Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Final Supporting Predictions and a Plea for Pine and Swinton

It seems that both the supporting categories have been wrapped up with a frontrunner. In each, they are both so far ahead that the other actors that join them for nominations tomorrow morning will just be there as placeholders. And after both of them won the Golden Globe this past weekend (and every critics award there is), the inevitable march to Oscar victory for J.K. Simmons as a short-fused jazz instructor in Whiplash and Patricia Arquette as a single mother of two in Boyhood is all but assured. It helps that both are well respected among their peers, both have been acting for decades, and more importantly, both star in films that everyone seems to love (or at least greatly admire) that have had the luxury of having the time to actually being seen. Boyhood was the talk of the summer with it's once-in-a-lifetime, 12-year shoot and it only built momentum as the Oscar season officially kicked off. And Whiplash has had almost the entire year to build, having premiered at Sundance in January and played at numerous film festivals before opening in October to ecstatic audiences.

The other four men that will be joining Simmons in the Best Supporting Actor category are almost as assured nominations as Simmons is his eventual win. Already having joined him at the Golden Globes and SAG, they are: Edward Norton as a trouble-making, narcissistic actor (type-casting...) in Birdman, Mark Ruffalo as the only sane person in Foxcatcher (he really does seem to be getting nominated over his co-stars for the simple fact that he's the voice of reason in an irritating film), Ethan Hawke as the father in Boyhood (most of the early Oscar buzz was on Arquette as she has a more substantial role and great dramatic speeches, but as time went on, it seemed people took notice of Hawke's work as well), and a default nomination for Robert Duvall in the critically-panned The Judge, an inevitability that no one seems happy about. 

There are always surprises on nomination morning and this is the biggest category that could use some shaking up. But it seems that no one has built enough support to overtake Duvall. There are rumblings of Tom Wilkinson as LBJ in Selma, but the negative campaigning has relied solely on his characters inaccuracies and I fear he will suffer. Tyler Perry in Gone Girl, Miyavi in Unbroken, and Riz Ahmed in Nightcrawler all briefly seemed in the running at some point, but haven't really been mentioned since. For me, the one performance that should take the fifth spot is not only the best performance in a talented ensemble, but one of the year's most surprising, playful, and, well, charming... 

FYC: Chris Pine in Into the Woods as Best Supporting Actor

In a story populated by a diva-transforming witch, a klutzy Cinderella, and a sarcastic Little Red Riding Hood, the role of Cinderella's Prince on stage has never really been a stand-out. True, he has the comical "Agony" along with its reprise, but the character can't compete with the more fully-formed female characters. So in a film version that stars one of the greatest actresses in the world taking on the witchy role and an Oscar nominated new star of movie musicals taking on everyone's favorite ball-going, slipper-forgetter, it seemed that the women would once again dominate the story. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that Pine, whose previous work in a Sci-Fi franchise and mostly forgettable romcoms and action films hadn't really prepared us for his remarkable ease wih comedy, emerges as the film's best performance. In this transfer to the big screen, a lot of the humor of the stage show hasn't been maintained. (Lines that are normally guaranteed laughs seem to fall with a thud.) Luckily Pine's pompous princely airhead is the film's shining source of playfulness and the actor has a ball playing the chauvinist womanizer. The Prince might not be the heart of the story or really all that deep, but Pine's cartoonish take on the role is a welcome delight...(Click here to read more about Pine and Into the Woods from my "Meet the Contenders" series at The Film Experience)

Final Best Supporting Actor Predictions
Robert Duvall The Judge
Ethan Hawke Boyhood
Edward Norton Birdman
Mark Ruffalo Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons Whiplash

My Favorite Best Supporting Actor Performances
Ben Mendelsohn Starred Up
Alfred Molina Love is Strange
Bill Nighy Pride
Edward Norton Birdman
Chris Pine Into the Woods

* * *

Already while composing this post, I have changed my final predictions in Supporting Actress twice. So needless to say, this category is still very much up for grabs. The two actresses almost guaranteed to join Arquette are both from films that are sure to score Best Picture nominations, Emma Stone as the daughter of Michael Keaton's Riggan in Birdman and Keira Knightley in pretty much the supportive wife role in The Imitation Game, even if it's only really a supportive beard role. (I've predicted Knightley in previous years for her work in Anna Karenina and A Dangerous Method, but neither amounted to anything. I'm pleased that she'll get another nomination, but her role is thankless here and she was much better in her other two films this year, Laggies and Begin Again.)

The other two spots will most likely go with some combination of three women: Jessica Chastain as a gangster's daughter turned revengeful housewife in A Most Violent Year, Oscar perennial Meryl Streep as a singing witch in Into the Woods, and the surprise BAFTA nominee (and excellent) Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. I would personally love to see Russo make the final five, but I find it hard to believe the Academy will choose her over two of their favorite actresses. At this point it seems silly to ever bet against Streep even if her work hardly stands against some of her best in Woods. And Chastain has already received two previous nominations in the past and had another productive year with roles in four very different movies. A nomination would surely be to honor her body of work this year (just like her breakout year in 2011). So I've ultimately gone safe with predicting Streep and Chastain scoring their 19th and 3rd nominations, respectively.

However, if the Academy is looking for an out-there choice for Best Supporting Actress this year, that is anything but safe, there was no more wonderfully bonkers, go-for-broke performance quite like Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason, the dictator of a dystopian train filled with earth's remaining humanity in Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer.

FYC: Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer as Best Supporting Actress

It's a common joke that Tilda Swinton is actually an alien living among us (something that the actress actually loves to play up), since her presence and talent seem otherworldly. So it's a little disappointing that the only time she has been recognized by the Academy was in this category for 2007's Michael Clayton, playing a very normal, if only a little cunning, corporate lawyer in a very adult drama. After all, this was an actress that has slept in a glass box in museums all over the world, started her acting career as the muse to avant garde artist/director Derek Jarman, and first came to prominence for playing a character that effortlessly shifted between genders and time periods. Luckily, the actress showed up to accept the award wearing what amounted to a fancy, designer garbage bag with her decades-younger lover on her arm, proving that not even an institution like the Academy can alter an off-kilter original like Swinton.

So it was a giddy delight to watch Swinton fully embracing her inner eccentric with one of the most bizarre characters in her filmography (or in recent cinematic memory) in this summer's Snowpiercer In a role originally written for a man, Swinton is virtually unrecognizable with gnarled teeth jutting out and coke bottle glasses engulfing her face. In creating the look and feel of the character, at one point she was asked to tone it down by directer Joon-ho when she asked if she could have a pig nose for Mason. Described by Swinton as a combination of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, and Hitler, everything about her work in the film is so different and absurd that it threatens to derail the entire picture at times. But through her crazy commitment, it miraculously never does, bringing a stylized jolt of energy and uniqueness that could not have been created by anyone else - human or alien.

Final Best Supporting Actress Predictions
Patricia Arquette Boyhood
Jessica Chastain A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley The Imitation Game
Emma Stone Birdman
Meryl Streep Into the Woods

My Favorite Best Supporting Actress Performances
Minnie Driver Beyond the Lights
Rene Russo Nightcrawler
Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer
Uma Thurman Nymphomaniac 
Marisa Tomei Love is Strange

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