Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Theory on Why J.K. Simmons Will Win Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons
With the Oscars closing in, it's time to finalize the votes for who is likely going to win the top prizes. While I have already discussed the three pronged Best Picture race (SelmaBirdmanBoyhood), but now it is time to get into the other big categories. Over the next few days, I will be sharing quick pieces on who is likely to win in each of the major categories as well as any discussion of a potential upset. Coming up is a piece on why J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) is pretty much going to walk away with the Best Supporting Actor trophy on Oscar night.

Robert Duvall - The Judge
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Edward Norton - Birdman
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher

There's a lot that can be misconstrued about Whiplash's angry teacher who throws chairs and makes his students practice until their hands bleed. For starters, there's a sense to paint him as a villain. However, he is so much more complicated of a character than that. He is one of those people who strives for perfection in ways that are best summarized in quotes that would make R. Lee Ermy in Full Metal Jacket proud. He wants everyone to succeed and there's a possibility that he likes you, but he won't show it. In fact, the longer he goes without talking to you, the more approval you are likely to have.

But is he a villain? The issue is that if this was the case, J.K. Simmons would not be the front runner. While he is the crutch that the film uses to get through an intense story involving a jazz ensemble practicing into the late hours of night, he is the driving force. If he was nothing but a hateful force, he would be too off putting to make us care about his aggression. We have to believe in his motives to see his students succeed. If that involves taunting them, it is only for their benefit. He does it because he knows that the real world is tough on musicians and he cannot afford people to be out of step with his style.

It also helps that Simmons in general has been a reliable force in the past. While he got his start on Oz, he has been pretty much a happy-go-lucky character in the Spiderman franchise and even notably as a tough but charming father in Juno. While the film reflects one of his strongest performances, it also feels like a cumulative award for creating so many great performances that have gone overlooked. Think back to when Melissa Leo won Best Supporting Actress for The Fighter. While she isn't a household name, she has appeared in a lot of high caliber films as a character actor. It is simply what Simmons is doing, thankfully for a performance that is worth his muster.

Though it is exceptionally odd to see Whiplash show up in so many fields to begin with. The Best Picture nomination is actually a little absurd compared to the conventions that this category is usually straddled with. However, it does hinge on Simmons performance, which has been recognized at every available chance during awards season. He remains untested. What's more impressive is that while his aggression is likely to be what people remember more, it is in the third act where things become abundantly clear. He is orchestrating the band and has a non-verbal communication with the drummer that speaks volume of their relationship. We don't hear a word, but his approving nod somehow gives the film a sense of closure.

However, it is the showiest role of the five nominees and thus will stand out more. If for no other reason, compare the most memorable moment of each nominee. These films may be better in some respects, but that's because the ensemble backs them up. Simmons is unable to be categorized as one great moment and instead is known for various scenes in which he is menacing yet lovable. He is a teacher that you hate to love. In some respects, that is the deepest core of why his performance resonates and why is definitely going to win on Oscar night.

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