Oscars 2014/2015: Best Supporting Actress

1 Feb

So, last Sunday night I settled in for the Screen Actors Guild awards, anticipating an outcome not unlike the Golden Globes, and that’s pretty much what I got, and keep in mind that as the Screen Actors Guild’s membership overlaps, somewhat, with the Academy’s actors branch, there’s every reason to take heed.

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Do you know one Best Supporting Actress award Patricia Arquette did not win this season? The one from the Los Angeles Film Critic Association. Of course, that’s because she actually won that group’s award for Best Actress, ha! (PHOTO: JoBlo via YouTube)

So, let’s take a closer look at this year’s Oscar race for Best Supporting Actress. The smart money is on Patricia Arquette (Boyhood). So far, Arquette has captured the greatest share of high profile prizes in her category: Golden Globe-check!; SAG award-check! Broadcast Critics’ Choice-check! Dallas-Fort Worth Critics Association award-check! Indeed, this has pretty much been Arquette’s race to lose ever since she won the first award of the season, from the New York Film Critics Circle. Well, even though I still have a hard time working up any enthusiasm for this movie, I am happy for Arquette. She, as has been duly noted, comes from a long line of performers–grandpa Cliff Arquette made his name by taking his “Charley Weaver” character on a number of TV shows, including Jack Parr’s Tonight Show stint and Hollywood Squares; sister Rosanna made a splash in the early 1980s with the likes of The Executioner’s Song, Baby It’s You, and Desperately Seeking Susan. After working steadily in movies for several years, starting in the late 1980s, she hit in her stride playing a psychic in TV’s Medium, for which she earned an Emmy. It’s funny to think that during the show’s run of six and half seasons, she was already in the midst of working on Boyhood.

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I’m happy for Dern, seen here in Wild.  I still think her performance as Citizen Ruth (1996) is one of the greatest comic inventions ever. EVER. If you have not seen this fearless wonder yet, please add it to your movie bucket list. (PHOTO: Fox Searchlight via GoldDerby.com)

In the event that Arquette loses her lead, Laura Dern (Wild) is well situated to pull ahead as a sentimental favorite.  Nominated for playing Reese Witherspoon’s much adored mother in a series of flashbacks, Dern is second generation Hollywood, daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, both with multiple Oscar races to their credit. Dad Bruce was nominated just last year for Nebraska (his second go-round) while two of mom Diane’s three Oscar nominations are in films co-starring her famous daughter: David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and Rambling Rose (1991), in which Laura portrayed the title character and earned her only prior Oscar nod. Acting since she was a teen, Laura Dern has chalked up an impressive filmography that includes everything from Mask and Blue Velvet (also David Lynch) to Jurassic Park; likewise, she has forged a successful TV career as well, earning Emmy nominations for Enlightened, Afterburn, Ellen (the famed “Puppy” episode), and Recount, in which she gave by all accounts an unforgettable performance, love it or hate it, as Katherine Harris, the snarky, self-important Republican lackey charged with supervising the recount of Florida’s ballots after the notoriously bungled 2000 presidential election. Her latest role is far removed from Harris. It’s somewhat slight in nature, which might explain why Dern has sat out much of the awards season, overlooked as a contender at both the Golden Globe and SAG awards, among others.

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Best Supporting Actress nominee Emma Stone (Birdman) is currently earning raves as Sally Bowles in the Broadway revival of Cabaret.

Hooray, at long last, for wonderful Emma Stone (Birdman). I’ve been rooting for this dynamo to earn an Oscar nod since being wowed by her righteous comic turn in 2010’s Easy A, a high school variation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  Stone deservedly scored a Golden Globe nomination for that one–which I hope to write about in depth one day; the very next year she shone even brighter with splashy roles in Crazy Stupid Love and The Help, a box office blockbuster and Best Picture nominee. Regarding the latter, she was particularly good as an aspiring journalist–and well meaning daughter born of white privilege. In a cast that included Best Actress nominee Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress winner Octavia Spencer, and Best Supporting Actress nominee Jessica Chastain, Stone held her own, and I could have easily supported a Best Actress nod had it materialized. For me, The Help reigned as 2011’s best acted movie, hence its SAG award for Best Ensemble, and everyone in it was award worthy, but I digress. Now, Stone is nominated for playing Michael Keaton’s slightly shifty daughter, fresh from rehab, in Birdman.

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Knightley was nominated for Best Actress for 2005’s big screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a mere two years after making a splash in a string of 2003 releaes: Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Love, Actually.

Kiera Knightley’s Best Supporting Actress nod for The Imitation Game goes a long way toward redeeming the actress after a lackluster performance in Anna Karenina, a lavishly mounted production–with Oscar winning costumes by Jacqueline Durran–that succeeded in spite of Knightley’s leading performance rather than because of it. Actually, 2014 was a pretty good year for Knightley, considering not only The Imitation Game but also the generally well reviewed Indie Begin Again, co-starring Mark Ruffalo (from writer-director John Carney, of Once). On the other hand, am I the only person who cringed every time the trailer for Laggies, with Knightley as an unemployed free spirit, played? In The Imitation Game, Knightley plays Joan Clarke, a brilliant mathematician who worked as code breaker right alongside Alan Turing during WWII; the two were briefly engaged to be married in spite of Turing’s homosexuality. As good as Kinghtley is as Clarke, I almost feel as though both she and Stone are slumming in this category. In other words, Kightley is a star, not a supporting player, and the Academy will have plenty of chances to honor her in a role more befitting her leading lady status, but this nomination is a nice touch for now.

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The role of Into the Woods’ witch has been played on stage by the likes of Bernadette Peters, Cleo Laine, and Vanessa Williams; meanwhile, original cast member Joanna Gleason won a Tony for her portrayal of The Baker’s Wife, now played on screen by Emily Blunt, one of Streep’s underlings in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada.

The Witch is arguably the plum role in Stephen Sondheim’s revisionist take on such popular fairy tales as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. Streep established her vocal chops awhile back–and she has a grand time playing this extreme character, bringing a lot of shading to the role; however, as wonderful as she is, I don’t think she has much of a chance. She’s going for Oscar number four, and it’s only been three years since she nabbed number three (2011’s Margaret Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady). Nobody will groan if Steep wins because she’s practically an institution and such fun at awards’ shindigs. Even if she loses, this lady is unstoppable as evidenced by the fact that six of her 19 Oscar nods have come in the past decade, and, to clarify, Streep is 65. Few of her peers work as steadily and on such a heightened scale. Listing her string of Oscar nominations is one of my favorite things. Here goes. First, two wins for Best Actress (Sophie’s Choice, 1982; The Iron Lady, 2011); one win for Best Supporting Actress (Kramer vs Kramer, 1979);  two additional nods for Best Supporting Actress (The Deer Hunter, 1978; Adaptation, 2002), and thirteen for Best Actress (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1981; Silkwood, 1983; Out of Africa, 1985; Ironweed, 1987; A Cry in the Dark, 1988; Postcards from the Edge, 1990; The Bridges of Madison County, 1995; One True Thing, 1998; Music of the Heart, 1999, The Devil Wears Prada, 2006; Doubt, 2008; Julie & Julia, 2009, and August: Osage County, 2013). Brava.

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In Selma, Carmen Ejogo (l) etches a finely nuanced portrayal of Coretta Scott King (r), one that should be receiving major accolades, and not just because the actress uncannily resembles her real-life counterpart. That’s just a bonus.

Who will I be rooting for, come Oscar night? Really? Maybe none of the above. Oh, I like Arquette well enough, and I won’t complain if she wins, especially since I have not seen her performance. Maybe I’ll be a smidge happier if Dern wins, but I won’t be heartbroken if she loses. The truth is, I don’t think any of these performances come close to matching the power of Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma. Born in London, of Nigerian and Scottish descent, Ejogo previously portrayed Coretta Scott King on television in 2001’s Boycott. Her credits also include the lead role in TV’s Sally Hemmings: An American Scandal. At any rate, Ejogo commands the screen in Selma, playing a woman who loves and supports her husband but refuses to be pushover even though doing so would be much more convenient. Ejogo plumbs emotional depths I had not expected; after all, she’s not the lead, and who expects a supporting player to make a vivd impression in a movie about such a towering historical figure as Martin Luther King? For my money, no performance, in any category, in all of 2014 was as persuasive as Ejogo’s.  She was robbed, and now I don’t care who wins Best Supporting Actress.

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Snowpiercer features a Tilda Swinton and amazing production design. Coincidentally, Swinton also appears in Best Piicture nominee The Grand Budapest Hotel, a film also noted for lavish design.

Tilda Swinton, who won in this category for 2007’s Michael Clayton, was hardly robbed,  but reports persisted that voters were strongly interested in her performance as a sour faced lieutenant on a futuristic train with a militantly enforced class system in the slam-bang Snowpiercer, the English debut of South Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host). Indeed, Swinton eked out a nod for a Critics Choice award via the Broadcast Film Critics Association and picked up honors from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society. An Oscar nod for Swinton would have been a kick and added life to this roster. Alas, not to be. I was also hoping that Snowpiercer would have been recognized by Academy members for its over-the-top production design. Alas, also not to be though the film, also starring Chris Evans, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt, has scored multiple prizes at film festivals in Asia and in the United States.

 

SAG AWARDS UPDATE: 

No surprise that Arquette and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) won supporting honors, but SAG voters still had a trick or two up their sleeves…

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Eddie Redmayne looks shocked as he holds his SAG award for The Theory of Everything. The 33 year old Brit also claims a Tony for Best Featured Actor for John Logan’s Mark Rothko inspired play, Red. (PHOTO: Reuters/International Business Times.)

We’ve known all along that the Oscar for Best Actor would likely wind up as a two man race between Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), but Keaton seemed to have a slight edge for two reasons: 1. Sentiment; 2. His Birdman is one of the year’s two most nominated flicks; however, SAG voters were more inclined to recognized Brit, and relative newcomer, Redmayne for his deep immersion into the role of genius Stephen Hawking. This is significant because the SAG winner for Best Actor almost always goes on to win the Oscar. Indeed, this has been the case for the past 10 years, so has Redmayne pulled ahead to the head of the pack?  Still too close to tell. On the other hand, Birdman’s cast was honored with the SAG’s best ensemble acting award, thwarting Boyhood‘s momentum.

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Even though I thought Julianne Moore’s SAG speech could have been more gracious, I loved her emerald gown. (PHOTO: Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, I did not love Julianne Moore’s SAG victory speech. The actress is sitting pretty now, only weeks away from what will likely be a triumphant Oscar night–for her fifth nomination. Just as I have a hard time getting excited about watching Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, I confess that I can’t work up much enthusiasm for watching Moore play a a woman with Alzheimer’s, that is, early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. I like Moore, especially in supporting roles, but I just don’t think I like her well enough to take Alice’s trip with her. At any rate, she lost me during her SAG acceptance speech when she more or less mocked her big break on TV’s classic daytime drama, As the World Turns. When Moore  began her stint on the show she was a mere 25, and she ultimately won a Daytime Emmy for her work as Frannie Hughes who also had a twin, Sabrina. Many young performers would be grateful for such an opportunity. There was no need for Moore to be so dismissive of her past just because she has gone to bigger and better things. I wish she hadn’t done that.

Next up? Best Supporting Actor

Thanks for your consideration….

 

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