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)

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Review: My Ballot and Countdown

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Well, with another successful few weeks of blogging, we have finally reached the big day: the Academy Awards.  In preparation for tonight’s show, I am providing all of you with a review of my blog from these past couple of weeks.  This review includes all of the winners of the 10 categories in which I have seen each nominated film/performance and have subsequently blogged about, and it also includes my list of the “Top 15 Films of the Year.”

Get caught up on my picks, and feel free to look back over any of my past posts featuring much more in-depth commentary on each of these films and performances.  And make sure to tune into the 86th Academy Awards tonight at 7:30pm (CST) on ABC, live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, CA.  Enjoy, everyone!

My Oscar Winners:

Best Picture: 12 Years A Slave

Actor in a Leading Role: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Actor in a Supporting Role: Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave)

Actress in a Leading Role: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave)

Best Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave)

Best Film Editing: Joe Walker (12 Years A Slave)

Best Production Design: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn (The Great Gatsby)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze (Her)

Top 15 Films of the Year:

1. 12 Years A Slave

2. Short Term 12

3. The Hunt

4. Frances Ha

5. The Wolf of Wall Street

6. The World’s End

7. American Hustle

8. The Spectacular Now

9. Nebraska

10. Captain Phillips

11. Her

12. Philomena

13. Fruitvale Station

14. The Place Beyond the Pines

15. Dallas Buyers Club

Best Actress

Film-Toronto Preview

This year, the Best Actress category is absolutely packed with Oscar royalty.  These five women have combined for a previous 33 Academy Award nominations in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress categories.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress:

WINNER: Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

In August: Osage County, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the matriarch of a dysfunctional family in northeastern Oklahoma.  I have long believed that Meryl Streep is the greatest actress in the history of cinema, and even though Cate Blanchett is receiving all of the hype this awards season, Meryl Streep turned in a performance for the ages.  Meryl StreepShe plays a very complex, narcotics-addicted, cancer-ridden woman on the brink of all-out emotional breakdown, and only Streep could dominate a role like this.  From the scenes in which she is filled with pill-induced rage to the scenes of bitter heartbreak as she loses her husband, Violet permeates the screen in a way that makes you feel so deeply empathetic, and this is all due to an utterly amazing performance by Hollywood’s leading lady.  Meryl Streep has been previously nominated a record seventeen 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).

2. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

In Blue Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the title role of Jasmine Francis, a former socialite that is now forced to live with her middle-class sister in San Francisco after her husband is indicted in a pyramid scheme.  Cate BlanchettAs I mentioned in an earlier post, Woody Allen is the king of obsession in cinema, and in Jasmine, he has created his most neurotic character to date.  Blanchett is an amazingly talented actress with a distinguished filmography, but I simply could not see her owning a role like this; therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she absolutely, unequivocally dominated this performance inside and out.  Blanchett has already swept this category at nearly every award show, including the BAFTAs and Golden Globes, and rightfully so—her performance was probably the best of her career, and she is more than deserving of this critical acclaim.  Cate Blanchett was previously nominated for five Oscars, winning for Best Supporting Actress for The Aviator (2004).

3. Amy Adams (American Hustle)

In American Hustle, Amy Adams plays the confounding Sydney Prosser/Lady Edith Greensly, the mistress and business partner of con man Irving Rosenfeld.  I have been an avid fan of Adams’s work over the course of her quietly dignified career, and this performance is probably my second favorite, right behind her portrayal of Sister James in Doubt (2008).  Amy AdamsAdams’s character in this film is miserable, but beautiful; she’s uncanny, but vibrant.  Needless to say, this is one of Amy Adams’s most complex roles of her career, but she uses the intricacies of her polished artsmanship to create a memorable character that dazzles in the wild world of the 1970s.  Amy Adams has previously been nominated for four Oscars, most recently for Best Supporting Actress in The Master (2012).

4. Judi Dench (Philomena)

In Philomena, Dame Judi Dench plays the real-life title character, Philomena Lee, a woman searching for her long lost son who was taken from her fifty years ago.  Not too many actresses still working today can attest to a more illustrious filmography than Judi Dench, and just when you thought she could not turn up the volume for another Oscar-worthy performance, she does it.  Judi Dench in PhilomenaThe story surrounding this film is incredibly heart wrenching, but Dench took on the role with a remarkable amount of poise.  When she needs to be funny, she can be downright hilarious, and when she needs to show dramatic emotion, she collapses with tears—Dench is a master of her craft, and she expounds upon this skill in the most beautifully administered way in Philomena.  Dench has previously been nominated for six Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love (1998).

5. Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

In Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist on her first mission in outer space. Sandra Bullock I apologize to anyone who enjoyed this film and/or Bullock’s performance, but it is about to get extremely brutal in this post.  Gravity was one of the most over-hyped films of the year, and sadly, Alfonso Cuarón will probably win tons and tons of Oscars for this movie.  Yes, it was incredibly beautiful, but there was absolutely no storyline of any substance.  Also, I am appalled that Bullock is nominated this year.  Yes, she has become a great actress over the past few years, but this nomination is an utter joke in my opinion.  She floats around in space for an hour and a half—how that is worthy of an Oscar nod is clearly beyond my own understanding.  For the first time in a long time, I am overtly disappointed in one of the Academy’s nominations.  Sandra Bullock was previously nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Blind Side (2009).

Actresses snubbed in this category: Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Brie Larson (Short Term 12), and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)

My Review of the 85th Academy Awards

Aaron Tveit, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Hugh Jackman, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Russell Crowe

Well, this year’s Oscars have officially come and gone, and at this point, I am already excited for next year’s show.  But before I start preparing for another amazing year in film, I wanted to share my reactions of last night’s broadcast with all of you.  Even though Seth MacFarlane provided some hilarious laughs, in the end I felt he was just another average host.  I hope next year the Academy employs someone that can keep me feeling pleasantly entertained for the entire show.

Speaking of the entire show, once again, this year’s broadcast was WAY too long.  This is one thing the Academy needs to continue working on fixing because by the end, most viewers were bored and tired.  One of my favorite things about this year’s show, though, was dedicating the ceremony’s theme to music in film.  As you probably saw in an earlier post of mine, I truly feel music is the most important part of a movie in regards to creating feeling and emotion within the viewer.  The various musical performances added an authentic flare to the Oscars.

This year’s Academy Awards had some awesome moments, some not-so-awesome moments, and some downright unforgettable moments, and I am using this post to share my reactions to some of these moments with you:

Best Moment: (Les Misérables performance)

In a night centered on the theme of music in movies, the cast of Les Misérables stole the show.  Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Aaron Tveit all reunited on stage to perform a combination of three songs from the film: “Suddenly,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” and “One More Day.”  I enjoyed each of these songs in the actual movie, but I was quite glad to see these amazing songs performed once more by this astounding ensemble—definitely the highlight of the show for me.

Worst Moment: (Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance)

Catherine Zeta-Jones returned to the Oscars stage a decade after her musical film Chicago took home six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Adding to the theme of music in movies, Zeta-Jones performed “All That Jazz” from Chicago.  Even though she did an amazing job in the original film and has put together a pretty successful Broadway career, her performance at the Oscars was beyond dreadful.  She was clearly lip-synching and her faux singing was even more horrendous than Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live a few years ago.  It was most definitely a forgettable portion of the show last night.

Most Endearing Moment: (Acceptance Speech for Inocente)

When the filmmakers for the winner of Best Documentary Short gave their acceptance speech, they included a heartfelt sentiment: they brought the subject of their short film on stage.  The short film is about a teenage artist, Inocente Izucar, who is living homeless in San Diego, California.  Through the attention she has received from the short movie, she is no longer homeless and is making progress as a professional artist.  The filmmakers brought her on stage to recognize the way she has turned her life around in such a short time, and the moment was genuinely endearing.

Most Boring Moment (Barbara Streisand’s performance)

After an already long presentation of this year’s “In Memoriam,” songstress Barbara Streisand performed “The Way We Were” in a special tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.  Even though her rendition of this song originally won the Academy Award for Best Original Song nearly 40 years ago, I was bored out of my mind by her 2013 performance.  I understand it is a sentimental song and added to the “In Memoriam” moment, but this portion of the show dragged on way too long and the song virtually put me to sleep.

WTF Moment: (Tie for Best Sound Editing)

Even though I am a dedicated fan of the Oscars, I was just as shocked as everyone when the Best Sound Editing category ended in a tie.  Yes, a tie with two winners—the sound editors for both Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall received the award.  After doing some research, it turns out that this was actually the sixth occurrence of a tie at the Academy Awards.  The first tie was in 1932 when Frederic March from Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Wallace Beery from The Champ each shared the Oscar for Best Actor.  The most recent tie was in 1995 when Frank Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life and Trevor tied for Best Live Action Short Film.

Best Monologue Joke: (Ben Affleck and Argo)

Seth MacFarlane began the show discussing some of the films up for major awards.  He commented on the snubbing of Ben Affleck for Best Director: “Argo tells the previously classified story about an American hostage rescue in post-revolutionary Iran.  The film was so top-secret that the film’s director is unknown to the Academy.”

Worst Monologue Joke (Tarantino and his usage of the “N” word)

Seth MacFarlaneWhile discussing the controversy Django Unchained has received for its usage of the “N” word, MacFarlane said, “I’m told it’s actually okay for Quentin Tarantino to use that word because he thinks he’s black.”  Hardly anyone laughed and Seth quickly jumped to the next joke after realizing this one was a dud.

Monologue joke I hated to laugh at, but did anyway: (Chris Brown and Rihanna)

While explaining the storyline of Django Unchained, MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence.  Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.”

Best Acceptance Speech: (Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor)

Becoming the first actor in the history of the Oscars to win the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, Daniel Day-Lewis had plenty to be happy about.  His acceptance speeches have always been more than eloquent, and this one was no different; however, he showed a lighter side of himself by joking with presenter Meryl Streep, stating that he was actually supposed to play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and she was supposed to play Honest Abe in Lincoln.  He has always been a stand-up professional, and even though I felt a couple other nominees should have won this award, he gave a humble speech celebrating his win.

Worst Acceptance Speech: (Claudio Miranda for Best Cinematography)

The cinematographer for Life of Pi received his first Academy Award last night.  And if he wins in the future, hopefully he learns to make a better speech.  He was breathing as if he had just run a marathon, and he was staring into space and making odd noises in between sentences.  He started getting way too much into detail about specific camera shots from the film and could hardly get his words out.  I know he was happy and overwhelmed, but it was odd to watch.

Biggest Surprise (Ang Lee for Best Director)

85th Annual Academy Awards - ShowWhile most people were angry that Ben Affleck was snubbed in this category, it was a common consensus that this award was Steven Spielberg’s to lose.  Lincoln has been one of the most recognized films of the year, and with Affleck out of the category, it seemed like a guarantee that Spielberg would go home with the gold.  However, Ang Lee, the director of Life of Pi, shocked everyone by winning over the heavyweight favorite.  Also, for the first time since the Oscars ceremony held in 2006, the winner of the Best Director award was not the winner of the Best Picture award—interestingly enough, the last time this happened, it was in fact Ang Lee who won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain but lost to Crash in the Best Picture category.

Best Quotes from my family’s Oscar Watch Party: (Leslie Froman and Marcia Towle)

While watching the Academy Awards with my family, some unforgettable quotes were uttered, and I feel the need to share these with you as an added bonus.  During William Shatner’s cameo appearance in the monologue, he mentioned the Academy Awards, to which my girlfriend Leslie remarked, “Hang on, rewind that.  He messed up.  He said ‘Academy Awards’ instead of ‘Oscars.’”  Yes, she learned last night for the first time that the Academy Awards and the Oscars were actually one in the same.  The next best quote was from my own mother.  As they announced the nominees for Best Supporting Actor, they showed a clip from Tommy Lee Jones’ role as Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.  During the clip, my mom said, “He is an ugly Lincoln!”  No, Mom, that’s not Lincoln, that’s a congressman.