As Oscar nominations loom, where is the Supporting Actor race? Take a look at a solid–and frozen–five contenders. These ARE the final five.
1. JK Simmons (“Whiplash”)
Why is Simmons so obvious? Well, ever since Damien Chazelle’s jazz drumming drama opened the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was instantly scooped up by Sony Pictures Classics, the movie has been slowly building a strong base of support, even though it never quite took off at the box office. Word-of-mouth has been great: once people sit down and watch the edge-of-your-seat movie, they love it, partly because it goes out with such a bang. It leaves the audience on an emotional high.
Simmons, 59, is a classic case of a familiar and respected workhorse film and TV regular (“The Closer,” “Law and Order”) who finally has landed the perfect role. In this case, the genial everyman in a series of comedies (Jason Reitman’s “Juno” and “Up in the Air” and the Coens’ “Burn After Reading”) morphs into the most intimidatingly abusive teacher you ever had. He pushes an ambitious college jazz drummer (Miles Teller) farther than he ever thought he could go–and into a realm of insanity.
From the start, the media and Oscar experts reached a consensus that Simmons gives the performance to beat for the Oscar–and many critics groups (NYFCC, LAFCA) as well as bellwether Indie Spirit, SAG and Golden Globes voters agree. This would mark his first nomination.
2. Edward Norton (“Birdman”)
Which is too bad for this twice-nominated actor (“Primal Fear,” “American History X”), who gives the performance of his career as a narcissistic womanizing theater star in A.G. Inarritu’s “Birdman.” Norton is funny, cocky–fighting with Michael Keaton in his underwear–sexy and vulnerable, as his imminent breakup with his actress girlfriend (Naomi Watts) leads him to flirt with Keaton’s daughter (Emma Stone).
Norton, 45, came in second to Simmons with the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, but won with the San Francisco critics and the National Board of Review, and was nominated by SAG, the Golden Globes and the Indie Spirits.
3. Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”)
Hawke has a key supporting role in the current favorite to win Best Picture, Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” which follows a boy from age six to the verge of adulthood at 18 when he goes to college. Every summer Hawke acted with Ellar Coltrane, playing his father.
Hawke, 44, was nominated for “Training Day” as well as for co-writing the screenplays for Linklater’s “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” in which he also co-starred. That makes Hawke as comfortable as possible with the writer-director’s casual, free-wheeling improvisational style.
Hawke, who directed the documentary fall festival hit “Seymour: An Introduction,” was nominated for Critics Choice, Indie Spirit, SAG and Golden Globe awards, and came in third in the annual Village Voice film critics poll.
4. Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”)
Ruffalo, 47, is another respected and beloved working actor who has been having a great year, from John Carney musical “Begin Again” and TV’s “The Normal Heart” to this transformative performance as Olympic wrestler David Schultz in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” It looks like Ruffalo may wind up the most certain nomination for this darkly disturbing true murder mystery co-starring Steve Carell as wealthy John DuPont and Channing Tatum as Schultz’s younger brother wrestler Mark.
Ruffalo has been nominated for the SAG, Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. He has one prior Oscar nomination, for “The Kids Are All Right.”
5. Robert Duvall (“The Judge”)
Ever since “The Judge” opened the Toronto International Film Festival, veteran character actor Duvall, 83, who has logged six Oscar nominations and one win (“Tender Mercies”), has been in the supporting actor race. While the Robert Downey vehicle did not score rave reviews, Duvall did–across the board–for playing yet another tough, demanding but honorable parent. He’s nommed by the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG awards. In one heart-breaking scene, he loses control of his bowels. That alone wins him an Oscar nomination.
Actors revere Duvall for his authentic performances and dogged professionalism. He never falters.