Academy Award Nomination Predictions: Best Supporting Actor

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Nominations for the 87th Academy Awards are going to be announced in less than a month, so I thought I’d offer up some thoughts on who I think will be nominated in the main categories.

First up is one of my all-time favorite categories, Best Supporting Actor. It has supplied us with winners such as Chris Cooper, Christoph Waltz, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer…well, a lot of people named Chris basically. It is the place where newcomers and beloved character actors can have their names next to some very big stars. Last year, Jared Leto beat Renaissance men Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper, newcomer Barkhad Abdi and Michael Fassbender. It was an absolute landslide, and it appears this year is no different, with some great performances bound to be nominated, and several more excellent ones circling, threatening to break in as well.

Here are the contenders:

LOCKS

J.K. Simmons as Terrence Fletcher in Whiplash.
J.K. Simmons is the ultimate “that guy”, and for years has been doing great work as a supporting player in every possible role. He finally is getting his moment, and as the bullying band instructor Terrence Fletcher, it looks like Simmons is well on his way to earning his very first Academy Award nominations. He has picked up vital nominations from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Broadcast Film Critics Association, and the fact that he has become a critical darling, winning (as of this publishing) 19 different awards from critics groups, he is a definite lock for the nomination, and even the win.

Edward Norton as Mike Shiner in Birdman
Edward Norton is one of the finest leading men working today, but he gave a great supporting performance as the arrogant actor in Birdman, and could return to the Oscar telecast for the first time in 16 years. He and Simmons have both been dividing critics group awards (although Simmons still has garnered more than Norton) and Norton seems very safe for a nomination as well, and could be a huge contender for the win, if Simmons somehow doesn’t register.

Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans Sr. in Boyhood
Ethan Hawke has become one of the most talented actors working today, but no one brings out the brilliance in Hawke quite like Richard Linklater. Hawke was absolutely stellar in the Before Trilogy, but it was in Boyhood where he truly shone. Playing the sympathetic and hardworking father over twelve years of filming, Hawke creates a truly brilliant and human character. I was doubtful for his nomination initially, but he has garnered the same vital trio award nominations as the top four here, and he definitely is a contender for the nomination.

SAFE

Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher.
From the moment we first saw Mark Ruffalo in costume for Foxcatcher, many of us predicted him for the win. Now, almost two years later, we aren’t so convinced of that anymore. However, I would say Ruffalo is safe for a nomination, but it depends on the reaction the voters have to Foxcatcher. It could be a very frosty reaction, where they pull off no major nominations, but I would say Ruffalo is perhaps the surest best for a nomination from that film. However, he is vulnerable

Robert Duvall as Judge Joseph Palmer in The Judge
We don’t really want this nomination to happen, but it seems it is. Robert Duvall is a Hollywood legend, and he’s garnered six Oscar nominations over his long career. However, The Judge received mediocre reviews, which makes explaining Duvall’s vital three nominations even harder to explain. However, he could indeed get nominated, and it seems like he will be nominated, mainly because of the fact that he is a huge legend, and his performance was good enough to garner a name-checked nomination.

POSSIBLE

Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Selma
Tom Wilkinson has not been recognized anywhere for his performance in Selma. Nowhere – absolutely no wins or nominations. Yet, he could still get in on a phenomenon that happens all the time – the voters board a passion train for a specific film, and then people like Wilkinson get dragged along as well. Selma has a certain importance going for it, as it is about Martin Luther King, and as Johnson, Wilkinson plays a small but integral role in the film. Selma is looking to be a potential Best Picture winner, and if it is, I can definitely see Wilkinson coming along with it. Right now, I am not convinced, but that fifth slot is definitely open, and if voters feel a lot of passion for Selma, I could see Wilkinson occupying the last slot.

Josh Brolin as Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen in Inherent Vice
In a huge cast with dozens of supporting roles, Josh Brolin is the only supporting player to be given a sizeable role in the film, and apparently he slays the performance and is the film’s MVP. I would’ve called him a lock if it wasn’t for the fact that Inherent Vice has gotten good, but divisive, reviews and therefore, the film is not likely to get much love, despite my wishes. If the film does better than expected, and voters feel an obligation to give Paul Thomas Anderson (who they greatly respect) some recognition, they could easily show a little support to the film by nominating Brolin. However, don’t count on it. He too has received no recognition

Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane in Big Eyes
Christoph Waltz has won this award twice now (and the sensation of writing that just fills me with joy) and at this point, he could easily slide his way in again on goodwill and name recognition alone. In Big Eyes, he apparently over-acts to the extreme, and is a monumental ham, and for many, this would be a negative, but the voters have shown incredible responses to nominating big, hammy performances from people they adore. Big Eyes has received middling reviews, and unfortunately this doesn’t bode well for AMPAS favorites Amy Adams and Waltz. However, if there is a small swell of support for it, and Adams does get nominated in Best Actress (as unlikely as that seems), perhaps Waltz can also get in.

NO GUTS, NO GLORY

Every year we get a nominee that comes out of absolutely nowhere and grabs the nomination, usually in the supporting field. It is so difficult to predict this type of surprise nomination, because you need to actually look at the much stronger contenders and make a choice as to who to kick out. Then you need to actually figure out who you will pick as the huge surprise. It is a monumental headache, and as the universe has it, as soon as you expect a surprise nominee, there isn’t one and you end up with a boring list of the same old nominees from the entire season. However, if you don’t try, you will never have a chance of being right. So this year, I am predicting, for my No Guts, No Glory surprise nominee…

Alfred Molina as George in Love is Strange
Like J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina is a fantastic character actor. He also have never received his due in the way he deserves. He probably won’t get it this year, but for his performance as one half of a loving older couple (the other being John Lithgow), Molina showed his usual charm and sophistication, and he could definitely become a surprise nominee, especially if the film gets an Original Screenplay nomination (as what often happens with quirky indie comedies). Molina is likely not going to get nominated, but he could definitely surprise as one of the usual “out of nowhere” nominees.

So there we have it – I think the top four contenders (Simmons, Hawke, Norton and Ruffalo) are relatively safe for the nomination, with the fifth slot being between any of the men I have listed, and many more. However, I think if you need to bet on the fifth slot and want to be safe, go for Robert Duvall.

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