|Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything|
With the Oscar nominations only one week away, now seems like a good time to take into account the various categories and share personal thoughts on what stands a chance and what will likely not make the cut. The following is a rundown of the performers who I feel will most likely make it to the final five in the Best Actor race and who may be considered a potential threat for the category. Let me state that this isn't a prediction of who will win, simply who will get the nomination.
" * " indicates haven't seen
Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
The Oscars love their physical performances as much as they love their biopics. In this particular case, Eddie Redmayne racks up tremendous points in both camps. Luckily, he also turns in one of the most demanding and convincing physical performances of the year in which he starts with a flailing limb and makes us love him despite talking through a computer. Much like Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot before him, this is a performance that is both the most Oscar bait and also just one of the most impressive in general.
Michael Keaton - Birdman
It is billed as the comeback performance of the year with Michael Keaton basically playing a very meta version of himself (replace Birdman with Batman). Ripe with anger and humor, his character is a physical ball of energy that while not the highlight of the film, manages to lead the audience through a strange and interesting corridor of events. He stands a chance of overthrowing Eddie Redmayne simply because it is a decent comeback performance. Of course, the Oscars just love rewarding movies about movies. While not as good, this is almost like a psychological one man version of All About Eve. If it wins, it will keep in tradition with the past few winners predominantly being about the arts.
David Oyelowo - Selma
While Selma hasn't quite been the awards threatening project that many predict, you can count on the Oscars to pull out a surprise. While David Oyelowo's performance is itself rich with subtext and physicality, the film is more about the ensemble and the atmosphere. Also, while he does a great job, he has quite a threatening presence between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton, whose narratives have long been established and makes them giants in this category.
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game *
It is another biopic in this category and one that has been getting a lot of attention for its controversial depiction of Alan Turing. While I have yet to see it, the word is that Benedict Cumberbatch gives a solid performance that more than warrants him a place on this list. However, many are also complaining about the film's desire to gloss over his personal homosexuality and that Cumberbatch is trying really hard to turn in an Oscar bait performance. It is suspicious, but he has been in too many races to entirely write off.
Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
Where it once seemed like Steve Carell would be an unstoppable force in this field, he has quickly become secondary. Besides being unfairly chosen over the far greater performance by Channing Tatum, he has one of the more divisive roles. True, The Office actor is playing a very different character than what we'd expect. However, Foxcatcher is a film that hasn't really captured too much attention after its initial success at Cannes back in July. It is likely that he'll get in, but with so much strong competition, it is hard to say for sure.
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler
I'm a big fan of this movie and think that it does a lot of interesting things about discussing media culture. However, I have been very surprised with how much award nominations that Jake Gyllenhaal has received. It isn't because he's bad, but because the film feels too much like a cult title that wouldn't do more than spark a small fan base. I would condone putting him higher, but the fight for the final position in the race is hard to detect. Still, I am just glad that this creepy, brilliant performance is getting the recognition that it deserves.
Timothy Spall - Mr. Turner *
I am not entirely sure what to make of this film either. While I do intend to see it, I have yet to see how Timothy Spall does this tale of a painter who does nothing but grunt. While he hasn't really sparked too much conversation, he has popped up for a few nominations and doesn't seem too unlikely of an upset, provided that the Academy is really wanting to go with biopic performances this time around.
Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel
It may seem silly to get optimistic about him getting a nomination, but let's not forget the recent trajectory of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes landed a Golden Globe nomination for his role and the film won Best Movie (Comedy/Musical). These are clear indicators that something great is going to happen to the film come nomination day. I don't know what, but with Fiennes turning in one of the most infectious and delightful performances of 2014, I would hope that he somehow manages to sneak into the race that's already too crowded.
Jack O'Connell - Unbroken
While I still don't think that the movie succeeded in being as predominant in the conversation as many would hope, it wasn't at the fault of Jack O'Connell. While the film meanders into pandering territory that chooses emotions over logic, the performance is quite good and O'Connell definitely has enough charisma to lead the film through its many courses. Unbroken may be too far out of the race for this to happen, but if there was an actor who could make an upset, don't be surprised if his name is called.
Personal Favorites Not Likely to Make It
Ellar Coltrane - Boyhood
I must know why the boy in Boyhood has been greatly ignored during this entire awards season. It is, after all, about him and the film largely works on the miracle of him being a competent actor for 12 years. More than Ethan Hawke or Patricia Arquette, we watch him grow up and experience life in ways that are more emotionally resonant. I am not against his co-stars getting nominated, but the lack of enthusiasm for his role has been continually disconcerting because while the film is potentially going to win, it wouldn't be without Ellar Coltrane, a fact that feels overlooked.
Joaquin Phoenix - Inherent Vice
Not happening. The film is too weird and while Joaquin Phoenix delivers a top notch performance, he burned quite a few bridges after his little debacle with The Master to make this a sure thing. I do suspect that he may get another Oscar nomination at some point in his career, but it won't be for Inherent Vice.
Channing Tatum - Foxcatcher
Much like Ellar Coltrane, Channing Tatum is being overlooked by the flashier performances. As much as I like Foxcatcher, I find a lot of it in thanks to Tatum's physical, brooding performance that is full of frustration, nuance and all of the elements that make it an unassuming tragedy. The film doesn't work without his passion and desires. I want to believe that there was a clerical error that caused this to happen. If nothing else, he ranks as one of my favorite overlooked performances in a film likely to be nominated.
Chadwick Boseman - Get on Up
Another tragedy of timing is Chadwick Boseman's performance as James Brown. He does the man proud with all of the eccentric, physical charm that makes it work. Sadly, the film wasn't up to snuff and the August release caused it to be overlooked by almost every other competition out there. I really think that this is a performance worthy of nomination and one that draws you to the screen with bravado. Again, it's more of the success around the movie that let it down than anything else.
Tom Hardy - Locke
This film is too far under the radar for any awards ceremony to recognize it. Still, the film that relies heavily on Tom Hardy talking to a computer is rather effective and almost works as a one man play. The results are solid and makes for an interesting dissection of the male ego. It is worth checking out, even if it doesn't quite have the necessary gloss and charm to win over Academy voters.