Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actor NomineesThis year’s category features five very familiar faces. Other than the veteran Robert Duvall (receiving his sixth Oscar nomination), the other four men have varying experience at the Academy Awards, escalating from zero previous nominations (J.K. Simmons) to one (Mark Ruffalo) to two (Edward Norton) and to three (Ethan Hawke; only one previous acting nomination). The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

JKIn my opinion, J.K. Simmons delivered the most extraordinary acting performance of any kind in 2014. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of my “Best Supporting Actor” ballot simply because of Simmons’s tour de force in Whiplash as Terence Fletcher, the conductor of New York’s most prestigious music school. Fletcher is totalitarian, bullying, and without any charismatic quality, and Simmons breaks free from his seemingly charming persona (as depicted in most of his films) to breathe life into this despotic conductor—for the sake of cinema, Simmons thrives in this newfound “asshole” role. Never once did I say, “I just cannot buy into Simmons as this tormenting, crass character,” which would be easy to do considering he is the Farmers Insurance guy. From the moment Fletcher stepped into his first scene, I was completely on board with Simmons’s harrowing portrayal. He owns every single scene that he is featured in, and I would watch Whiplash (an absolutely spellbinding film unto itself) over and over again just to see Simmons. His terrifying nature in this film had me on the edge of my seat, and this is almost exclusively due to one of the best acting performances of the past decade. Simmons has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Edward Norton (Birdman) 

EdIn Birdman, Edward Norton plays Mike Shiner, a volatile method actor that is hired at the last minute to play a key role in failing actor Riggan Thompson’s Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. This movie is about as odd as it gets, but it succeeds in more ways than one—one of those ways is via Norton’s hilarious performance. Shiner is one of the cockiest SOBs you will ever see on the big screen, and Norton delivers this not-so-subtle swagger with ostentatious vigor. Some of the film’s most hilarious scenes are a result of Norton’s spirited performance. During the Broadway show’s preview before opening night, Shiner gets so “method” that he actually gets drunk (his character is seen drinking alcohol in this particular scene) and embarks on an inebriated rant in front of the crowd. In another scene, he is supposed to be pretending to engage in “coitus” with Naomi Watts’s character, but instead of “acting,” Shiner attempts to actually have intercourse with her on stage. These scenes are downright hilarious, and Edward Norton’s performance is spot-on. With a long career featuring amazing performances, this is by far one of his best. Norton was previously nominated for Best Actor for Primal Fear (1996) and for Best Supporting Actor for American History X (1998).

  1. Robert Duvall (The Judge)

BobDIn The Judge, Robert Duvall portrays the titular “judge.” Judge Joseph Palmer, a respected man in a small town, is thrust into a nightmarish whirlwind as he is arrested and charged with murder. Robert Duvall is clearly one of Hollywood’s most enduring performers, and with a career (spanning over 50 years) full of memorable roles, the 84-year-old veteran adds another spectacular performance to his already incredible filmography. Judge Palmer is a complicated character. He has just lost his wife, is suspected of murdering a local man, and is battling illness—this is by far the most trying time in his life. I could not imagine anyone else making this performance work as well as Duvall. In recent years, he always plays the smart-mouth, grumpy character well, but it is in the most emotional of Judge Palmer’s scenes that Duvall most flourishes. I was not a massive fan of this movie, but I was more than impressed by the way Duvall carried the story throughout. Robert Duvall has been previously nominated five times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for Tender Mercies (1983). 

  1. Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) 

MarkIn Foxcatcher, Mark Ruffalo plays the real-life Olympic champion Dave Schultz. I enjoyed Foxcatcher (not as much as I was hoping for, though), and it is most due to the remarkable acting performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. Carell plays the consistently mysterious and disturbing John du Pont and Tatum plays the macho, but unassuming Mark Schultz; however, the most intriguing character is Dave Schultz. He is by far the most levelheaded of the film’s main cast, and Ruffalo portrays the character amazingly. According to Ruffalo in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the physical and emotional preparation for Foxcatcher was intense: “I’ve never done anything harder in my life[.] I’ve never been pushed more. It was literally blood, sweat, and tears on this movie. Every part of it.” In some of the most vexing scenes of this movie, it is Ruffalo who delivers the most truthful of performances, and it is part of the reason Foxcatcher is so good from an acting standpoint. Ruffalo was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right.

  1. Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

EthanIn Richard Linklater’s 12-year epic Boyhood, Ethan Hawke portrays Mason, the divorced father of Samantha and Mason, Jr. Boyhood is an unbelievable film, but I have Hawke in last place in this category because I do not agree with his nomination. Yes, he gives a great performance, but it was nothing memorable in my opinion—he is merely serviceable in his role. Fresh off of his Oscar nomination for 2001’s Training Day, Hawke’s performance in those initial scenes (filmed first back in 2002) is stellar. He is everything you would expect from an Oscar nominee. However, like his acting career since 2002, his performance seems to go downhill throughout the rest of the film. It never borders on a “bad” performance, but it is not anything that sticks out as Oscar-worthy. He seems like he is just playing Ethan Hawke, which is not compelling enough for me to believe his inclusion in this category is justified. Although Hawke has received two Oscar nominations for screenwriting, his only previous nomination in an acting category was for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: Shia LaBeouf (Fury), Jon Bernthal (Fury) Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up), and Chris O’Dowd (Calvary)

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 10 – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman - BPBirdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a black comedy directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu with a screenplay by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo. The film follows Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), an actor with a wavering career (famous for portraying the superhero “Birdman”) who is looking to stage a comeback by directing and acting in a Broadway production. In the final days leading up to the show’s opening night, Riggan must battle himself as he attempts to reconcile his family and his career.

Birdman2Despite the fact that each of writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s previous four feature films (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel, and Biutiful) was nominated for Oscars in a range of categories, Birdman is personally my first encounter with the critically acclaimed Mexican filmmaker. Although none of Iñárritu’s films have won big on Oscar night, that is bound to change in just less than two weeks. In Birdman, Iñárritu has constructed one of the best original screenplays in the past few years, and this unique storyline flat out works on so many levels. It is an unparalleled, comeback-within-a-comeback story. Its lead character Riggan Thompson is making a comeback on Broadway after years of dormancy following his refusal to play the superhero “Birdman” in a fourth installment of the superhero series. Birdman8All the while, actor Michael Keaton, after leaving Tim Burton’s Batman franchise in between the second and third films, has endured years without commercial or critical success and is making an acting revival of sorts in his Birdman role. Considering this casting decision and Iñárritu’s storyline, I figured Birdman would ultimately be too clever for its own good—I imagined it would be way too cheeky and a bit too heavy-handed in its attempt to be self-aware. Ultimately, I was wrong. Yes, it was cognizant of its meta-like approach, but the meticulous filmmaking style of Iñárritu and his witty script allowed the movie to hurdle high above its own cliché barriers to make the story entertaining and mesmerizing. Additionally, the comedic aspects of the script are genius. From Edward Norton and Michael Keaton’s back-and-forth during a rehearsal once Norton’s character is first hired, to the scene of Keaton walking around Times Square in nothing but his white underwear, Iñárritu understands the humor he is trying to evoke, and he does so incredibly well.

Birdman3Part of the allure of Birdman is the way in which it is shot—it is absolutely masterful filmmaking. The movie appears to take place in one continuous long tracking shot. The “long take” has long (pardon the pun…I assure it was unintended) been my favorite filmmaking technique, and when one is done well, it is nothing short of exquisite. In the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and the film-editing team carefully created the illusion of a single take throughout the film’s entirety—they utilized sleek, unsuspecting cuts during horizontal pans and close-up shots on the cast. The result is a film that plays out like a suspense thriller, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as the unpredictable plot is shot “continuously.” The technique is choreographed and audacious, and it will be one of the most remembered aspects of Birdman for years to come. With its deft photographical magnetism, Lubezki will surely earn his second Oscar win for cinematography (his first was for 2013’s Gravity).

_AF_6405.CR2Considering the single “long-take” design for the film, each actor had to consistently be on his or her A-game. Michael Keaton was incredibly superb in his complicated role as the ego-driven, but lost-soul-like Riggan Thompson, and even though he may not win the Oscar for Best Actor (ain’t NOBODY beating Eddie Redmayne this year), it will long stand out (deservedly) as the magnum opus of Keaton’s career. Birdman4The supporting performances in Birdman were also superlative. Both Emma Stone and Edward Norton received Oscar nominations for their roles as Thompson’s daughter and Thompson’s Broadway co-star, respectively, and these accolades come as no surprise. I will discuss Stone’s role in more detail later today in my “Best Supporting Actress” post, but suffice it to say, her performance as a recovering addict is cerebral, and as the sole voice of reason for Riggan Thompson, Stone plays the part of his daughter dexterously. Birdman5Norton nearly steals the show with his performance as Mike Shiner, an acclaimed Broadway star that Riggan is forced to hire at the last minute, just days before the show’s premiere. Norton plays the “pompous asshole” character as scrupulously as possible, and his brilliant acting brings out the most hilarious of the film’s moments—during the show’s preview, Shiner gets drunk and tries to have actual sex with a co-star on stage! Check out Birdman. Everyone has been hyping this movie up for months, and it comes better than advertised. Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence.

Birdman trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJfLoE6hanc

Academy Award nominations for Birdman:

Best Picture (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, and James W. Skotchdopole, producers)

Best Actor (Michael Keaton)

Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton)

Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Director (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

Best Sound Editing (Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock)

Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, and Thomas Varga)

Best Original Screenplay (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Fury
  2. Calvary
  3. Interstellar
  4. Gone Girl
  5. The Lego Movie

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 2 – Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a film directed by Wes Anderson, with a screenplay written by Anderson and Roman Coppola.  The movie is set on the fictional island of New Penzance off the coast of New England in 1965.  Two 12-year-olds, Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, become pen pals and eventually fall in love.  They decide to run away together on the island to pursue their love for one another, but an epic storm is brewing up and is due to hit New Penzance very soon.  With the combination of the storm and the runaway, the quiet, serene nature of this small island quickly turns tumultuously chaotic.

Wes Anderson has made quite a name for himself in the Hollywood as the creator and originator of a very eccentric, nonconformist style of filmmaking.  Some of his most popular films include The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited.  For anyone who has seen any of his previous films, Anderson’s distinct method of filmmaking is unmistakable, and in Moonrise Kingdom, he again employs this same scheme.

Anderson collaborated on this uniquely peculiar screenplay with Roman Coppola, a writer he previously worked with on the script for The Darjeeling Limited.  The two have created a brilliantly refreshing tale of young love, and the entertainingly hilarious nature of the film is brought on strongly by the wonderful piece of writing these two men have created.  Their script has resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

After I rented this movie a while back to see it for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with it—I went and purchased it on Blu-ray mere days after watching it.  It quickly became one of my favorite movies of all time, and it made me a fan of Anderson’s unusual style of filmmaking.  One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the score—acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat creates a specific tone for the movie through his music, and it truly makes the story even more gripping.

The film features some hilariously interesting characters, played by a combination of star-studded actors and Hollywood newbies.  In my opinion, the two younger actors provide the movie’s brightest performances.  Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward portray Sam and Suzy, respectively, and together they provide for some of the funniest and most endearing scenes in the entire film.  Some great supporting performances are also contributed by some of the film industry’s most enduring performers: Bill Murray plays Suzy’s father, Frances McDormand plays Suzy’s mother, Bruce Willis plays the island’s sheriff, Edward Norton plays the local Khaki scout troop leader, Tilda Swinton plays a character known only as Social Services, Jason Schwartzman portrays Cousin Ben, Harvey Keitel plays Commander Pierce, and Bob Balaban provides the role of the narrator.  This ensemble collectively shines on the screen and makes this film the illustrious piece of art it is.

Also, one of the most recognized hallmarks of any Wes Anderson film is the presence of a cast that features many previous Anderson collaborators.  Moonrise Kingdom marks the sixth Anderson film featuring Bill Murray and fourth film featuring Jason Schwartzman.  Moonrise Kingdom is rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking.

Academy Award nominations for Moonrise Kingdom:

Best Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

3. Zero Dark Thirty

4. Skyfall

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo