By Jim Keller
There’s a reason why I always conclude this three-part series by covering the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races: with the exception of the frontrunners, they are very unpredictable. Hence, I am going to shake things up a bit this year and change the discussion format. Instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and why I would, or would not, bet on them for a nomination, I have broken down below the different circumstances these actors find themselves in and how that narrative may or may not grow to influence Oscar voters. In a few short weeks, groups such as The New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), the National Board of Review (NBR), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) will announce their respective winners, thereby revealing a consensus of nominees, as we march forward to Oscar nominations on January 14th. These announcements, along with those of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.
Here is how the actors discussed last year fared:
Best Supporting Actor:
-J.K. Simmons — Whiplash: Nominated and won
-Edward Norton — Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Nominated
-Mark Ruffalo — Foxcatcher: Nominated
-Ethan Hawke — Boyhood: Nominated
-Josh Brolin — Inherent Vice: Not nominated
Last year’s fifth nominee was Robert Duvall for The Judge.
Before we begin, please note the following regarding the supporting actor and actress races:
Everyone loves a two-fer: Often the same film will have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set back in both supporting categories in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel competed against Olivia de Havilland for Gone with the Wind and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. For the ladies, this has occurred twenty-nine times, whereas it has only happened sixteen times for the men in the eighty-seven years the Academy Awards has existed. Further, the phenomenon last occurred in Supporting Actor for 1991’s Bugsy, which saw nominations for Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley. Conversely, it last occurred in Supporting Actress for 2011’s The Help, which yielded a win for Octavia Spencer and a nod for Jessica Chastain. One might attribute this difference to the lack of female roles in Hollywood, i.e., there weren’t enough supporting roles for women in Hollywood films to nominate the performance in a fifth film in those years.
Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors (e.g., Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver in American Hustle).
Category fraud is alive and well: In a year where the best actor and actress categories are an embarrassment of riches, look for voters to vote lead performances as supporting and vice versa just to get the actor(s) a nomination.
Beware the newcomer: Oscar voters love to swirl around newcomers and anoint them the prom king/queen (e.g., Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave).
A Tale of Two Reporters
Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton (Spotlight):
Thomas McCarthy’s drama is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe “Spotlight” team uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese. It is one of the year’s best reviewed films, it has a 93 Metacritic score, and is, therefore, a serious Best Picture contender. It has already won the Gotham Jury Award for Ensemble Performance at this year’s Gotham Awards and shows no signs of slowing down as the Oscar season accelerates. At its core are the supporting players: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber, who play the members of the Spotlight team. Ruffalo once again imbues the film with tenderness and has the best scene. It would be his third nomination in this category after having been nominated for 2010’s The Kids Are All Right and last year’s Foxcatcher. On paper, it seems that should be the story, but there is a groundswell opinion, among Oscar pundits, that the Academy will nominate Keaton since he lost Best Actor last year to Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything). As ridiculous as this sounds, it could very well be. Look for one of them to get in alongside these other contenders:
The “It” Factor
Robert De Niro (Joy): He won Best Supporting Actor in 1975 for The Godfather Part II and Best Actor in 1981 for Raging Bull. He has been nominated four times for Best Actor: Taxi Driver (1977), The Deer Hunter (1979), Awakenings (1991), and Cape Fear (1992), and most recently, for Supporting Actor for Silver Linings Playbook (2013).
Bradley Cooper (Joy): He earned his first Best Actor nomination alongside De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook (2013) and has been nominated each subsequent year: American Hustle (Supporting, 2014 and American Sniper (Lead, 2015).
Joy is directed by David O. Russell, whose last three films have been nominated for Best Picture and have yielded three supporting actor nominations combined.
Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies): He was nominated this year for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie for Wolf Hall and won the Best Actor British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) TV Award for The Government Inspector in 2006. He is also widely known for his stage work, having won three Tony awards.
Tom Hardy (The Revenant): He won the Best Actor LAFCA last year for Locke and was nominated for the Best Actor BAFTA TV Award in 2008 for Stuart: A Life Backwards. His film is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, last year’s Best Director winner for
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).
Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation): He won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television in 2012 for Luther, a role that netted him two other nominations in 2011 and 2014. In those same years he was nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie Primetime Emmy. Last year he was also nominated for Best Actor by the same body for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Regardless of nominations, Beasts will go down in history as the first feature-length, original film from Netflix. The idea of a content streaming titan churning out films frightens the big studios and challenges the idea that the Academy does in fact award the best films. It is one of the best films of the year and it is likely that Hollywood will snub the film, but will throw it a bone in the form of a supporting actor nomination for Elba.
Here is how the actresses discussed last year fared:
Best Supporting Actress:
-Meryl Streep – Into the Woods: Nominated
-Patricia Arquette – Boyhood: Nominated and won
-Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game: Nominated
-Emma Stone – Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance: Nominated
-Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year: Not nominated
Last year’s fifth nominee was Laura Dern for Wild.
Will They or Won’t They?
Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl):
A storm is brewing and the fallout from it could determine whether or not Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander earn nominations for Carol and The Danish Girl, respectively. Until the second week in November, most Oscar pundits had been predicting both women to be in the top two slots of Best Supporting Actress. It was then that the HFPA cried foul, rejected both women’s bids for supporting actress from the Golden Globes, and forced them to compete in the Best Actress category. This news has shaken up the race considerably as it casts an eye on the aforementioned category fraud that takes place during awards season. As I have said previously in this column, when it comes to the Academy, all bets are off in terms of voting: they will vote for whomever they please in whichever category they please, regardless of the campaign strategy. So it’s difficult to say how much of an effect this will have on the Academy Awards, but it’s certainly worth mentioning. With that said, I suspect the Academy will remain undeterred by the Globes’ stance and will consider both women only in the Supporting Actress category. Look for the following ladies to accompany them:
Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs): Speak of the devil! Isn’t Winslet’s one of those (if not the most notorious) nominations begotten under category fraud? Why yes, yes it is! I never tire of sharing my complete and utter disdain for the Academy’s choice to award Winslet the Best Actress statuette in 2009 for her supporting role in The Reader. It truly is laughable, but I digress. Aside from her win, Winslet has five nominations under her belt—two in supporting (Sense and Sensibility in 1996 and Iris in 2002) and three in lead (Titanic in 1998, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in 2005 and Little Children in 2007).
Jane Fonda (Youth): She won twice for Best Actress—for Klute (1972) and for Coming Home (1979). Fonda was first nominated for Best Actress in 1970 for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and also earned nominations for Julia (1978), The China Syndrome (1980), and The Morning After (1987). This would be her second Supporting Actress nomination, her first was in 1982 for On Golden Pond.
Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight): In 1990, Leigh won the NYFCC Best Supporting Actress for Miami Blues and Last Exit to Brooklyn. She also won Best Actress from the body in 1995 for Georgia. Her role in 1994’s Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle netted her a Best Actress win from the NSFC, a role that was also recognized by the Golden Globes in 1995.
There are a number of other men that could feature this year including industry veteran, Robert Redford in Truth, newcomer and youngster, Jacob Tremblay in Room, and Oscar heavyweight, Christian Bale in The Big Short. For the ladies, other possibilities include Joan Allen for Room, Julie Walters for Brooklyn, and, because anything can happen in a David O. Russel film, Diane Ladd and Isabella Rosselini for Joy.
After the holidays, it’s all over but the shouting.