2015 Oscars: Best Actor

It’s Oscar season, and over the weeks leading up to the awards, I’ll be rolling out nine blog pieces breaking down (what I consider) the eight major races – Picture, Director, both writing and all four acting categories.

Like with most things on this blog, this will be a mix of fact, popular opinion and my opinion – the three of which don’t often intersect. Then I’ll post a full list of my Oscar picks right before the show as best I can.

On to today’s posting: Actor

 

The Nominees
Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Who Will Win: Michael Keaton in “Birdman”
Who Could Win: Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”
Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Who Should Be Here: Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler”

Let’s get it out of the way: David Oyelowo delivered a great performance in Selma and most years, there’d be no question that he would make the Top 5. However, this was a particularly deep year for Best Actor, including one transformative performance (which we’ll get to in a second) and maybe even five more guys who are deserving. Oyelowo was also very much hurt by Selma not getting the approval to use MLK’s speeches, which is the key to making a biopic have that fully authentic feel. If Oyelowo had been able to stand up at some point in the film and say “I have a dream” – he’s on this list.

But he didn’t, and he’s not, and it’s perfectly fair. As I said, this is a big year for snubs. Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t make the final cut either for his career performance in Nightcrawler. He delivered everything and more on screen, elevating Nightcrawler from a pretty decent flick to an amazing and (amazingly) creepy film. But he didn’t make the cut either.

So let’s talk about who did. The performance of the year, no question, is Bradley Cooper in American Sniper. For Cooper, the third (consecutive!) Oscar nomination should be the charm, but it likely won’t be. Cooper, who famously bulked up 40 pounds for the role, was virtually unrecognizable as Chris Kyle, and that wasn’t all physical. Cooper carried himself differently in the film than usual. He smiled differently. He moved his eyes differently. Almost every actor has a tell, even the great ones, but in the once-in-a-lifetime truly transformative performances, the tells disappear. This was such a performance for Cooper.

But not every transformative performance wins an Oscar…hell, some don’t get nominated. Look at Robert Redford in All is Lost and Val Kilmer in Tombstone. As I understand things, the 2015 Best Actor Oscar race is really between two men: Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, with Keaton slightly ahead at press time.

Everyone likes a comeback story, especially at the Oscars, and Michael Keaton is definetely one this year. Keaton was the perfect choice for the role as his kinetic energy and propensity for the for dark and slightly odd humor dovetailed with the Riggan character. Throw in on top of that the difficult shooting conditions of Birdman, which operates as much like a Broadway play as a film – constant movement and as much choreography of the camera as the actors. The actors in that film had to be virtually perfect every take to make that film work.

Yet another famously terrific performance in 2014 is Eddie Redmayne, who leapt onto the scene as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. He had the right mix of physical performance with the disease and emotional performance and sparking chemistry with Felicity Jones as his wife. He had the charm, charisma and intelligence. It’ll come down to a photo finish between these two.

In a weaker Oscar season, Benedict Cumberbatch would be in the mix for The Imitation Game. Cumberbatch, who channeled a bit of Sherlock for this role, brought Alan Turing to the masses this year. Turing is one of the great heroes of World War II, though his story was relegated to the history buffs due to (1) top secrecy and (2) his sexual orientation. Cumberbatch hit every note just right – playing Turing’s social problems without overplaying them, while balancing in his brilliance and his vulnerabilities.

Rounding out the Best Actor category in this year’s Oscars is Steve Carell. Many were surprised when Carell, a comic actor by type, got the role in this creepy and grizzly story, but the against-turn casting actually helps the character pop off-screen. Creepy Carell was quite off-putting, helping to add to the weirdness and the feel of the film.