Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Role: Joseph Palmer, a crusty Indiana judge accused of murder.
In his favor: He has six Oscar nominations and one win. There is almost never a film in which he doesn’t deserve to take that record a little further. The man’s a national treasure. (Other nominations: G/S)
Then again: It’s a flimsy film. The combination of J.K. Simmons and “Whiplash” could be pretty hard to beat.
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Role: Mason Sr., divorced dad of two little kids he helps see from youth to college.
In his favor: Hawke is always good. But this time he worked on the project for 12 years, and plays his character with a somewhat different view of life in every scene. (G/S/B)
Then again: It’s a handsomely acted and humanistic film, but Simmons’ electroshock performance will be hard to beat.
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Role: Mike Shiner, a demanding actor going mano a mano against his Broadway co-star.
In his favor: Seen as a pompous method actor, Norton is hilarious as an even more pompous method actor. The playbook of cartoon acting he Crayolas in 90 seconds would fill the Library of Congress. (G/S/B)
Then again: It’s a surreally spectacular performance. But people will still be talking about Simmons’ work in 30 years.
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
Role: Olympic gold medal wrestler David Schultz.
In his favor: Physically flawless work. Ruffalo, a high school wrestling star himself, wholly revised his grappling style to play Schultz. His bond with brother Channing Tatum is the film’s emotional core. (G/S/B)
Then again: The role doesn’t get the focus it deserves. If you want a three-dimensional character rather than a collection of tics, you’ll vote for Simmons.
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
Role: Jazz instructor Terence Fletcher, a human razor blade inside a candy bar wrapper.
In his favor: Anyone who votes for a performance other than Simmons’ raging inferno needs brain surgery. You see acting like this stunned, kneeling on the ground, choking with laughter, clapping nonstop. (G/S/B; Globes winner)
Then again: He is the winner, that’s all. Because he deserves it.
Channing Tatum, “Foxcatcher”
Role: Olympic gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz.
In his favor: He conveys his unappreciated character with his stance and bearlike stride. It’s an intense role that lifts his career a couple notches.
Then again: Great guy, strong talent, big future. But he received no other major nominations. By contrast, Simmons is an actor’s actor.