about how Edward Norton blew the doors off the place, we all know about Michael Keaton’s Matthew McConaughey-type resurgence. But Emma Stone’s against-type turn as Keaton’s daughter is equal to those two. She was weird, dark and funny, and held her own against Keaton and Norton in their best moments. She also provided the soon-to-be-iconic closing moment of the film.

So now I’ve convinced myself. And my choice for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress is: Emma Stone. Arquette delivered a knock-out performance, but given the tough situations in which Stone had to film, I have to give it to her. Birdman’s takes were very long – 5, 6, 7 or more minutes at a time without a cut. The actors had to be completely on-point and perfect each time. So though there were many deserving, Stone gets it for the sheer difficulty of her circumstances, and for going so well against type. In my view, of course. We’ll see of the voters agree.

Finally, I’ll wrap it up with a note about Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer. She plays a character who may or may not have been a man. She’s creepy, weird and funny all at the same time. And it’s a damn shame she didn’t get nominated for an Oscar.