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. 6 – Boyhood

Boyhood - BPBoyhood is a drama written and directed by Richard Linklater. Filmed over a 12-year period, Boyhood charts the physical and emotion growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a young boy growing up with divorced parents.

Boyhood8Boyhood is a masterpiece. Hands down. The incredible feat that Richard Linklater achieved in creating this film is astounding, to say the least. After assembling his main cast (Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Jr., Lorelei Linklater as Samantha, Patricia Arquette as Olivia, and Ethan Hawke as Mason, Sr.), Linklater proceeded to film Boyhood on a consecutive basis for 12 years, filming each year for a three to four-day period. This technique is absolutely unheard of, but Linklater makes it work in the most intriguing ways possible. For starters, his script surprisingly flows seamlessly, notwithstanding the movie’s intermittent filming and 165-minute duration. And when I say, “flow,” I do not mean in the way that most great scripts flow because Linklater’s storytelling techniques are far from orthodox. Most Linklater films (especially his Before trilogy, starring Ethan Hawke) seemingly have no plot—he builds his story upon dialogue and commonplace circumstances. Therefore, even though Boyhood seems at times as if it meanders with no distinct end in sight, Linklater is constantly keeping the viewer engaged with events and conversations that everyone can relate to—this is his version of “flow.” Boyhood6Linklater embeds into his film scenes that the average American will understand and connect with—adolescent complexities, familial arguments and fights, and house parties. In these everyday, communicative depictions, Linklater crafts a 3-hour plus film that never has a dull moment—it is masterful filmmaking, and it will forever go down as Linklater’s magnum opus.

Boyhood3The film is titled Boyhood. And boy (no pun intended), does it depict “boyhood” in the most amazing way. In most films, the physical progression of a particular character is usually portrayed via several actors or incredibly intricate makeup/visual effects. In Boyhood, Linklater’s 12-year production supplies a natural development for each of the characters—this is one of the more amazing features of his masterwork. It is incredible to see the film’s lead character Mason progress from an elementary boy with baby fat to a freshman in college with facial hair. Boyhood4During those 12 years, Mason endures all of the customary experiences of childhood, battling divorced parents and witnessing domestic abuse, all the while. This is portrayed with such realism, and the actual physical growth of Ellar Coltrane gives the touch of authenticity that makes the film achieve something picturesque. Speaking of the film’s pragmatism, a film-enthusiast friend of mine (known here only as “DPJ”) described its depiction of “boyhood” perfectly: “the thing Boyhood does exceptionally well is that it hits on all those key points of growing up that all men remember vividly. High points and low. The fact that it took 12 years to make is in my view actually the lesser achievement.” Boyhood2This is absolutely true. The childhood experience of a guy includes so many traditional experiences—playing with friends, talking to girls, going to parties, having your first drink, falling in love for the first time, leaving the nest—and the ways in which Linklater displays those on screen is as matter-of-fact as it gets. Some of my favorite parts of the movie were the cultural signposts throughout the years—Mason goes to a release party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, plays Nintendo Wii, and goes to an Astros game to watch Roger Clemens pitch. These scenes breathe life into Linklater’s remarkable time capsule.

Boyhood7In terms of acting, the theme of physical and emotional progression is further manifested. Ellar Coltrane goes from being a six-year-old with limited acting skills to an 18-year-old with extraordinary abilities. The same can be said for Richard Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei (who portrays Mason’s older sister). The key performances, however, came from Mason and Samantha’s divorced parents, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Ethan Hawke, in my opinion, was only serviceable in his role, but he does execute it quite well (although I do not believe his Oscar nomination is justified). Patricia Arquette is the clear highlight of the film (as I wrote a few days ago), and it is more than evident that the veteran actress delivered a tour de force in her role as Olivia. Boyhood is rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

Boyhood trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0oX0xiwOv8

Academy Award nominations for Boyhood:

Best Picture (Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, producers)

Best Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke)

Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette)

Best Director (Richard Linklater)

Best Film Editing (Sandra Adair)

Best Original Screenplay (Richard Linklater)

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

  1. Blue Ruin
  2. American Sniper
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Birdman
  5. Fury
  6. Calvary
  7. Interstellar
  8. Gone Girl
  9. The Lego Movie

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Wolf of Wall Street

This year, nearly every single writer nominated in this category will be attending the Academy Awards for the very first time.  In fact, the only writers in this year’s group that have ever been nominated before are Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, collectively nominated this year for Before Midnight.  Another noteworthy fact about this year’s group: four of the five scripts were adapted from real-life events.  Even though this category is filled with mostly newcomers to the Oscars, each writer has experienced a distinguished career.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:

WINNER: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Giorgio Armani and Paramount Pictures Present The US Premiere of "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET"Terence Winter adapted this screenplay from Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name.  Even though this is only Winter’s third feature-film screenplay, he is a well-established name in the entertainment business—he was a writer and executive producer for HBO’s The Sopranos and is a writer, executive producer, and creator of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is similar to his very own Oscar-nominated film Goodfellas, and a lot of this has to do with Terence Winter’s mind-blowing script.  In fact, Winter, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, admitted that his inspiration for this script was Goodfellas.  Compared to Goodfellas, this script is filled with even more drugs, sex, crime, and F-bombs, and the film works so well because of Winter’s outrageous screenplay.  Terence Winter has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

2. John Ridley (12 Years A Slave)Ridley 12 Years

John Ridley adapted this screenplay from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.  12 Years A Slave is clearly one of the most amazing films from 2013, and Ridley’s treatment of this classic story is truly inspiring.  The story spans a twelve-year period, but Ridley makes sure to highlight some of the most striking events from this time, including a combination of heart-warming moments and moments that make your heart break for Solomon Northup.  This script, coupled with some amazing acting, gives the story of Northup a deserved sense of justice.  John Ridley has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

3. Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)Coogan and Pope

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope adapted this screenplay from journalist Martin Sixsmith’s 2009 book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, telling the true story of a woman searching for fifty years to find her son.  Jeff Pope, an award-winning writer and producer, and Steve Coogan, an award-winning writer, actor, impressionist, and producer, are both well known in their field in the United Kingdom, and it is refreshing to see their success receiving American praise, as well.  The story is inspirational, and the script has already won the BAFTA for this very same category.  Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope have never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

4. Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)

Billy Ray Captain PhillipsBilly Ray adapted this screenplay from the 2010 book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty.  The film tells the real-life story of the 2009 hijacking of Captain Phillips’s Maersk Alabama container ship by Somali pirates.  The film is incredibly tense, and the screenplay makes the most of such a terrifying storyline.  Some of the dialogue between Phillips (Tom Hanks) and the Somali actors is entrenched in my memory, and the film benefits significantly from Ray’s Oscar-nominated script.  Billy Ray has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

5. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight)

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard LinklaterBefore Midnight is the third film in a trilogy of films, beginning with Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), and Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke adapted it from the previous works in the trilogy.  I have never seen either of the first two films, but the movie is set up in a way that you do not necessarily have to have any prior knowledge of the series; however, I do admit, I now want to see the other two to better understand the impact of the story.  I found the film entertaining, and it is mostly due to the chemistry between Delpy and Hawke as actors and the chemistry between both of them and Linklater as collaborative writers.  Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, were previously nominated for previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Before Sunset (2004).