2015 Oscars: Best Supporting Actor

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 Actor

The Nominees
Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Who Will Win: J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”
Who Could Win: Edward Norton in “Birdman”
Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”
Who Should Be Here: Andy Serkis in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Kicking things off with the Supporting categories this week, since at press time I had yet to see Still Alice, American Sniper and Inherent Vice, leaving five of my eight categories incomplete.

Right off the bat: J.K. Simmons (yep – the guy from the Farmers commercials) can, should and will win Best Supporting Actor this year. Though his character might be seen as somewhat one-note by some, his performance is still fantastic and drives the film. He’s one of the great villains of the year, and probably the decade.

If anyone has a chance to grab the Oscar gold away from Simmons, it’s Edward Norton. Michael Keaton’s resurgence as Riggan in Birdman is probably the most-talked about turn of the year, but Norton damn near stole the show on several occasions. His strange yet interesting relationship with Emma Stone’s character was one the best parts of the film.

Strange yet interesting is an apt description for Foxcatcher, as long as you throw in a healthy side of creepy. Though Channing Tatum deserved to be nominated for an Oscar every bit as much as Ruffalo, it was Ruffalo who essentially was the only “normal one” in the film, putting him in direct contrast with the entire cast. His performance was surprisingly physical as well – though he added a beard, he was hardly recognizable with the way he held himself and how he talked. Clearly, he showed a great commitment to his character.

If great commitment to a character is a guarantee of an Oscar nomination, then Ethan Hawke had to have led this year’s list, as his performance took 12 years to complete. Hawke’s performance evolved each year he made the pilgrimage to Austin to shoot another piece, starting off with being a young father with a Peter Pan complex to taking an interest in his son to ultimately becoming the adult he strove to be.

Rounding things out in this Oscar category is the always terrific Robert Duvall, who had a perfectly showy role as the titular character in The Judge. Though the film’s story missed a few notes, Duvall did not, making the most of each of his appearances on screen. He proved to be the perfect steady hand to Robert Downey Jr.’s excitable energy as his son.

One of these days, the Academy has got to move into the modern world and see that motion capture technology can provide an Oscar winning performance, every bit as much as a live one can. When that day comes, they will HAVE to recognize Andy Serkis with an Oscar, who is THE MAN in this category. His performance as Gollum is one the best parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he’s taken it to a whole new level as Caesar the Ape in the new series of the Planet of the Apes films. How the studio got him into the supporting category is beyond me (he is the lead of the film), but it’s his voice, gestures and most importantly the small nuances of his facial expressions that bring Caesar to life.