Last week we left off our discussion of potential Oscar night winners after touching on the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay categories: those which most shape a film’s overall narrative and appeal. What I neglected to mention, however, are the four acting categories: what people tend to see and pay attention to on screen.
Best Actor – At this point, public opinion has pretty much cemented on a singular front runner in the Best Actor race. Best Actor isn’t so much Michael Keaton’s award to win so much as it’s his to lose. Keaton’s return to form after more than a decade outside of the spotlight has been toughted as the definitive performance of the year: simultaneously self-aware and singularly engrossing. Although he faces some tough competition, it would be one of the biggest upsets in recent memory if Keaton did not walk away from the Academy Awards with something to show for it.
If anybody stands a chance to upstage Michael Keaton, it’s Steve Carell. His turn as John du Pont in Foxcatcher has been hailed as a career defining achievement. The typically quirkily off-beat funnyman delivers an absolutely transformative performance that encapsulates the bleakness of the film. While he still has some ground to make up before the ceremony if he hopes to beat out Keaton, it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility at this point.
The biggest obstacle in Cumberbatch’s way to Oscar gold – other than being third wheel in what essentially amount to a one-man race – is his age. The Academy prefers to hold off on acknowledging new blood with actual accolades until they are old and proven: preferring to make up former slights than having to defend impassioned spontaneity. And although critically lauded and intensely popular, this will most certainly will not be his last appearance within the Oscar’s Best Actor lineup. Between his fellow nominees and the Academy’s prediliction toward “age before beauty,” it’s supremely doubtful that he can make the grade this year.
Bradley Cooper’s turn as Chris “The Legend” Kyle marks the third year in a row where he has appeared among one of the Acdemy’s acting lineups. Although he seems to have found a better in-road to award recognition than Cumberbatch, he suffers from the same youthful disadvantage and from a subtler role. Although he still might win an award due to being one of American Sniper’s producers, he will surely miss out on an acting award yet again.
When it comes to this year’s Best Actor lineup, Eddie Redmayne is in decidedly last place. All four of his competators have much higher profiles to go with much flashier parts. Pair that with the fact that as many people seem to be bored with Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking as are enthralled by it, it’s unlikely that he’ll be making any waves come Oscar night.
Safe Bet: Michael Keaton
Long Shot: Steve Carell
Longer Shot: Benedict Cumberbatch
Photo via Thewire.com.
Best Actress – Best Actress seems to be perennially hard to get an accurate read on. The films are rarely nominated for multiple awards and even more rarely are nominated for Best Picture, meaning that they rarely gain the same momentum during the awards leading up to the Oscars that their male counterparts tend to achieve. As a result, the category almost invariably is wide open in the weeks preceding the awards.
As the race currently stands, the field largely comes down to two real contenders for the prize: Rosemund Pike for her dark turn in David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon in Wild. Although both did terrific work in their respective films, the serious, gritty and altogether grim portrayal of a vengeful housewife by Pike plays considerably more toward the Academy’s typical tastes than Reese Witherspoon hiking to conquer depression. Pike has also benefitted from Gone Girl ‘s relatively early release date, giving her ample time to build up a following for her.
Of the remaining candidates, Julianne Moore seems to be the likeliest to snatch away the Oscar from Pike and Witherspoon. She’s garnered some attention in her role in Still Alice, although not nearly the amount that the aforementioned duo has for theirs. A late-season surge could be enough to put Moore over the edge, however, given how split everybody’s opinion seems to be concerning the category.
Felicity Jones’ biggest strength is the ubiquity of the film in which she appears. Although not loved with the intencity of its fellow Best Picture Nominees, The Theory of Everything was evidently loved widely enough to secure five Oscar nominations across any number of Academy branches. While she by herself doesn’t have the support needed to break through the crowd, she may benefit for her film’s overall support and the lack of any one clearing front runner to square off against.
Marion Cotillard has become a bit of an Academy mainstay: like a poor man’s Maryl Streep. Although she’s a safe bet to appear at the awards whenever she turns in a solid performance in a reasonably high-profile movie, she’s not very likely to win anything for it. She’s the only nominee for Best Actress that I feel safe saying doesn’t stand a chance of winning this year.
Safe Bet: Rosemund Pike
Long Shot: Reese Witherspoon
Longer Shot: Julianne Moore
Photo via Wp.production.patheos.com.
Best Supporting Actor – This year’s field of Best Supporting Actor nominees seem to closely mirror their Lead Actor counterparts: one obvious front runner, one likely upset, one long-shot that might just pan out and two less than likely candidates. Here, however, it is Whiplash’s J.K. Simmons who’s the elephant in the room. His film inspires the wildest passions of its proponents, most of which can be attributed to the intensity of Simmons’ performance. Despite the near inevitability of his triumph in this category, he’s facing strong enough competition from a packed enough field to not be ruled out for being snubbed.
The likeliest actor to take the wind out of Simmons’ sails is Birdman’s Edward Norton. His incredibly entertaining portrayal of a method actor gumming up the works of a broadway play plays off like an in-joke to the acting branch. Anybody feeling nostalgic for the on-set antics of Marlon Brando or Daniel Day-Lewis are at risk of being swayed away from Simmons’ performance.
Word on the street is that Ruffalo’s portrayal of wrestler David Schultz is nearly as transformative as leading man Steve Carell’s. While it’s certainly an uphill climb to beat out Norton and Simmons, Rufallo’s increased profile and acclaim in recent years, paired with the strength of the film he’s in, might just give him enough of a boost to upset what people have come to expect from this year’s crop of nominees.
As I mentioned earlier, the Academy loves their legacies: older, proven actors who have long since established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Much has been made of Duvall’s crotchety judge trying to prove his innocence in the court he once presided over. His last Oscar, however, was in 1984 for the little remembered Tender Mercies. Although a bit of a long shot, he is due for some recognition after three decades of award stagnation.
Say what you will about him as an actor, but Ethan Hawke is little loved by the Academy. This is his second acting nomination and his first in the last thirteen years. Maybe he’s finally aged enough for the Academy to take seriously, but I doubt it, especially with Duvall already taking the senior sympathy vote in this category.
Safe Bet: J.K. Simmons
Long Shot: Edward Norton
Longer Shot: Mark Ruffalo
Photo via Moviesblog.mtv.com.
Best Supporting Actress – Of the acting categories, Best Supporting Actress is perhaps the most open. Best Actress at least had two “more likely than not” choices in Pike and Witherspoon. Supporting Actress has a genuinely wide-open field that I can honestly seeing going any one of five ways.
Meryl Streep has almost become a bad joke at this point, nominated for Oscars nineteen times in the last thirty-four years, winning the Oscar three times. She is an Academy legacy that simply refuses to go away. She has the weight of precedent behind her and a showy role that plays to her particular skill set.
This year marks the first nomination for Emma Stone, and certainly will not be her last. Although the Academy does tend to favor more seasoned actresses, the alternative being so over-nominated may very well drive some voters to select the alternative. Stone’s performance as Sam Riggan is nuanced and subtle – the kind that wins awards as often as not – but may get a push due to her costar’s willful insistance on winning.
Laura Dern is another actress who may very well get a bump in the voting because of the strength of the actors she had to work with. And although it’s been a while, this isn’t her first nomination. She has more than proven herself in the decades since she was first selected for 1991’s Rambling Rose, something which the Academy may elect to reward given the extreme ages of the two aforementioned actresses with which she is competing. Especially if Witherspoon loses out for Best Actress, the acting branch may decide to let Dern bear the weight of the film’s praise.
The Academy loves strong, willful women in film, regardless of their moral affiliation within those films. This is partly why Monster and North Country, among others, became Oscar winning films. Knightly’s role in The Imitation Game certainly fits that bill. Pair that with a previous nomination and a storied career full of challenging roles, and she may just walk away with an award in hand from the event.
Although Patricia Arquette has come a long way from her debut in a Nightmare on Elm sequel (admittedly my favorite entry in that entire series), she may have a ways yet to go before winning an Oscar of her own. Like Emma Stone, she’s a relative newcomer on the red carpet, but she lacks Stone’s more populist appeal. While she is a more than capable actress, she lacks Streep’s ubiquity, Dern’s proven talent and Knightly’s depth of character. Her best hope of winning is to sneak in under a split vote, given the openness of the field.
Safe Bet: Meryl Streep
Long Shot: Emma Stone
Longer Shot: Laura Dern