Best Supporting Actress 2014

Best Supporting Actress Nominees

Last year, three of the five Best Supporting Actress nominees were Academy Awards rookies. This year, two of them are (Patricia Arquette and Emma Stone), and two others are only receiving their second nomination ever (Laura Dern and Keira Knightley). The other nominee is Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress of all time. The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

WINNER: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Arquette1Patricia Arquette gave the most surprisingly powerful performance of 2014 in Boyhood. Arquette plays the matriarchal Olivia, essentially raising her kids Samantha and Mason, Jr., all on her own. The film may be titled Boyhood (even though the first two-thirds of the movie should be called Girlhood), but Arquette gives an influential voice to women everywhere regarding “motherhood.” For Olivia, her single-parent circumstances make for an inherently uphill life struggle, and Arquette movingly portrays her character’s anxiety and heartbreak—this is most obvious in the scenes that capture the end of various failed relationships due to her partners’ physical abuse, alcoholism, and the like. In real life, Arquette had her first child at only 20-years-old, and the life experiences that flowed from that situation allowed her to give a proficient performance regarding the priority of being a parent and the many emotions that so radically change over the years. Arquette’s portrayal of Olivia was spectacular, and the vivid life that Arquette breathed into Olivia over the 12-year filming process was amazingly coherent and matter-of-fact. Arquette has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Emma Stone (Birdman)

Stone1In Birdman, Emma Stone plays Sam, the daughter of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a struggling film actor looking to stage a comeback on Broadway. Sam, recently out of rehab for addiction issues, acts as Thompson’s assistant. Although her attitude throughout the film is nonchalant and flagrantly detached, she is the one who truly cares for Riggan emotionally—this is why she turns out to be the sole voice of reason for Keaton’s complex character. Stone has a filmography filled with some of my favorite comedies (e.g., Superbad, Zombieland, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), but I have never really considered her a preeminent “actor.” Sure, she is fantastic in these funny roles but can she really “act”? Turns out, she can! Emma Stone is one of the best parts of Birdman, and it is that distinct voice and speech pattern that we all recognize from past performances that gives her character the invigorated audacity that it deserves. Birdman was a difficult movie for actors because of the “long-take” nature of the photography, but Stone accepted the challenge and owned her role. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding the filming challenge, she said, “Every day was complicated. Every day was hard, but it also is the best feeling ever whenever you get to the end of the day.” Stone has never previously been nominated for an Academy Award.

  1. Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Streep1In Into the Woods, Meryl Streep plays the Witch in the silver-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical. Desperate to reclaim her youthful appearance, the Witch tasks the Baker and his wife to find three items that are needed for a special potion that will break her horrifying curse. Streep’s character has some of the better songs from the musical (e.g., “Stay with Me” and “Last Midnight”), and she ultimately gives the best performance of the film. Not only does Streep have the most superior acting quality of the entire cast (which she utilizes marvelously here), but she also has one of the finest vocal sounds. She demonstrates tenacity by embedding gravitas and trepidation into her character, and this is manifested by Streep’s spectacularly talented vocal bravado. Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record eighteen times in acting categories at the Oscars, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Kramer v. Kramer (1979) and for Best Actress in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011).

  1. Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)

Knightley1In The Imitation Game, Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the real-life cryptanalyst who joined a team, led by Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), tasked with breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II. I did not find The Imitation Game to be that great of a movie, and moreover, I did not find Knightley’s performance to be particularly memorable. The history of Joan Clarke as a member of Britain’s code-breaker squad during the Second World War is monumental for multiple reasons (particularly because she broke the glass ceiling in the process as the sole woman on the project), and it was a thrill to see this storied woman receive a voice on the big screen in a film that focused mostly on Turing. Other than providing the physical screen manifestation of this true-life character, Knightley did not do much else. Her emotion seemed forced throughout and her elocution of the dialogue was merely serviceable; for me, all Knightley provided was one more reason why I believe she is an overrated actress. Knightley was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role as Elizabeth Bennett in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice. 

  1. Laura Dern (Wild)

Dern1In the Reese Witherspoon-acted/produced film Wild, Laura Dern portrays the real-life Bobbi Grey, the late mother of the lead character Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). Bobbi’s death from cancer is the event that sends Strayed into a frenzy, causing her to eventually venture 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. From the commentary on Strayed’s memoir that inspired the film’s production, it seems that Bobbi was an incredibly influential and important figure in Strayed’s life, and her death truly did affect Strayed in unimaginable ways. I wish her character had gotten the screen time to account for this key role in the main character’s life. Yes, we see multiple scenes with Dern raising her children and eventually suffering from cancer, but it was something short of average for me (like the entire movie, for that matter). Dern is a talented actress (the daughter of Oscar-nominee Bruce Dern), but I do not believe she was able to make her mark on the limited time she had on screen. I found it difficult to engage with the character, and the average performance made Wild even less enjoyable than it already was. Dern was previously nominated for Best Actress for her role in Rambling Rose (1991).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Anne Hathaway (Interstellar) and Jessica Chastain (Interstellar)

The Best Films of 2014 – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

Edge of Tomorrow 2

Oscars season is back, and that means it is time to break down the best movies from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will be revealing each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2014” list, but today I am announcing my five “Honorable Mention” films. Now, I present you with the five films that just missed cracking my Top 15 list:

No. 16 – Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow 1Edge of Tomorrow is a science-fiction film directed by Doug Limon with a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth. The film takes place in the not-so-distant future and follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer in the military, who is forced into battle against a deadly alien race. His mission is essentially suicide, but Cage is thrown into a time-loop and is sent back to the day before the battle each time he dies. With help from Special Forces Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage is able to improve his warrior skills to take down the enemy in the repeated days. After Cruise’s science-fiction failure last year (Oblivion), I was not expecting much from this movie, and truthfully, I had no interest in seeing it. But when I finally did sit down and watch it, I was more than impressed. The storyline is somewhat similar to that of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993), but it blows its “predecessor” away with its incredible action-packed plot. The visual effects are as top-notch as you will see, and the acting is spot-on. The on-screen relationship between Cruise and Blunt is vitally important for this story to work, and their chemistry was vastly evident—these two take an incredibly unique storyline and knock it out of the park. If you are looking for a solid Redbox movie on a Friday night, this one is well worth a watch.

No. 17 – Into the Woods 

Into2Into the Woods is a film directed by Rob Marshall, an adaptation of the critically acclaimed Broadway musical of the same name. I am a huge fan of musicals, but for some reason, I not once had any interest in seeing this movie. However, when the Oscar nominations were released, I was forced into seeing it because Meryl Streep was nominated for her role as The Witch (which was well-deserved)—I am sure glad I saw it. The storyline is such a unique conglomeration of a number of classic fairytales, and the music is as catchy as you can imagine—I literally kept singing some of the songs long after I watched it. I was also impressed with the acting and singing from the film’s starring cast. Even though the film was full of superstar talent (Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, and Tracey Ullman), I was most impressed by James Corden (the Baker) and Emily Blunt (the Baker’s wife)—they did not look like your typical on-screen couple, but the chemistry was apparent and the singing/acting performances by this duo were enchanting. If you are a fan of musicals, this is one of the best I have seen in quite some time.

No. 18 – A Most Violent Year

AMVY3A Most Violent Year is a film written and directed by J.C. Chandor. This movie follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), the owner of an oil company in 1981 whose business is being tainted by a severe outbreak of violent corruption during the most crime-ridden year in New York City’s history. This is only Chandor’s third film, but he has built up an expertise in multiple storytelling techniques. He can build a film that centers on plot and dialogue (Margin Call), and he can also create a tried-and-true character study (All Is Lost)—with A Most Violent Year, Chandor does an amazing job of combining these two methods. The film is shot spectacularly, and it includes a foot-chase scene for the ages. Although Oscar Isaac does a solid job in the starring role, the best performance in the movie is from his co-star, Jessica Chastain. Chastain plays Abel’s wife Anna, and the critically acclaimed actress (the most talented in Hollywood, in my opinion) stole every single scene she was in. The film is tense, dark, and thrilling, and it is definitely one of the standout movies from a great year in cinema.

No. 19 – Two Days, One Night 

Two days, one nightTwo Days, One Night is a Belgian-French-Italian drama written and directed by acclaimed Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The movie is about Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer in Liege. After taking some time off from work due to a nervous breakdown, Sandra returns to find out that management has offered her sixteen co-workers a €1,000 bonus if they vote to let Sandra go from her position. After Sandra pleas with management, her boss agrees to take a new vote on Monday about her fate; thus, Sandra has only one weekend to visit each of her sixteen co-workers to plead her case. There is not much I like more than a well-written, well-acted, well-shot foreign-language film, and Two Days, One Night definitely meets that criteria. The story is a dilemma that any one of us could imagine being in, and Cotillard’s incredible dramatic performance evokes a heightened level of empathy with this tough situation. This film is as simplistic as it gets, but at the same time, it is a tremendously depicted human-nature drama.

No. 20 – The Drop

The DropThe Drop is a mob drama directed by Michaël R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane. This movie was No. 6 on my “Fall Preview 2014” post, and although it did not make my list of the Top 15 films of the year, it still stands out as one of the year’s most noteworthy movies. I am a huge fan of several film adaptations of Dennis Lehane’s novels (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River), and given that this was his first screenplay attempt, I was greatly anticipating the film’s release. As a mob-related drama, the film’s potential success hinged upon a dark, thrilling storyline and believable acting performances—The Drop certainly satisfies these requirements. This was the final appearance in a feature film by James Gandolfini, and given his experience as Tony Soprano on the HBO show The Sopranos, it was not difficult for the late actor to excel in his role as Cousin Marv—it was a spectacular swan song for a talented artist like Gandolfini. Naturally, though, the movie hit its highest points because of the star performance by Tom Hardy. Over the past couple of years, Hardy has become one of my favorite actors, and if you want the chance to see him excel in a role, make sure to check out The Drop.