There’s something strange going on with this year’s Best Supporting Actor category; once you get past the top three contenders in Edward Norton (Birdman), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) things get sort of quiet. Sure, Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) has been picking up steam recently but Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice) has lost most of his and no one else is finding any consensus support.
Just two years ago this category was filled up entirely by previous winners; that is definitely not happening this time around. There is potentially a play to be made by The Weinstein Company to position 2-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained) to be pushed to this category even though, by all that have seen Big Eyes, he is clearly a co-lead. That hasn’t stopped him from winning in this category before but it’s still a risky move. The Academy could see that as a dubious move and he’d likely still collect some votes in Lead and siphon off any he gets in Supporting. But, who knows what’s going on with Big Eyes? Mixed screenings, a poorly received trailer and poster. It’s not even on The Weinstein Company’s awards page.
A quartet of films have dual contenders in this race. Gone Girl has Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry (well, Nat Rogers thinks so), Unbroken has Miyavi and Domhnall Gleeson, Selma has Tim Roth and Tom Wilkinson and Into the Woods has Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen. Heck, let’s throw in Charles Dance or Matthew Goode for The Imitation Game. It’s that open. At this point any of them are players.
Let’s look at the curious case of Sony Pictures Classics and Foxcatcher. Here is a film that was set to debut last fall but then pulled at the last minute by distributor Sony Pictures Classics. It’s usually not a good sign but the film hadn’t been finished in time to take advantage of any festival screenings so pushing it to 2014 seemed like a solid plan. And for most of the year, it was. Its Cannes debut garnered a Best Director win for Bennett Miller and it’s played every major North American festival so far. Early in the year previous nominee Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) was a frontrunner but the nature of the roles in the film don’t provide a clear lead. Ruffalo is definitely supporting but both Channing Tatum and Steve Carell are being position by SPC on their awards page as leads even though Carell could quite easily be slipped into supporting and present a hearty challenge to current frontrunner J.K. Simmons (also from SPC). You can also make a case for Tatum in this category but a tougher one. At this stage though, the reception to Foxcatcher could heavily affect Ruffalo’s chances. While he’s definitely in 3rd at this stage he’s not going to rise any higher than that.
It’s that level of interchangeability between this and the Lead Actor category that might be the reason this category is so barren. Pulling Waltz out helps that, if his performance and the film makes any type of impact. Or, SPC could be risky and push Carell here. Either way, they’ve gotten themselves into a pickle with three contenders in Lead and two to three in Supporting. At least one of SPC’s men won’t be getting a call on Oscar nomination morning.
There are two previous Oscar winner who some who think have a chance to sneak in. First is Robert Duvall for The Judge. But, with so-so box office, a dismal Rotten Tomatoes rating and zero actual buzz that doesn’t seem very likely. Second is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman for A Most Wanted Man. Low box office for this one as well but a solid 91% RT rating certainly helps. But would this posthumous nomination be an earned one or a final salvo to a shortened career?
What this all means is that we’re ripe for at least one surprise. We could see John Goodman in The Gambler or Albert Brooks in A Most Violent Year or Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel or Alec Baldwin in Still Alice sneak in there. Now, those are all outliers, to be sure. Stranger things have happened though. We could see a Michael Lerner in Barton Fink, David Paymer in Mr. Saturday Night, James Cromwell in Babe, Djimon Hounsou in In America or, more recently, Max von Sydow in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; most of which didn’t garner much in the way of critics or industry nominations or prizes before making it into the final five at the Oscars.