Academy of One: Best Actor in a Supporting Role 2015

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’ve always considered this category (for men and women) to really be the Best Antagonist category. It’s almost always populated with juicy, scene chewing roles on either side of the good and evil spectrum. Those that don’t fall into the category of antagonist are often the emotional heart of the film, who challenges the other characters to do and be better.

So, let’s take a look at who was nominated in this category.

  • Christian Bale - The Big Short

  • Tom Hardy - The Revenant

  • Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight

  • Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies

  • Sylvester Stallone - Creed

It seems to me at first glance that this is a very weak category. With the exception of Mark Rylance, these are household names. They’ve all been part of blockbuster franchises and, again, with the exception of Mark Rylance, have all played comic book characters (for anyone not willing to do research, Sylvester Stallone was the titular character the original film adaptation of Judge Dredd from the ‘90s).

Yet, with the exception of (man this guy is becoming an epic outlier in this data set) Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy, the other three have been nominated for acting awards, both Mark Ruffalo and Christian Bale having been nominated three times out of the last five years and competing against each other twice.

Are these men really that good? Yes, but could there have been others that will liven up this category? Absolutely.

For your consideration, I present four men to be considered for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

  • Benicio Del Toro - Sicario

  • Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation

  • Oscar Isaac - Ex Machina

  • Jason Mitchell - Straight Outta Compton

Benicio Del Toro’s character’s motivation is shrouded behind the point of view of Emily Blunt’s FBI agent. We get glimpses of who he wants us to think he is, and the grim stoicism with which Del Toro plays it, pays off ten fold when we get the character’s full back story. It’s worth watching the film just for the reveal when Alejandro meets his prey at the dinner table.

As I mentioned, this category is full of great antagonists, and Idris Elba’s turn, as a man known only as Commandant, is electrifying. He’s charismatic, ruthless, strong, imposing, and utterly vile. It’s a true joy to watch his fall.

I always knew tech billionaires could be eccentric, but Oscar Isaac’s character in Ex Machina takes it to new levels of menacing. The mind games are utterly enthralling as Isaac superbly acts as the character acting drunk as he catches his ward in a snare he set up from the beginning. It’s a brilliant bit of acting layers deep into the character.

I don’t love the movie Straight Outta Compton, but I can tell you whenever Jason Mitchell was on screen, I was enthralled. Mitchell is superb at holding himself back emotionally until those final few scenes where we see this human dealing with the worst possible news.

Do any of these contenders have a chance to break through and replace anyone on the list? I have two in mind. Let’s go back to that original list and I’ll take it from there.

  • Christian Bale - The Big Short

  • Tom Hardy - The Revenant

  • Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight

  • Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies

  • Sylvester Stallone - Creed

This was a tough choice, but at the end of my deliberations I have to go with my heart to remove Christian Bale and Sylvester Stallone to make room.

The Big Short is a true ensemble piece. No one role takes on more importance than the others, just prominence at different stages of the film. I don’t think Christian Bale’s arc was any stronger than any other character. He isn’t even doing anything revolutionary here.

He plays a character with a lot of quirks very straight. This is definitely the weakest performance of the three he’s been nominated for (and the many he’s been overlooked for). It fits well as part of the ensemble, but is in no way a stand out from it.

It’s very sad that Creed’s sole nomination came in the form of the one white guy in a prominently black cast. I get it though. The Academy remembers how Rocky made them feel. It’s that triumphant story of the unbeatable human spirit.

I liked the performance. I like seeing Rocky Balboa be vulnerable and alone and passing on all that he’s been taught, but really I don’t think the performance is among the best. It’s like a nomination for nostalgia for the glory years of 1970′s filmmaking rather than for the specific performance.

With those two out of the way, I have my choices for who should take their spots.

  • Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation

  • Jason Mitchell - Straight Outta Compton

Now that we have my additions, let’s see what the field looks like.

  • Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation

  • Tom Hardy - The Revenant

  • Jason Mitchell - Straight Outta Compton

  • Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight

  • Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies

O.K., so does someone beat out Mark Rylance for the trophy? Short answer, yes.

I think I prefer understated performance much more than I like a lot of bombast and scenery chewing. I love the villains in this race. Idris Elba and Tom Hardy command the scenes they’re in with such ease as does conflicted and afflicted, Eazy-E, Jason Mitchell with his character going from receiving oral sex to packing a machine gun in a few seconds. Yet, I can’t stop thinking that the more powerful performances in this field come from the understated characters.

Mark Rylance’s subtle, Soviet spy is so fascinating to watch as federal agents ransack his apartment. He’s cool and calm as he misdirects them so he can destroy evidence. It’s a scene that could have been so hammy and over the top, but with Rylance it’s intense and brilliant. Throughout the film he has these moments of profundity as he gets to the heart of a man, who knows he’s dead either way his trial or the prisoner swap turns out. It’s a hard choice to make between this performance and the one I’ve left out thus far.

Yet, I have to hand it to the other Mark in this race and that’s Mark Ruffalo. In Spotlight we see so little of these characters lives, only what pertains to how they approach the information they find in their investigation. Mark Ruffalo’sMike Rezendes is his work. He lives in a sparsely furnished apartment, he exercises in order to think through the facts of his story, there is nothing outside of his work and he takes that very seriously. So much so that his emotional outburst, the height of the emotional appeal in the film, is so very earned. He knows the power of his job and he so desperately wants justice to be served. He represents our indignation in the face of this truly horrific truth. It’s a powerful performance out of a stellar ensemble cast.

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 2015.

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