Best Actor and Actress get the biggest headlines when it comes to the Academy Awards, but quite often the Supporting Actor and Actress races are the most interesting. Quirkier and more unpredictable (especially from a distance) than their we-have-more-screen-time counterparts, it’s often a chance for smaller films to catch the limelight (see one-nod wonders like “Warrior,” “Beginners” or “The Messenger” in recent years), for previously unheard-of performers like Barkhad Abdi or Ken Watanabe, or for strange winners like Linda Hunt for playing a male character, a posthumous Heath Ledger for playing a superhero’s nemesis, or Christoph Waltz for giving the same performance in two separate Tarantino movies.
The narrative for this year’s race is still forming, but it’s already looking like another fascinating period for the categories, with strong contenders including a veteran character actor in a buzzy indie, a big name on the comeback trail, and a J-Pop star as yet unknown in the States. After looking at the Best Actor and Actress races over the last week or so, we’ve cast our eye on the Supporting Actor category. Who’s leading the pack? Who could yet mix the race up? Who doesn’t need to book a sitter for Oscar night? Take a look below, and make your own predictions in the comments section. Our roundup regarding what’s shaping up in the Supporting Actress category will follow shortly.
We’d consider this category the thinnest of the year at this stage, but a couple of frontrunners have emerged. The clearest and tallest is the great J.K. Simmons, who has a potentially career-defining role as the asshole drum teacher in “Whiplash.” It lets Simmons do what he does best —unleashing Malcolm Tucker-level insults at the unwitting— while adding plenty of texture to his character, and there’s been buzz around the movie and this performance since the Sundance Film Festival. His performance has been a little tough for some but the chance to nominate a stalwart character actor like Simmons is one of the things this category was made for. Whether Simmons can win or not is one question, but he’s very likely to be a nominee.
Also probably joining him is Edward Norton, getting his best reviews in ages for “Birdman.” Surprisingly, he hasn’t been nominated in fifteen years (“American History X” was his last), but he’s been on a really strong run recently with his work with Wes Anderson, and his supporting turn as a movie star who clashes with Michael Keaton‘s character in Inarritu’s film has been suggested as a strong contender as such since the film bowed at the Venice Film Festival.
Still To Come:
Of all the categories, this is one that still has a number of strong potential prospects on the way. The most imminent might be Logan Lerman, who gives a great turn in “Fury,” and is potentially the film’s best chance at nomination (though Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena or Jon Bernthal might end up getting more traction). The actor’s been doing really solid work in films like “Perks Of Being A Wallflower” and “Noah,” and “Fury” finds him once again standing out. But it remains to be seen if the film has much awards juice: reviews are pretty mixed, the film’s kind of gory, and most are counting it out of major categories at this point. That said, it’s still Sony‘s biggest non-Classics hope, and voters love their WWII, so Lerman could well still be in the mix.
“Unbroken” could end up being a force here, with a number of young actors including Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney and Finn Wittrock having key roles. From what we hear, the most potent prospects are Domhnall Gleeson, who plays one of Louis Zamperini’s fellow captives, and Japanese pop star Miyavi, who plays guard and tormentor Mutsuhiro Watanabe. But will the latter end up too much of a one-dimensional villain to gain much support? There’s also a number of prospects in “Selma,” including Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Common as James Bevel, Cuba Gooding Jr as Fred Gray, and Alessandro Nivola as John Doar, though it’s too early to know who’ll emerge from the pack.
Chris Pine or Johnny Depp might be the ones for “Into The Woods,” though our guess is their roles are too small even if the film works. Meanwhile, young “Les Miserables” actor Daniel Huttlestone, playing Jack (of “the beanstalk” fame) might be worth keeping an eye on, or James Corden if he gets category-frauded down, which is possible. Also a nominal lead but possibly contending here is Christoph Waltz (who’s won this category twice in the last five years) for “Big Eyes,” though it doesn’t feel different enough for him to really register. We suppose that there might be a contender in “Exodus” —Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, John Turturro, Ben Kingsley or Ben Mendelsohn— but again, we need to see more from the film to be convinced.
There could also be potentials from the cast of “Interstellar” —Bill Irwin‘s role is voice only, but Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow or David Gyasi all seem like they might be potentials. The still-never-nominated John Goodman could be one to watch in “The Gambler” as a bald-headed loan shark (Michael K. Williams, Emory Cohen, George Kennedy and Richard Schiff all feature in the film). And after missing out a while back for “Drive,” Albert Brooks could return for his role as an attorney in “A Most Violent Year.”
Though he’s less of a lock than Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo is superb in “Foxcatcher,” and with the category so thin he has a fair chance of making the cut (though it collapses if either Carell or Channing Tatum end up relegated to the supporting category). The awards prospects of “The Judge” look thin in general, but Robert Duvall‘s still very much a prospect for his turn in the film (it’s sixteen years since he was last nominated, for “A Civil Action” in 1998), and many have mentioned Josh Brolin as the best prospect for “Inherent Vice.”
And then there’s “Boyhood” and Ethan Hawke. The actor (a double nominee for writing the latter two “Before” movies, but not an acting nominee since “Training Day“) has a part that doesn’t have the fireworks of co-star Patricia Arquette (see below), but there’s plenty for voters to chew on, and depending on how much of a juggernaut it becomes, Hawke could follow it.
Of the movies we’ve seen so far, a posthumous nod for Gary Poulter‘s startling turn in “Joe” (the actor was a non-professional cast by David Gordon Green, and passed away after production) would be one of the most deserving. We’d also love to see recognition for Ben Mendelsohn in “Starred Up,” Scoot McNairy in “Frank,” and Rob Brydon in “The Trip To Italy,” while, among one of the best ensemble casts of the year, Bill Nighy is a stand-out as the quiet, compassionate miner in “Pride.”
There aren’t any particularly obvious supporting men in “The Imitation Game,” but Matthew Goode‘s probably at the front of the pack if the film snowballs. There’s a little buzz around Tyler Perry and/or Neil Patrick Harris in “Gone Girl,” while in a thin category, one probably shouldn’t rule out James Gandolfini in “The Drop” or Om Puri for “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” though there’s little chance of either.
Josh Brolin – “Inherent Vice”
Albert Brooks – “A Most Violent Year”
Miyavi – “Unbroken”
Edward Norton – “Birdman”
J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash”