Academy of One: Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2014

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I really just want to dive in today without a lot of fanfare. I have a lot to say about these nominees. Though, before we get into it, I do want to mention that two of the nominees have played the Incredible Hulk and that’s an achievement we won’t top until Eric Bana and/or Lou Ferrigno join the race the same year as these two guys.

So, here’s our field of contenders as it is.

  • Robert Duvall - The Judge

  • Ethan Hawke - Boyhood

  • Edward Norton - Birdman

  • Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

  • J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

I look at this list of nominees and I see five definitions of the phrase supporting actor. Each one of these men can lead their own film, but more often where they shine is with a meaty, smaller part.

I can name five movies for each of these actors that are just better because they’re in them. That being said, though, there are others that put in incredible performances this year as well.

Here are my choices for possible inclusion on this list.

  • Riz Ahmed - Nightcrawler

  • Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • Stephan James - Selma

It’s hard to find a moral center in a film as pitch black as Nightcrawler, but at least we can say, Riz Ahmed’s Rick is a voice of dissent and sanity to the madness that envelops and surrounds him and his producer/boss Louis.

It’s so wonderful to watch Ralph Fiennes in a wacky, ridiculous romp. He’s one of those actors that can make a jump from serious acting to comedy look effortless like he’s just pulling another tool out of his bag. His timing, his delivery, and his charisma make his turn as Gustave H. in The Grand Budapest Hotel incredible.

It would be easy to to nominate any of the wonderful supporting actors in Selma, the reason I picked Stephan James is his incredible fight and spirit. Even as his character gets struck down on the first attempted march to the capitol, in the church when they regroup he still has that fire, that passion. It’s an incredible channeling of the good trouble attitude of the real John Lewis.

Now that I’ve got my list, let’s see if I can’t remove any barriers to getting my contenders in the running. I can see two actors from the list we can lose. Here’s the list of nominees again.

  • Robert Duvall - The Judge

  • Ethan Hawke - Boyhood

  • Edward Norton - Birdman

  • Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

  • J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

I don’t like The Judge for a lot of reasons. Chief amongst them, the obvious CGI in scenes through the diner window. It’s gag inducing. I know this wasn’t a $100 million movie, but still. You’re on location, find a location with something real.

The thing I think redeems it is the performance of Robert Duvall. Yet, it’s kind of his standard performance now. It’s the performance he’s been giving us for the last ten years at least. It’s not revelatory or revitalizing. It’s just a solid performance from a solid performer. We’ll talk about Robert Duvall’s great performances later on, but for now, I think he has better left in him than The Judge.

The same can be said of Ethan Hawke in Boyhood. He’s a good actor who has some very memorable roles under his belt. If you’re acting in a film shot over twelve years, I can imagine it would be difficult to maintain a consistency, but Ethan Hawke really does it. He plays the same role we’ve seen him play time and time again. His presence is there, but like his character, he’s a bit absentee.

Well, with those two out of the running, who am I going to add. I’ve got the perfect two. Here they are.

  • Ralph Fiennes - The grand Budapest Hotel

  • Stephan James - Selma

Now that we have our additions, here’s what the field looks like.

  • Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel

  • Stephan James - Selma

  • Edward Norton - Birdman

  • Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

  • J.K. Simmons - Whiplash

I won’t even play coy, there’s no one on this list who can beat J.K. Simmons, but I want to talk about Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo a bit.

Edward Norton is an actor who can disappear into a role. He loses himself even if his voice or appearance doesn’t change all that much. I think as Mike he channels all of the worst aspects of an actors personality into this one person. The ego, the amorousness, the pretension, the sheer narcissism, and the idea that he’s the only one anyone came to see.

Actors pretending to be actors is often a tired trope, but Edward Norton’s full throttle approach is mesmerizing and elevates the film beyond its satiric roots.

The sheer physicality with playing an athlete may often be missed, but Mark Ruffalo is so in tune with how his body is supposed to be as he plays an Olympic wrestler.

His movement, the way he gets into his stance. Everything is calculated into a beautiful and grotesque movement of a hunched, elongated wrestler. His hands always seem clenched in a rigor, he’s hunched over ,and he’s bowlegged when he walks, but as you see him spar, the gracefulness of his movement is made so clear and so effortlessly. It’s a stunning physical performance.

All that praise aside, J.K. Simmons as Fletcher in Whiplash is stunning. The depths to which Simmons can embody the desperate perfection and the forceful drive gets to the heart of what a teacher student relationship can become.

That relationship can become poisonous and manipulative. The way Simmons balances the two as he seems to care deeply about Andrew’s progress, while gaslighting him into thinking he’s no good and that he’s not worthy of praise because he should be above it.

The pettiness and vile cruelty of Fletcher is daunting and it all culminates in that final sequence when he’s beaten by Andrew and he recognizes the talent that’s there and I think feels a smug satisfaction that he pushed Andrew so hard.

J.K. Simmons simply astonishes in one of the best villainous roles of the 21st century and I think based on this performance, he can top it. He can shift gears and he can become someone else to make more people realize he is one of the best working actors of all time. Whiplash isn’t his peak, it’s his loud air horn entrance from indie darling onto the world’s stage.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actress in a Leading Role nominees of 2014.

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