At last night’s packed Academy premiere for The Theory of Everything it became clear that Eddie Redmayne has a good chance of unseating the two frontrunners in the Best Actor race, Michael Keaton for Birdman and Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game.
The way the Best Actor race usually works is that it’s inextricably linked to Best Picture. This is the case almost every year but especially lately. The winning Best Actor is almost always in a Best Picture contender and when he isn’t he’s usually an overdue veteran whose number has at last come up.
The three vying for the Best Actor prize right now are all most likely going to be the stars of three strong Best Picture contenders. Although actor-driven pictures have been slowly declining overall since the 1940s, for both men and women, which would indicate lessening star power over the Oscars, but it’s not such great news for women.
The numbers aren’t as staggering as I thought they’d be when I built the info gram. I was surprised to find that movies up for Best Picture were less likely to have leads nominated and more likely to have supporting actors. The directors more or less took over dominance of the Best Picture race over time, with the lead actors coming in second.
Nonetheless, it seems a safe bet that your three strongest contenders for the Best Actor win are:
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Directly behind those four is the magnificently creepy Steve Carell in Foxcatcher. The tricky part with Carell is this: actors can get kind of snooty when it comes to nominating their own. They prefer actors who came up from theater or film rather than those that came up from comedy. Keaton will get spared because he’s PLAYING an actor, not unlike many of those languishing on the sidelines as superhero movies choke what little is left of serious acting in the film business. They will identify with Keaton’s character and many will vote for him.
On the other hand, Redmayne and Cumberbatch are doing what actors love best – transforming themselves inside of a disability. In Redmayne’s case it’s ALS and in Cumberbatch’s case it’s Asperger’s or mild Autism. That he’s a persecuted gay man living in a time when it was illegal to be gay helps Cumberbatch as well; think of all of the straight actors who have won Oscars playing gay characters.
I figured it was Keaton’s to lose until I actually saw The Theory of Everything. Sure, it isn’t a perfect film. It sanitizes what had to have been far more gruesome of an experience. And there’s a lot of focus on the marriage between Jane and Stephen Hawking. But you know what? That’s the lost art of character building, something often shortcutted out of movies now.
I found myself utterly and completely captivated by Redmayne as Hawking and I’m going to bet a lot of voters will feel that way. It was not just about his transformation into Hawking – it was the warmth, humor and depth he brought to a character who could only move his eyebrows and smile on occasion. I barely recognized Redmayne by the end and really thought I was watching Stephen Hawking. It is a triumph of a performance, among the best of the year and it’s a serious threat to win.
So we have our four – the same four we’ve had for months now – Keaton, Cumberbatch, Redmayne, Carrel. So who’s the fifth? This is the ongoing debate among pundits.
I’m going to bet that Timothy Spall gets in for Mr. Turner because I think, and some others like Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley, that Mr. Turner is going to be very big with the Academy – so much so that 2014 is going to look scarily like a British invasion, with only David Fincher and Bennett Miller holding down the American front right now – but perhaps Angelina Jolie, Ava DuVernay and Clint Eastwood will be around to represent.
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Are all films by British directors – three of which are about famous British people!
That is going to make the BAFTAS very crowded this year for favorite film. Are they going to celebrate Turner? Or Hawking? Or Turing? Where are they going to put their nationalistic pride? I really don’t know.
In America’s corner we have Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Louis Zamperini in Unbroken and Chris Kyle in American Sniper. These are two opposing heroes all getting ready to enter Oscars 2014.
But we don’t yet know how these later films are going to play. All we have right now are the four, with the fifth possibly being Timothy Spall.
On the fringe are Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, Chadwick Boseman who really made a significant impression playing James Brown. Jake Gyllenhaal currently freaking people out in Nightcrawler. Tom Hardy in Locke, championed by Hollywood-Elsewhere’s Jeff Wells. Any of them could crash the party of what pundits think they know now.
Which actor do you think has the best shot to win?