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 (Selma, Birdman, Boyhood), 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 Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) is pretty much going to walk away with the Best Actor trophy on Oscar night.
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton - Birdman
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher
It is a theory that I have had since seeing the film. Eddie Redmayne's win will not necessarily be because of the film (which is still really good), but because of the physicality. Say what you will about the other opponents, but in terms of showy roles, none have come close to his take on Stephen Hawking, whose suffering from Lou Gherig's Disease is a triumphant and impressive dedication. It begins with a limp foot and a charming British accent and evolves into a complicated romance that explores the perils of limitations and the power to overcome. While it is a film about a man approaching near paralysis and death, it is also about the hope that the man embodies.
While it would seem odd to really want to make a Hawking biopic, the insight that this film provides is rather exceptional. To watch Redmayne as he struggles to achieve basic motor skills that impact his ability to do simple tasks such as eating is to notice something akin to Best Actress front runner Julianne Moore (Still Alice). It isn't about who could emote the loudest or sympathize the greatest. It is about the small moments depicted in simple gestures and vocal patterns. It has to appear naturally, which Redmayne does effectively. Much like Moore, it boosts the overall success of the film to something far, far greater.
Much like weight loss, the dedication to playing people with illnesses has been an Oscar bias for decades now. Last year saw Dallas Buyers Club win both male acting categories for play AIDS patients. Going back further, Daniel Day Lewis won his first Oscar for playing a man with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot. It is the quintessential physical performance when discussing the Oscars' favoritism. While Redmayne may come up short in some respects, he almost matches the impact that the singular performance has on the rest of the film. While not everybody remembers My Left Foot or its plot, everyone knows about Lewis' impressive dedication that caused some health problems.
To my knowledge, Redmayne didn't suffer anything likewise. However, he was a very convincing Hawking, which isn't easy to do. The iconic scientist has a very distinct appearance and approach to his motives. However, what makes Redmayne more than imitation is that he gives the man personality and there's a deeper, resonating sense of hope in his eyes. By the time he is reduced to communicating by a voice box, he makes it believable and powerful in ways that are unassuming and hard to properly pull off. The Academy loves awarding actors who play real life people, which gives this film an additional edge. It also helps that he has won almost every eligible acting award on the way to Oscar night.
Unlikely (But Possible) Upset:
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
While Redmayne has it pretty much ready to go, there's some belief that Michael Keaton is going to prove a major threat. There's been little to suggest this, but considering that Birdman has quickly become the favorite to win Best Picture, things are possibly differing. More than his co-stars, Keaton's performance has been widely publicized with the gimmick that this film about a comeback is itself a comeback, thus adding several layers to the actual performance which is already showy and full of appealing Oscar bait. It is a frustrated actor in an award category voted on by frustrated actors. It makes sense and may be the closest that Birdman gets to an actual acting nomination.