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.
J.K. Simmons (#1–10 of 3)
“You want forgiveness?” snarls Peter Parker, mashing a manipulative rival against a wall. “Get religion!”
David Ayer’s debut feature Harsh Times, starring Christian Bale as an alienated war vet who drags his best friend (Freddy Rodríguez) on a self-immolating rampage through L.A., is so bad it’s hypnotic—overlong, overcooked and trading in a B-movie version of sociological awareness that plays like clueless racist spelunking. The structurally similar Training Day, which Ayer wrote and coproduced, was flashy, shallow and mostly full of shit—like a season of The Shield compressed into two hours—but at least it had a visually competent director, strong backup work from Ethan Hawke (in the “Oh my God, I can’t believe he just did that” sidekick role, played here by Rodriguez), and a hammy but exciting lead performance from Denzel Washington. Harsh Times, in contrast, isn’t so much directed as covered like an NFL game (calling the camerawork and compositions “functional” gives them too much credit). Ayer’s script, which follows Jim his outwardly more respectable best buddy Mike on a booze-and-pot fueled flight from adult male obligation, plays like a term paper about arrested adolescence translated into Hollywood psychodrama, fortified with out-of-nowhere explosions of machismo-fueled street mayhem, then sprinkled with ostentatiously faux-natural ghetto slang. Much of the latter is awkwardly extruded from the mouth of Bale, an intense and versatile young star who, until now, seemed incapable of giving a dull or obvious performance. Playing a white underclass hardcase who’s internalized Chicano street posturing (and learned to speak decent Spanish), he instead suggests a member of Max Fischer’s repertory company stumbling through a high school stage version of Bound by Honor—pronouncing “bullshit” as “boo-shit,” and crowing keepers like “I got a bone, Gracie!” and “Roll dat shit up!”