It may be a moot point since he actually got nominated in the lead category, but many wondered why Foxcatcher’s Steve Carell didn’t attempt a campaign in supporting actor, which is where BAFTA slotted him. In other words, his thinly drawn portrayal of John du Pont as an unstable, homicidal cuckoo would be competing in a category more welcoming of that particular kind of role. Best supporting actor has recently gone all-in for sociopathic, antagonistic wild cards (Anton Chigurh, the Joker, Jared Leto’s sense of self-satisfaction), making it the most predictable Oscar category of them all. (The surprised reaction greeting Christoph Waltz’s repeat win two years ago was less a reflection of the quality of his performance and more a reaction to the nobility of his proto-civil rights gunslinger character.) It, in part, explains why Patricia Arquette is widely considered to be the frontrunner for her award, but her hirsute Boyhood counterpart Ethan Hawke is at best running a fairly distant second or third for turning in equally nuanced work as an only part-time functional father figure—and why Oscar voters gave Robert Duvall’s far more flamboyantly flawed, piss-n’-vinegar patriarch a free pass to just be happy for the nomination once again. You have to assume Carell’s handlers took note of how frequently J.K. Simmons’s profane performance as Satan in Whiplash (which, despite all the seasoned professionalism the actor brings to the set, still emerges as the barely human equivalent of the all-staccato soundtrack to Birdman) earned comparison to another prototypal best supporting actor: An Officer and a Gentleman’s Lou Gossett Jr. And then promptly ran for the hills.
Will Win: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Could Win: Edward Norton, Birdman
Should Win: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood