Academy of One: Best Actress 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.

After last week’ category fraud correction, this category has now become an open field with two free spots and you better believe I have some worthy women waiting in the wings (maybe more alliteration, too!). It’s also a great opportunity to highlight and celebrate some great actresses of color that turned in great performances for 2015. To maybe give you a little bit of a wink, some women gave more than one great performance this year.

Let’s get right into it. Here’s the list of nominees as they stand now.

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight

  • Rooney Mara - Carol

  • Rachel McAdams - Spotlight

  • Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl

  • Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs

Since I already talked up Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara in the best actress category, I’ll focus on the rest of the field as it stands.

It surprises me that this is the first nomination for both Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rachel McAdams. They’re both strong actresses that have great careers behind and ahead of them.

I think what it took was being the only woman in films with a largely male ensemble casts for them to be noticed. In both films they’re the leading female voice.

Kate Winslet also had the herculean task of filtering Aaron Sorkin dialogue through an Eastern European accent, while also being the smartest woman in the room.

Yet, I think there are a few strong performances that would easily fit in within this stellar group. Here are my choices.

  • Mya Taylor - Tangerine

  • Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Tessa Thompson - Creed

  • Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina

Tangerine is one of those films that’s so different, has a compelling production story, and is very far outside the mainstream it gets a ton of adoration and praise. If one ignores all that hype, though, and focuses on Mya Taylor’swonderful turn as a transgender prostitute with dreams of a singing career, they can see an artist at work. She brings such depth to a character and story that could have been so shallow with a lesser actress.

As Imperator Furiosa, Charlize Theron commands the screen. She is a moral compass, fiercely protective of her charges, takes no prisoners, accepts no surrender, and yet she’s also human and has moments of pathos that are just as affecting as everything else.

I think so much of Tessa Thompson’s Bianca is about not being defined by her limitations or by what people think of how she chooses to do what she loves as long as she has the capacity to do it. Her strength pushes Adonis to be a better man and to embrace his whole self, but it’s clear she doesn’t need him in the way he needs her. It’s a very nuanced role.

The wink above was indeed for Alicia Vikander’s stellar turn as the artificially intelligent robot, Ava, from Ex Machina. Robots are all about logic and purpose. It’s so clear in her body language that she knows how to play these men against each other and get them to only see the body in front of them and not the cunning she possesses. This is truly a master class in playing one’s cards close to the chest.

Let’s go back to that original list one more time so we can see if any or all of these performances make the new cut.

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight

  • Rooney Mara - Carol

  • Rachel McAdams - Spotlight

  • Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl

  • Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs

From this list I see three and a half slots I can fill easily. I’ll get the half slot out of the way because I will switch out Alicia Vikander’s performance in The Danish Girl with her performance in Ex Machina and I can remove Rooney Mara since I gave her a promotion last week.

Now, who are the other two to go from the three that are left. First and foremost an easy one for me. I’ll remove Jennifer Jason Leigh from the equation.

I don’t see what the Academy members saw in this performance. It isn’t stand out, it isn’t much and there is no nuance or redeeming quality in any way shape or form for this character. She’s despicably racist, ignorant and shallow. Then to top it off, every time she speaks, she’s punched, shot, or in other ways beaten. What, if anything, they saw besides the early buzz from a few critics, I’ll never know and frankly, the less I think about this bad movie the better.

The other opening I can make is to remove Rachel McAdams. She is a strong voice in the deep ensemble of Spotlight, but like I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, the stand out, emotional response of Mark Ruffalo’s character is the height of the ensemble and thus the only one who could represent them as a whole.

So, who are my additions? Here they are again in alphabetical order.

  • Mya Taylor - Tangerine

  • Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Tessa Thompson - Creed

  • Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina

Here’s what our nominee field looks like after that.

  • Mya Taylor - Tangerine

  • Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Tessa Thompson - Creed

  • Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina

  • Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs

All right, now that I’ve switched up the films, but kept her performance, does Alicia Vikander keep her title? Short answer, yes.

I waffled a lot after I came up with my final list because Kate Winslet is so good. Like, I mentioned before, she goes into that difficult tongue twisting Aaron Sorkin dialogue with the handicap of a difficult accent and she really pulls it off, but she doesn’t pull it off as well as Alicia Vikander.

In Ex Machina, Vikander is a human playing, a robot, playing up “her” human attributes. The performance by the machine is so convincing, “she” is able to fool our protagonist as well as Vikander is able to fool her audience.

Ava, the artificial intelligence, knows that in “her” form “she” can manipulate. “She” plays both humans like they’re cavemen against a modern human in a battle of wits. All the while, Vikander never betrays the twist. She never gives the slightest inch of Ava’s motivations. We, the audience, become putty in Vikander’s hands as she plays to our emotions as well as Caleb’s.

It’s a performance that is built on so many layers that Vikander builds brilliantly into a character that inspires the worst fears of man’s hubris when it comes to pushing the limits of our evolutionary potential.

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 2015.

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