Academy of One: Best Actress 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.

This was the most exciting race to pick apart. The actresses in it are some of my favorites and some of them have been in this position before. Yet, there’s much more diversity to be found in the nominees. Especially as one of the nominees has been nominated, deservedly in most cases, a buttload of times before.

Yes, this is the first time I get to talk about Meryl Streep. She is less an actress and more a force of nature able to weave in and out of the worlds of comedy and drama with ease. You will read her name more than any other actress on this blog. That’s due in large part to the fact that she holds the record for most nominations of any actor (man or woman), ever.

Streep has gotten to hear her name read out 19 different times and it’s likely before she’s through that number will get bigger, but I will say, as much reverence I hold for her and her craft, I will be removing her name from a list or two, and adding her to others because she’s always a target and always one actress I can pick my own preference because she’s so good in everything.

I just want to set you up for what can and may happen because for me, the strength of the actress is not in her name, but in the indelibility of the performance at hand.

So, with that caveat in mind, let me introduce the nominees as they currently stand.

  • Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

  • Laura Dern - Wild

  • Keira Knightly - The Imitation Game

  • Emma Stone - Birdman

  • Meryl Streep - Into the Woods

I don’t have a lot to say about this group before deliberations. Mostly because there will be a bit of slashing to the current list and I will get my frustrations/adorations out in those deliberations. So, instead I present to you my possibilities for who could enter this tough contest.

  • Carmen Ejogo - Selma

  • Kristen Stewart - Still Alice

  • Tilda Swinton - Snowpiercer

  • Oprah Winfrey - Selma

The wife of an icon can often be shrouded in shadow and mystery. Yet, Carmen Ejogo is able to take Coretta Scott King and bring her into the light with a fierce portrait of a woman who was her husband’s equal and his rock. Every scene Ejogo’s in is a scene where she commands our attention and absolutely deserves it.

Those who refuse to see Kristen Stewart as nothing more than the role that made her famous, are missing out on a truly gifted actress. In Still Alice, Stewart is able to deftly play the part of the youngest child, who while she may not have everything figured out, is still able to treat her mother like her mother even as she watches her mother fade away. It’s a subtle, sweet performance.

There are very few actresses as willing to transform as Tilda Swinton and she does so brilliantly in Snowpiercer becoming the sniveling, heartless mouthpiece for Wilford’s cruel, cryptic machinations. She is able to make what could have been a one note role into a unique, multi-faceted role.

Many forget that behind the mega-celebrity facade, Oprah Winfrey is very much an actress and she is a good actress. Some of her roles have been much showier than this one, but as Annie Lee Cooper, Oprah relies on the power of non-verbal cues to show us how degrading and dehumanizing it is to be challenged time and again on what should be an inalienable right granted by the Constitution. Then we see that frustration explode into an act of physical aggression that’s wholly justified. It’s not in her words, but in her actions and it’s so very powerful.

Now that I’ve got my wish list, are there any from the original group I think could be taken out of the running? Here’s that list again.

  • Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

  • Laura Dern - Wild

  • Keira Knightly - The Imitation Game

  • Emma Stone - Birdman

  • Meryl Streep - Into the Woods

I can see two I’d like to take out. To answer your first question, no this is not one of those times I will remove Meryl Streep. Although I found some of Into the Woods confusing, Streep is memorable, ferocious and showis off her tremendous pipes. She stays.

So, who goes? First on the chopping block is Laura Dern. While it’s undoubtable that she’s an actress who is so very good, this role is just not enough.

Wild has many important scenes with Dern, but for the most part, she’s not doing something truly remarkable in those scenes. It’s a fine performance and I think it serves the story, it’s just a handful of scenes that don’t go as far as we may want.

The other actress I want to remove is Keira Knightly. This was a hard decision to make as I love many of her roles in other films, but this role fell a little flat for me. She has those great scenes toward the beginning where she breaks barriers and gives us girl power, but then I honestly forget about her the rest of the film.

Her character fades into the background and is overshadowed by Alan Turing because it is his story and that’s what’s supposed to happen, but while I will say Knightly is always good, she would be so much better if she was actually given something to do besides be a beard.

All right, since I only opened up two spots, that means only two of my four can slide into the category, so who shall it be? Here are my choices.

  • Carmen Ejogo - Selma

  • Oprah Winfrey - Selma

Here’s what the field looks like with my additions.

  • Patricia Arquette - Boyhood

  • Carmen Ejogo - Selma

  • Emma Stone - Birdman

  • Meryl Streep - Into the Woods

  • Oprah Winfrey - Selma

O.K. that’s an impressive group, so I will ask the question on everyone’s mind, does Patricia Arquette still walk away with the golden man? Yes.

Though, I should point out Emma Stone was on the bubble for me the whole of this debate. Her performance was one I could have kept or left off the final list and I think I made the right decision in keeping her.

While her character, like all of the characters in Birdman, is an archetype that we’ve seen time and time again, she’s able to give depth to the material that might not have existed under a lesser talent. She’s able to bring a small dose of nuance to the script that asks all of its actors to ramp up to 11 at the drop of a hat.

Yet, all that being said, Patricia Arquette’s twelve year journey in her role is a triumph. Not only does it have stamina in a film with very little plot to propel it, but it’s that she’s able to create plot by her presence in the film as the one taking care of the titular boy.

The fierceness of her portrayal of a woman who is determined never to be a victim, who takes charge and makes mistakes along the way is just inspiring. The defining moments of her life are those wrapped around the strength she has as a mother.

Arquette is able to stay consistent and keep her momentum going. This role is inside of her and comes out and I think is the culmination of a great career. In her final scene of the film we watch her break down as she realizes the long burden of her responsibility is over and she has to give up someone she fought so long and hard to protect as he becomes an adult going off into the world without her.

It’s a performance that reminds us of the power a mother has even when she feels powerless that her drive and devotion is often not repaid as it should be, that all we owe our mothers can never be paid back. Arquette personifies the maternal figure and does it with deftness and grit.

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 Director nominees of 2014.

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