2014 Oscar Race: Best Actor

It’s February, and that means its Oscar time around this blog. This is the fifth of nine blog pieces set to roll out between now and the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, all of which will be 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 my Oscar scorecard right before the show as best I can – I’ve seen each of the films in the eight categories I’m covering, but not across the board.

On to today’s posting: Best Actor.

The Nominees
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Who Could Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Who Should Be Here: Robert Redford (All is Lost)

This is, by far, the toughest competition in the 2014 Oscar race – hell, this might be the toughest competition in any Oscar race in the 21st Century. All five of these men deserve to win an award for their performances in their respective films. In lesser years, any one of the five would have walked away with the award.

It’s so tough, in fact, that the performance of the year completely missed nomination. Robert Redford gave the performance of a lifetime (and many other people’s lifetimes) in All is Lost, but missed out simply because he refused to actively campaign for the nomination. Redford played a tough, smart, sympathetic character in an unbelievable situation. He made the film incredibly compelling and riveting – all with only 10 lines or so of dialogue and LITERALLY (the caps are a joke on one of my readers) with no supporting characters. Yes – Redford was the only actor in a film with maybe 50 words total of dialogue. Yet the film rated 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and, more importantly (kidding) got a four-star rating from me.

This man was not nominated for Best Actor. And the competition is so tough that no one is screaming about it (except maybe me).

Another career-defining performance that probably isn’t going to win is Leonardo DiCaprio, who has perhaps the worst Oscar luck in the history of Hollywood. Before The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio’s best two performances (arguably) came in The Aviator (2004) and Blood Diamond (2006). He could have easily won an Oscar for either, but unfortunately came up against two transcendent, legendary performances from Jamie Foxx in Ray (’04) and Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (’06). Now, DiCaprio turns in a performance that tops those two, and it’s in a year where Redford can’t even get a nomination.

That sucks, man. Not much else to say.

DiCaprio is most likely going to lose to Matthew McConaughey – who would have thought you’d see that line three years ago? This writer has long thought that McConaughey’s talents have been grossly wasted over the last 10 years in cheap rom-coms (go back and watch A Time to Kill, Dazed and Confused and Amistad if you think I’m crazy). 2013 was his new calling card. First he (re)broke out in Mud, then dazzled as Ron Woodroof, a ladies man who develops AIDS in the late 1980’s. Based on the true story of Woodroof who set up an illegal drug importing business to give not only himself access to the drugs he needed, but many others as well. **MINOR SPOILER ALERT** Though initially given 30 days to live, Woodroof lasted years.** The fact that McConaughey now stars in best new television show of the season (True Detective) as a deeply disturbed character (and is KILLING it) will only help him out.

Though McConaughey (who next stars in Christopher Nolan’s first post-Dark Knight film Interstellar – check out the AWESOME trailer here) has been cleaning up on the awards circuit, there’s a lot of discussion about Chiwetel Ejiofor from 12 Years a Slave. No one could argue with this one and in many ways it may be the safest Oscar vote for Academy members because of the extreme social significance and importance of the film. 12 Years will clearly go down as THE defining slavery film, and a win for Ejiofor would help cement the film’s place in history. To say nothing of his performance, which was almost pitch perfect all the way around – subtle when it needed to be, angry when that was called for. Ejiofor is another one of those under appreciated actors whose 2013 breakout only helps the industry.

Speaking of under appreciated actors, how about the resurgence of Bruce Dern? Though his role didn’t jump off the screen (that honor went to co-star June Squibb), his performance clearly elevated Nebraska (another of my four star films) to a best picture nominee, and there’s no question that in a weaker year, he could have won.

But not this year – it’s just too tough. Ditto that for Christian Bale, who way more than deserves to win for his creepy and charismatic character of Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle. Bale, who is no stranger to massive body changes, gained a lot of weight for the role and completely disappeared with the help of his epic combover. Be honest – if you didn’t know, could you have put together that he was the same guy who played The Dark Knight. Me either.

But unfortunately out of Dern, Bale, McConaughey, DiCaprio and Ejiofor only one can win. And Redford doesn’t even get a shot. Amazing – hell of a year in film.