BEST ACTOR

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With the release of “The Revenant” just a few months away we caught a sneak peek of its trailer last week and, suffice to say, we were thrilled to see the potential on display. The impact this movie could have on awards season is HUGE and we couldn’t be more psyched to get a look at this bad boy in the near future. The biggest question headed towards the film’s release is whether or not this could finally be Leo’s big moment to win the golden statuette, a statuette that’s eluded him since his first nomination more than 22 years ago. Of course, awards don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, if one were to make a list of cinematic greats that have failed to ever get the award it would be an endless, horribly frustrating list to look at.

DiCaprio’s been nominated four times in his career. Never has he really had a shot with any of those nominations. Most people would just shun him off by saying the nomination was enough, but was it? Along with Joaquin Phoenix we are seeing the emergence of an iconic American actor, one who never plays it safe and always goes for the risky, adventurous fare. Just take a look at the list of filmmakers this 41-year-old actor has worked with: Scorsese, Spielberg, Inarritu, Nolan, Tarantino, Allen, Cameron, Eastwood, Scott, Mendes. A who’s who of great directors. He sure knows how to pick ‘em and yet I get the feeling he’s only getting started and is going to keep pushing the boundaries further in the years to come. Here are ten times DiCaprio proved he was one of the very best actors of his generation.

1) Jordan Belfort, “The Wolf Of Wall Street”

This was the best shot our boy’s had thus far — key words being “thus far”. The sky’s the limit for DiCaprio, and in Scorsese’s now classic epic of debauchery, he brought a whole new range to his repertoire. With some scenes veering towards slapstick comedy, Leo’s portrayal of a Wall Street madman could have quite easily tipped over the top towards caricature, but I don’t think anyone could have pulled it off better than he did. It was a very divisive movie upon its release, but has gained notoriety over the last few years and will continue to do so as a classic. It is the riskiest performance DiCaprio has given us and quite possibly the beginning of an artistic freedom that will have him venture into even more unknown territory, like, for example, Inarritu’s “The Revenant”.

Nominated? Yes.
Who won? Matthew Mcconaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

2) Howard Hughes, “The Aviator”

Martin Scorsese’s movie is the best ever made about OCD. A mental disease that hasn’t really been understood or treated in the best of ways in pop culture. DiCaprio beautifully captured Howard Hughes’ inner and outer demons in a lavish but personal movie. There are some moments with the tiniest of details that it’s very easy to miss them. Hughes was a neurotic, eccentric billionaire who, as his obsessive compulsion grew, isolated himself entirely from society. This could have been the one to win it all for the then 30-year-old actor. A big budget Hollywood epic, that dealt with an industry legend. Every note was perfect in the performance, capturing the quirks and eccentricities that come with having the mental disorder.

Nominated? Yes.
Who won? Jamie Foxx, “Ray”. DiCaprio won the Golden Globe.

3) Arnie Grape, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”

Tropic Thunder’s Kirk Lazarus said you should never go “full retard.” Crude phrasing aside, DiCaprio clearly didn’t get the memo. It’s in Lasse Hallstrom’s touching film that I first noticed a then 19-year-old actor stealing scenes from Johnny Depp. Playing a character with a developmental disability is not the easiest task to tackle for a young actor, let alone a veteran actor. I didn’t know DiCaprio back then and actually believed that a mentally challenged actor was playing Arnie Grape — that’s how great this performance was. Not many people knew who DiCaprio was, but after watching this movie you sure as hell weren’t going to make that same mistake again. Here was a performance that captured all the details, big and small, and made them feel so real.

Nominated? Yes.
Who won? Tommy Lee Jones, “The Fugitive”

4) Billy Costigan, “The Departed”

When you’re in the same movie as an over-the-top but equally brilliant Jack Nicholson, or have to share screen time with a swear-a-minute ticking time bomb cop played by Mark Whalberg, good luck getting the recognition you deserve. That’s what happened here. DiCaprio’s was the most subtle of performances: a calm, cool and collected guy having to deal with the anarchy unfolding in a society about to breakdown and trapped in unique circumstances where he can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. Scorsese’s best movie since “Casino” or even “Goodfellas” had DiCaprio in his most emotionally and physically complex role carrying the movie through its twists and turns.

Nominated? No. At least the Globes nominated him.
Who won? Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

5) Jack Dawson, “Titanic”

Can any true movie fan really deny the fact that DiCaprio got robbed of a nomination for this movie? Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart got nominated. It was in fact DiCaprio who carried the movie on his then lanky shoulders, giving it soul and putting a heartbeat to the corny dialogue James Cameron is so well known to write for his films. This is also the movie that many people claim will be the reason why DiCaprio will never win the big award. Leo-Mania was huge. He was a heartthrob who stole millions of hearts, but so what? Ironically enough Jack Nicholson won that same year for playing an OCD-ridden Grinch in “As Good As It Gets”. But if you want a truer depiction of OCD go check out “The Aviator”.

Nominated? No. At least the Globes Nominated him.
Who won? Jack Nicholson, “As Good As it Gets”

6) Calvin Candie, “Django Unchained”

Christoph Waltz won the big prize for “Django”, and he was great, but you know who was equally great? Dicaprio as Calvin Candie: A looney, absurd, frightening performance this otherwise mess of a movie needed. Yes, the performance was over the top, but that’s the kind of thing that was required to get to the eccentric tone of the character just right. A professional connoisseur of the Mandingo game, Candie might just be the most despicable person in the entire movie, a bigoted fool who has enough money to build his own nightmarish empire-esque version of Neverland, this one aptly titled “Candieland”. Not even a nomination for this brilliant portrayal of absurd proportions. At least the Globes nominated Leo alongside Waltz.

Nominated? No.
Who Won? Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”.

7) Teddy Daniels, “Shutter island”

Here’s a film that got no Awards love whatsoever. Relegated to a February release back in 2010, Martin Scorsese’s expertly tense horror movie has, rightfully so, had its reputation grow in stature over the last few years. Every decade there are films that were ill-received upon their release and then get reassessed later on and are proclaimed great movies. The scantily underwhelming 68% RT score and 63 on Metacritic that “Shutter Island” got are quite shocking considering that its IMDB rating now is at 8.1 with almost 700,000 votes. “Shutter Island” can now be considered one of the very best releases of 2010, with DiCaprio giving an exquisitely layered but brutally honest performance as Teddy Daniels, a man trying to relocate himself and his disturbed past. No Awards love but, something better, a reputation that far exceeds any awards, that of a classic.

Nominated? No.
Who Won? Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”.

8) Frank Abagnale Jr, “Catch Me If You Can”

What a playful, enjoyably persistent performance by DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg took Leo’s charisma and infectious personality and used it to move his film into such cheery, infectious territory. This was only five years after “Titanic”. DiCaprio had just come out of relative failures such as “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “Celebrity”, and “The Beach”. With all three movies he was trying to destroy his public image as the pretty boy next door. What he didn’t realize was that he could use his aforementioned image and charisma to give us this great performance. Abagnale Jr’s escapades are so absurd yet they all actually happened. The real life Frank had such a great personality that he got away with almost every bad deed he did. DiCaprio shone because he did just that; he used his attractiveness to mold a character that we cheered for, even as he was breaking the law and making the FBI look like idiots. What is there not to like? Looking back on this performance we can see just how tough a performance like this can be, yet DiCaprio made it look effortless.

Nominated? No.
Who Won? Adrien Brody, “The Pianist”.

9) Danny Archer, “Blood Diamond”

This performance he actually got nominated for. In this case, nomination was probably enough. Justified in fact, but nothing more, nothing less. “Blood Diamond” has a classical narrative that wholly suited this kind of performance. It’s sorta like when Marlon Brando got nominated for “Viva Zapata!” — great acting, but you knew there was so much this actor could do if it were a better screenplay. The role of Danny Archer wasn’t really written with any real subtleties or foreshadowed characterizations, but he was played by DiCaprio with such movie star vigor that it ended up getting him a nomination. That’s no small feat. The film has been reasonably better received over the years, with an 8.0 rating on IMDB, and it’s one of the last movies where the highly talented Jennifer Connelly would get a decent script to work with. Sad.

Nominated? Yes.
Who Won? Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”.

10) Cobb, “Inception”

Cobb has to be included. Of course this was “The Christopher Nolan Show,” but without Leo’s central performance it wouldn’t have been as good. Nolan’s words can sometimes be very cold and distant, but Leo brought real humanity to the screenplay and a beating heart to his character that another actor might not otherwise have achieved. No small feat. In fact, imagine “Inception” without DiCaprio … you can’t. I view Nolan — exception to the rule being “The Dark Knight” and Heath Ledger’s cuckoo brilliant performance — like the puppeteer of the whole enterprise, just having his way with the actors as they basically recite the words he’s written down for them. He’s like the hypnotist just manipulating his actors into doing whatever the hell he wants them to do, without giving them any room or freedom. This is not necessarily a bad thing considering some of the great movies he’s given us, but this makes DiCaprio’s performance all the more accomplished, since he was able to give us a pretty great performance out of the restrictions at hand.

Nominated? No.
Who Won? Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”.

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The race for Best Actor this year already feels full and the season has not yet even begun. The big names crowding the race already include Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant, Johnny Depp for Black Mass, Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl, Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel for Youth, Joseph Gordon Levitt for Snowden and/or The Walk, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs, Tom Hank for Bridge of Spies, Tom Hardy for Legend, Michael Keaton or Mark Ruffalo from Spotlight, Jake Gyllenhaal for Southpaw, Ethan Hawke for Regression, Tobey Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice, Matt Damon in The Martian, Bradley Cooper for Adam Jones and these are just the ones we know about. There could be many more that aren’t front and center that could definitely reshape how we see the race in coming months.

Still we would be remiss if we walked by Ian McKellen’s astonishing portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes. There is virtually no buzz thus far for this great performance and the only reason for that is that everyone is aware of the impossibly crowded Best Actor race. Remember, though, many of these prospects are sight unseen films, and no one really knows how things will wind up by year’s end.

AO Scott writing about McKellen:

The film’s plots are soft and flimsy, and they don’t mesh as gracefully as they might, but they do serve as an adequate trellis for Mr. McKellen’s performance, which is gratifyingly but unsurprisingly wonderful. With his craggy visage and papery diction, his Holmes is a study in wry, intellectual charisma. Anachronistic as it might be, it isn’t hard to imagine Benedict Cumberbatch, the kinetic, intensely focused Sherlock of the BBC series, aging into this mellow codger. (The same can’t be said for the smirky action-hero version played by Robert Downey Jr. in Guy Ritchie’s tedious franchise.)

You might also detect some kinship between Holmes and Magneto, Mr. McKellen’s mutant in the “X-Men” movies, whose genius is filtered through rage and resentment. Not that Holmes is angry, though he does now and then betray a flicker of impatience. He is, however, very much a man of feeling as well as a creature of reason, and the suggestions of buried emotion that can sometimes be detected between the coolly logical lines of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are brought to rich life here.

The film suggests that there is much about Sherlock Holmes that his fans don’t know. Its most ingenious conceit is that the real man has grown old alongside his legend, slipping into theaters to watch movies made about his exaggerated exploits and gently correcting some of Watson’s fabrications. A long retirement has humanized him, and the specific longings and regrets chronicled in “Mr. Holmes” might constitute only a partial list.

That at least, is the tantalizing possibility implicit in Mr. McKellen’s whispered reminiscences and slow, graceful movements: that beyond the potted vignettes we are witnessing lies the untold story of a great, complex soul, a man more mysterious than any of the crimes he is supposed to have solved.

Review after review cites McKellen’s mesmerizing work as the aging and melancholy Holmes, even if the film overall is being met with less enthusiastic response. McKellen has, unbelievably, never won an Oscar. He is beloved within the industry, however, and received a standing ovation when the film screened for the Academy.

Although McKellen certainly qualifies for the “gold watch” slot we need to remember he’ll be competing with three other veterans — Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth, along with Robert Redford in Truth. Long shot or not, McKellen’s work deserves to be noted and appreciated. Whether he makes it into the winner’s circle or whether his performance becomes yet another warmly-regarded role we talk about in reflecting upon his impeccable career, one thing we know for sure: McKellen is indeed one of our very best actors whose enduring gift to the movies has yet to be recognized at the Oscars.

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His accent is spot on. Johnny Depp could go toe to toe with his Gilbert Grape/Basketball Diaries co-star Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor. You can’t really win an Oscar if you’re too good looking. The best looking actors have to ugly themselves up in order to get taken seriously by the Academy for some reason. Admittedly, making Johnny Depp not pretty is no easy feat but he is a chameleon and seems to have transformed himself to unrecognizable yet again. Director Scott Cooper is better with directing than he is with writing and this comes from a script by Mark Mallouk and Jez butterworth (Get on Up, Fair Game).

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Indiewire’s Ryan Lattanzio reports that Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation could be headed to the Oscar race now that is has gotten a theatrical release date. They are doing the HBO dance of giving the pic a theatrical release alongside its streaming World Premiere:

Netflix is partnering with indie film distributor Bleecker Street and exhibitor Landmark to release the film day-and-date on Friday, October 16, 2015 in 19 markets. Clearly, awards are in view and theatrical is needed to achieve that. The film has already booked a Venice competition premiere, followed by a Canadian premiere in Toronto. Which means we should expect “Beasts” to pop up in the secret Telluride lineup.

It’s a clever way to change up the game, much the way Netflix did with House of Cards’ first season. The idea was to de-stigmatize Netflix’s original content programming, which it aced without breaking a sweat. Now, in order to satisfy the bizarre shifting landscape of television looming large over much of the feature film market (that’s where the audiences are now) Netflix is once again bridging the gap and de-stigmatizing their brand and the idea of VOD as a kind of legit platform for Oscar consideration.

In other words, this is as close as anyone has yet come to making the Oscars consider “television” or VOD in the feature film world. HBO does the same every year with its documentaries. They drive up their own profits by giving the film its needed theatrical release to qualify for awards. That helps publicize it by the time it hits HBO airwaves. Now, Netflix will do the same and you can imagine the publicity potential for the film if it gets anywhere near the Kodak.

To change the game they need a big name. They had Fincher for House of Cards and now they have Cary Fukunaga whose name is gold right now amid critics and voters. This would then open doors to other companies – theoretically Amazon or even HBO (who could have done that with Soderbergh’s Candelabra for instance).

As Lattanzio notes, “Earlier this year, AMC, Regal, Carmike and Cinemark dug their heels, stating they would not show the film without a 90-day window between its theatrical and streaming premieres.

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The New York Times just announced that the Danny Boyle film, “Steve Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet will be the centerpiece gala for the New York Film Fest. With a crackling script by Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs will be poised to take the Oscars by storm, or certainly get invited into the room.

In a statement, the event’s director, Kent Jones, described the film as “extremely sharp,” adding, “It’s wildly entertaining, and the actors just soar — you can feel their joy as they bite into their material.”

The fest kicks off September 25th, after Telluride and Toronto, leaving me to wonder whether Steve Jobs will be headed to Telluride…

The NYFF can have a major Oscar impact and then sometimes it can do more harm than good if the critics turn on the movie. It is then in the hands of the left coast to turn that boat around, as happened with Life of Pi.

Tomorrow, we get our first taste of the Toronto Film Fest lineup. Telluride will not announce until the day before Labor Day weekend, at the end of August. Supposedly if Toronto says “international premiere” that means it could theoretically play at Telluride first.

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An exclusive get for Grantland features an interview with DiCaprio on the performance. He’s currently getting ready to film the final sequences (Inarritu likes to shoot in sequence).

About the character of Glass, Inarritu says:

“He was attacked by a bear, he was abandoned, and he had to go 300 miles to get revenge — this was what is known about him,” explains the 51-year-old Iñárritu, sipping something warm in the Santa Monica offices where he’s begun editing the movie. For him, the raw facts of Glass’s life were just the beginning, an opportunity to see Glass “as an example of the relentless possibilities of the human spirit against so many challenges: racial, physical, spiritual, social. I took that opportunity to create my own Hugh Glass: my interpretation of who he could have been.”

And DiCaprio:

That interpretation drew DiCaprio to the project. “I tried to capture — or emulate on film — a different type of American that I haven’t seen on film very often,” DiCaprio says. “This [was] an unregulated, sort of lawless territory. It hadn’t been forged into the America that we know yet. It was still sort of up for grabs.”

Inarritu went after the authentic experience, putting the actors through rigorous real life challenges:

“There was something very positive about shooting in those conditions, to understand what those guys [from the 1820s] went through,” Iñárritu says. “We don’t have adventures anymore. Now people say, ‘I went to India … it’s an adventure.’ No: We have GPS, a phone, nobody gets lost. Those guys really were in a huge physical, emotional adventure in the unknown territory. After you see what these guys went through, you understand what pussies we are: Our apartment is not at the right temperature, there is no ham in the fridge, and the water is a little cold … When did that happen?

“Actors were not in sets with green screens and laughing,” Iñárritu says. “They were miserable! And they really feel the fucking cold in their ass! They were not acting at all!”

Read the full interview at Grantland.

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I’ve spent twenty years online. I was on the internet before there was really a working web. There are things about it I understand and things I don’t. I will never snapchat and it took me a while to figure what memes were and how they figured into daily life. One thing I really never got or ever became immersed in was the internet’s obsession with Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar. My teenage daughter doesn’t know much about who deserves to win Oscars but she knows “everyone” thinks Leonardo DiCaprio should have by now.

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The obsession ranges from “Leo wants an Oscar bad” to “Leo should WIN AN OSCAR NOW.” There is a parasite twin meme about Leo dying in movies. Why this sprang up, how it was birthed, how it became a “thing” is something I cannot explain. I will not pretend to understand it but I do see that it’s there. Each time Leo comes up for Oscar consideration the whole thing is whipped up again and with the Revenant the movement is going to reach a fever pitch.

Why hasn’t Leo ever won an Oscar?  Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil would say he suffers from “pretty boy syndrome.” The middle-aged men in the Academy do not respect pretty boys. Whether there is resentment or jealousy or whether they think they are just getting by on their looks, what benefits good looking women in the Oscar race often does not benefit men.

DiCaprio did not start out his career as a pretty boy. He started out as a respected character actor earning his first nomination in the supporting category for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993.  In typical inexplicable Academy fashion, they gave Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar for phoning it in because they liked him and his character so much.

Still, DiCaprio was an instant sensation but not yet beloved as a matinee idol. That ship would sail and then crash into the iceberg with Titanic in 1997, although one could argue the seeds were most certainly planted with Romeo + Juliet (le sigh). Once he starred in Titanic that was it. He was redubbed as an icon.

That Titanic was a worldwide sensation and DiCaprio suddenly the object of every woman’s eye didn’t stop him from continuing to stretch as an actor and would, in fact, deliver sensational performances. His Oscar zone would begin in earnest  starting in 2002 when he worked with Martin Scorsese for the first time in Gangs of New York. DiCaprio was noticed for his work but he was yet to fully transform as he had done with Gilbert Grape. The Titanic bombshell put him in a different category where transformation was mostly discarded in lieu of leading man status. That would change with The Aviator, for which he received his second Oscar nomination and his first leading actor nod.

It was too early for DiCaprio to take it that year. The Aviator had entered the race (I remember because I was around and advocating for it hard back then) as the favorite before Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby strolled in at the last minute and took the Oscar. It was nominated in a staggering 11 categories and won five Oscars. Jamie Foxx won for a physically transformative performance with Ray. He was working the publicity circuit, and virtually became Ray Charles. At the end of the day, Charles was a more likable character than Howard Hughes. It was clear at that time the Academy wanted to reward Scorsese when The Aviator did so well with the Academy. They’d already given Gangs of New York ten nominations but it was ultimately poorly received.  They needed the right movie. They would get it the next time DiCaprio worked with Scorsese with The Departed.

DiCaprio is quietly the best performance in The Departed and that’s saying a lot. The reason he was not nominated for The Departed was because he WAS nominated for Blood Diamond. In both films he did two different accents. He could not have received two nominations and it’s always struck me as strange that he was nominated for Blood Diamond over The Departed. His competition was:

Forest Whitaker for Last King of Scotland – winner
Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happiness
Peter O’Toole for Venus

Nobody could have beaten Whitaker that year.  It was just one of those undeniable, too big ignore works. DiCaprio, I don’t think, was any competition for him, especially not in Blood Diamond.

And then DiCaprio would give a string of jaw-droppingly great performances, each one different from the next. He went deeper with each one. He was ignored for all of them:

Revolutionary Road – as an emptied out husband his grief was palpable. Insane wife.
Shutter Island – losing his grip on reality, seeing ghosts. Insane wife.
Inception – the scenes with Marion Cotillard were exceptional. Insane wife.
J. Edgar – he gained weight and used a lot of makeup to completely transform.
Django Unchained – a funny supporting turn unfortunately upstaged by the should-have-been-lead Christoph Waltz
The Great Gatsby – maybe the movie was a mess but DiCaprio was, as usual, beyond great.

By the time he works with Martin Scorsese again it’s for the sublime Wolf of Wall Street. After J. Edgar was ignored, DiCaprio seemed to relax as an actor and once again evolved with his masterful, iconic performance as Jordan Belfort. Finally, the Academy did recognize this work as it really was too big to ignore. Alas, he would not win for this because it was the year Matthew McConaughey lost 40 pounds to play a man dying from AIDS.

There was a bit of noise online that DiCaprio might finally pull a win for Wolf of Wall Street but the Academy was never going to turn down a hero who saved hundreds of lives for a guy who put a candlestick in his ass.

Well now we come to The Revenant. The film won’t come out until the end of the year. By then, we should have a good idea of the kind of competition we’re talking about in that category. DiCaprio, I can tell you, will be at the top of the lists — not to mention the kind of transformative work he’ll have to do for a movie about a man who barely survives in the wilderness and is attacked by bears and native Americans. It should be a showcase work, a performance for the ages – much like almost every other performance he’s ever given.

What’s it going to take? It’s going to take a year where there isn’t one they “like” better. Winning an Oscar has to be a perfect storm of events all swirling around a right here, right now moment. Popularity, publicity, likability — all of those things come into play. The mostly shy DiCaprio who is richer than fuck and busy saving the planet might not want to kiss babies, which is what you need to do to win.

We here at Awards Daily do hereby proclaim that yes, internet, you are right about one thing: Leonardo DiCaprio should have won an Oscar by now. I think you’re wrong that he gives a shit. His concerns are so much bigger than a little gold statue to put on the mantle.

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Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant opens December 25th. Leonardo DiCaprio gets another shot at the big prize. The Revenant is “partially based” on Michael Punke’s 2003 novel and is the story of fur trapper and hunter Hugh Glass, a man who survived a grizzly bear attack, was left for dead, who then crawled his way back to survival. In the hands of Inarritu, there is likely more to it than just an extreme tale of survival.

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“The truth will set you free but not before it’s finished with you.” – David Foster Wallace

To really get the depth of the performance Jason Segel delivers as David Foster Wallace in James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour you have to watch David Foster Wallace himself. Segel has perfected Wallace’s unique dialect and subtle style of speaking but if that was all it amounted to then The End of The Tour would be nothing very special. Yet another masturbational deep dive into an enigma that can neither be understood nor explained. Indeed, if you are looking for rabbit-hole like truths to emerge from The End of the Tour you will be just as lost when the journey ends as you were before it began. The quality Segel captures that is bigger and more important than the way Wallace sounded is the expression of the type of person who sees everything, hears everything, feels everything.

The level of sensitivity Wallace possessed is the kind that is often unable to survive this hideous world. It is no wonder that depression took its toll and took his life. Depression can be the result of chemical imbalance but is also, often times, the only reasonable response to the fundamental corruption inherent in the American system. It’s not a corruption you can see and touch. It’s not actionable. It is woven into the fabric of our upbringing as Americans, the raw deal we’re sold on who we are supposed to be as defined by what we are supposed to buy. Clearly, Wallace saw it all, felt it all and had trouble eliminating it from his mind when he needed to.

Segel’s portrayal of Wallace, then, isn’t so much an explanation of who this brilliant writer was but rather, an artist’s rendering, an impressionist’s take, on what kind of person could have lived like that and wrote like that.

Jesse Eisenberg plays David Lipsky, an author and Rolling Stone journalist who is tasked with interviewing the elusive Wallace as his book tour for Infinite Jest is coming to a close. The two become kind of friends in that weird way a journalist invited to take part in intimate conversations can become your friend. You know it’s mostly all on the record, even if you beg for it not to be. You know that the story will always matter more than the friendship. Always. You know that there is a good chance you’re going to feel screwed because you can’t control the way they see you and you can’t control what their editors want them to write about you. You can’t control “the story.”

Eisenberg is playing a guy whose biggest claim to fame will be that he was that close to greatness. He’s like that young writer who followed F. Scott Fitzgerald around during his last days as a drunken Hollywood screenwriter, or anyone who had occasion to party with Hunter S. Thompson, or enjoyed a brief affair with JD Salinger. Their purpose in recording what they witness is either to help build a legend, or tear it down. The point is, they were there with the sober eyes of someone who CAN live in a world that their subject (and temporary friend) cannot.

It is always a pleasure watching Eisenberg on screen and you will be hard pressed to find two actors who play so harmoniously off of each other as he and Segel do here. Like most movies we will be studying this year as it heads towards the Oscar race, the women involved don’t really count except in the ways that they prop up or help transform the men. Still, the symbiosis of these two writers is interesting enough to hold the movie together with such equitable rapport that it never feels like a lopsided telling of the human and the artistic experience.

What Segel does best with his incarnation is to illustrate the constant affliction Wallace clearly suffered by being self-conscious and feeling like a constant outsider. This passage exemplifies how he wrote:

CHAPTER ONE

YEAR OF GLAD
I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.

I am in here.

Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors across a polished pine conference table shiny with the spidered light of an Arizona noon. These are three Deans – of Admissions, Academic Affairs, Athletic Affairs. I do not know which face belongs to whom.

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I’ve been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee, hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X. The interview room’s other personnel include: the University’s Director of Composition, its varsity tennis coach, and Academy prorector Mr. A. deLint. C.T. is beside me; the others sit, stand and stand, respectively, at the periphery of my focus. The tennis coach jingles pocket-change. There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor. The high-traction sole of my complimentary Nike sneaker runs parallel to the wobbling loafer of my mother’s half-brother, here in his capacity as Headmaster, sitting in the chair to what I hope is my immediate right, also facing Deans.

The Dean at left, a lean yellowish man whose fixed smile nevertheless has the impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material, is a personality-type I’ve come lately to appreciate, the type who delays need of any response from me by relating my side of the story for me, to me. Passed a packet of computer sheets by the shaggy lion of a Dean at center, he is peaking more or less to these pages, smiling down.

Segel embodies Wallace in ways interviews cannot. And therein lies the true genius of what Segel has achieved as a now serious actor. We know tragedy is comedy’s shadow. Thus, it should come as no surprise whenever so-called “comedic actors” try their hand at serious acting. There is never a false moment when you stop seeing David Foster Wallace, where you stop thinking about this gentle, talented, wildly brilliant man whose life ended too soon.

There is some talk that Segel will be in the supporting category because we all know how impossibly crowded the Best Actor field is going to be. Already I can see how these subtle, beautiful portrayals of Brian Wilson by Paul Dano and now Wallace by Jason Segel might be forgotten in the sheer number of Great Men Doing Great Things roles that will steal center stage in coming months. It doesn’t really matter of course whether either of them gets a gold statue. What matters is that people see the films an appreciate how these performances have preserved the vital contributions these men made to music and literature.

The premiere for The End of the Tour last night was low key, held at the tastefully renovated Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Afterwards there was a party on the rooftop of some swanky hotel. You could only get to the top by stuffing into a small elevator that took you there. It was packed, with partiers framing an aqua pool. The flat Los Angeles skyline surrounded us in all directions, blanketed with the twinkling lights of millions of people going somewhere, leaving somewhere, saying goodnight to someone. As much as David Foster Wallace would have felt awkward and out of place there, he likely would have appreciated that we were all there to praise Segel and his co-stars, and the film’s director for taking a tale that might have been simple and transforming it into mythology.

The End of the Tour at its essence is really just two people talking, each trying to sound smarter than the other, a journalist pretending to have an actual relationship with someone he’s supposed to be writing about, a self-conscious writer pretending to have an actual conversation and trying to resist hitting his internal panic button about how he’ll come off. They both are named David. They both are writers. One destined to be remembered for his genius and the other destined to be remembered for his brief brush with that genius. The dreadful irony always comes back to the simple fact that those who can write like a dream can rarely live a normal, happy reality. Those who live normal, happy lives can never write like that. It’s a truth worth setting free, but not until it’s finished with you.

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Based on a true story, Bridge of Spies takes place during the Cold War. The loose synopsis, “Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan finds himself thrust into the middle of the Cold War when the CIA sends him on the near-impossible task of negotiating the release of a captured U-2 pilot.”

Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz filming James Marsh film

The Daily Mail has posted photos of the James Marsh’s follow-up to the Theory of Everything tentatively named Untitled Donald Crowhurst Project.  Firth plays Crowhurst’s story is bizarre on every level but it could be a bravura performance by Firth. Here is what Wikipedia says about him:

Donald Charles Alfred Crowhurst (1932–1969) was a British businessman and amateur sailor who died while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race. Crowhurst had entered the race in hopes of winning a cash prize from The Sunday Times to aid his failing business. Instead, he encountered difficulty early in the voyage, and secretly abandoned the race while reporting false positions, in an attempt to appear to complete a circumnavigation without actually circling the world. Evidence found after his disappearance indicates that this attempt ended in insanity and suicide.

His background was also a tad strange:

Crowhurst was born in 1932 in Ghaziabad[citation needed], British India. His mother was a school teacher and his father worked on the Indian railways. Crowhurst was raised as a girl until the age of 7, given his mother’s desire for a daughter rather than a son. After India gained its independence, his family moved back to England. The family’s retirement savings were invested in an Indian sporting goods factory, which later burned down during rioting after the Partition of India.

Crowhurst’s father died in 1948. Due to family financial problems, he was forced to leave school early and started a five-year apprenticeship at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough Airfield. In 1953 he received a Royal Air Force commission as a pilot, but was asked to leave the Royal Air Force in 1954 for reasons that remain unclear, and was subsequently commissioned in to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1956. After leaving the Army in the same year owing to a disciplinary incident, Crowhurst eventually moved to Bridgwater, where he started a business called Electron Utilisation. He was active in his local community as a member of the Liberal Party and was elected to Bridgwater Borough Council.

And finally:

Crowhurst’s behaviour as recorded in his logs indicates a complex and conflicted psychological state. His commitment to fabricating the voyage reports seems incomplete and self-defeating, as he reported unrealistically fast progress that was sure to arouse suspicion. By contrast, he spent many hours meticulously constructing false log entries, often more difficult to complete than real entries due to the celestial navigation research required.

The last several weeks of his log entries, once he was facing the real possibility of winning the prize, showed increasing irrationality. In the end, his writings during the voyage – poems, quotations, real and false log entries, and random thoughts – amounted to more than 25,000 words. The log books include an attempt to construct a philosophical reinterpretation of the human condition that would provide an escape from his impossible situation. It appeared the final straw was the impossibility of a noble way out after Tetley sank, meaning he would win the prize and hence his logs would be subject to scrutiny.

His last log entry was on 1 July 1969; it is assumed that he then jumped overboard and drowned. The state of the boat gave no indication that it had been overrun by a rogue wave or that any accident had occurred which might have caused Crowhurst to fall overboard. He may have taken with him a single deceptive log book and the ship’s clock. Three log books (two navigational logs and a radio log) and a large mass of other papers were left on his boat; these communicated his philosophical ideas and revealed his actual navigational course during the voyage. Although his biographers, Tomalin and Hall, discounted the possibility that some sort of food poisoning contributed to his mental deterioration, they acknowledged that there is insufficient evidence to rule it (or several other hypotheses) out.

No word yet on whether this will be a 2015 or a 2016 release. According to Deadline, “The film is produced by Pete Czernin, Graham Broadbent and Scott Z. Burns, alongside Nicolas Mauvernay and Jacques Perrin of Galatee. It was developed with Christine Langan from BBC Films and Studiocanal, and Burns wrote the script.”

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It was almost a Fincher/Sorkin/Rudin joint with a different actor (Leo, Christian) but now it’s here – Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs with Michael Fassbender as the man who invented then reinvented Apple. Kate Winslet looks to be supporting. Here is a trailer and our first glimpse of Fassbender as Jobs, who enters the Oscar race against the Weinstein Co’s MacBeth. May the best Fassy win.

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We might have our Best Actor frontrunner (sight unseen anyway) in Tom Hardy’s double performance in Legend. Hardy is one of those transformative actors who can be barely recognizable. He’s been working his way away from being a heartthrob and towards being a versatile chameleon. Hardy also stars in one of the year’s biggest hits with Fury Road. Here is the trailer for Legend, written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for co-writing LA Confidential, and was nominated for his adaptation of Mystic River:

You can see how quickly the Best Actor category is about to fill up.

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The year is beginning with promise, as the years almost always do, because the movies that are released now star women. The “Oscar movies,” as such, star men. That is how we find ourselves in this crazy predicament where the Oscar race for Best Picture is often defined as:

Men doing important things (The King’s Speech).
Men failing at attempting to do important things (Birdman).
Men doing things (every other movie in the race).

Many of these early released films that feature women don’t factor in to the Best Picture race the way things are now because voters only have five slots to nominate Best Picture and those five slots usually go to male-driven films but for an occasional exception like Gravity, Philomena or Zero Dark Thirty here or there.

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First up for Best Actress are the two lead roles some of us have already seen, Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett from Carol. Mara picked up the Best Actress prize in Cannes but it seems likely both actresses could find themselves hovering within sight of a Best Actress nomination. It would be better for the chances, though, to separate them as lead and supporting. In supporting, Mara might actually have a chance at the win. One of the marvels of Carol is how much director Todd Haynes’ spends on the internal worlds of these women before cutting straight to the sex stuff. In fact, the sex isn’t the main course at all, as might be the temptation here. Other things about these partners matter so much more as we watch them fall in love. It isn’t so much an uncorking of eroticism as it is a discovery of who they are. That, of course, inadvertently makes it all the more erotic. Either way, both women are given a full range of emotional expression here.

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The third strong Best Actress contender right now has to be Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. Although not your traditional “Oscar performance,” Theron has the benefit of creating one of the most iconic females in action films along the lines of Sigourney Weaver in Alien. To my mind, Theron’s is one of the year’s standouts but we know our pesky actors branch will likely go for the more “important” or “serious” fare. Either way, she’s on the list at the moment before any of the other movies roll out.

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There are two films about women right now that could be headed for Best Actress at least if not Best Picture. One is Suffragette and the other is Joy. Joy seems the more likely, sight unseen, because David O. Russell when paired with Jennifer Lawrence have an impressive batting average — three nominations for Picture three years in a row. And still no win.

Lawrence should top any early Oscar predictions but she is already an Oscar winner. Hilary Swank and Jodie Foster are two actresses who earned lead acting wins fairly close together but for someone as young as Lawrence it would be a rare feat. Even still, you can bet with Best Picture heat driving the thing (unless it’s terrible), Lawrence will be prominent this year.

Carey Mulligan is another actress who has earned Oscar cred with so many brilliant performances already under her belt. She has Far From the Madding Crowd already this year but seems to be the real juice of Suffragette, at least in the trailer:

And look, it’s great women doing great things. Whoda thunk it? Suffragette is directed by Sarah Gavron who has directed one feature and co-directed a documentary. Hey, you have to start somewhere, right? It’s written by Abi Morgan who wrote the Invisible Woman and The Iron Lady. The best thing it has going for it, other than coming out at a time when our country might see its first female president, is what will be a significant push by Focus Features.

David O. Russell’s Joy puts a woman at the center for the first time in the director’s career. It’s no shock that it’s Jennifer Lawrence who has worked well with Russell since Silver Linings Playbook. Joy tells the story of Joy Mangano, the single mother of three who invented the Miracle Mop. It will likely be high satire, as co-written by Russell and Bridesmaids’ co-writer Annie Mumolo.

Two French actresses find themselves hovering in the Best Actress arena and both are already previous Oscar winners – Juliette Binoche for Clouds of Sils Maria and Marion Cotillard for MacBeth. It is unlikely that both will get in but both are certainly worth taking seriously.

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It could also be a year for four strong veteran actresses to launch into the race, including Helen Mirren for the box-office surprise hit Woman in Gold, Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years and Maggie Smith in the Lady in the Van. Of those, my gut tells me that Smith will have the advantage. But no predictions can be made until the films are seen, of course.

Meryl Streep will have a shot at her 20th Oscar nomination with the Jonathan Demme/Diablo Cody joint Ricki and the Flash where Streep will play a has-been rock n’ roller trying to have a second shot at motherhood. Streep always delivers; thus, she’s a force to be reckoned with whenever she stars in a film.

These are Anne Thompson’s current predictions for Best Actress — factoring in only films that she herself has seen:

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Frontrunners:
Cate Blanchett (“Carol”)
Rooney Mara (“Carol”)
Helen Mirren (“Woman in Gold”)
Bel Powley (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”)
Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”)

Contenders (plus films she hasn’t seen):
Juliette Binoche (“Clouds of Sils Maria”)
Marion Cotillard (“Macbeth”)
Greta Gerwig (“Mistress America”)
Jennifer Lawrence (“Joy”)
Carey Mulligan (“Far from the Madding Crowd,” “Suffragette”)
Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”)
Maggie Smith (“The Lady in the Van”)
Alicia Vikander (“Tulip Fever,” “The Danish Girl”)

Thompson is floating Bel Powley for Diary of a Teenage Girl. Viola Davis is starring in Lila & Eve alongside Jennifer Lopez about two women pursuing justice outside the law. I don’t know about you but, Oscars or not, I can’t WAIT for this one.

Other names on the fringe besides those mentioned here include Vikander also for Ex Machina, Rinko Kikuchi for Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. Greta Gerwig stars in Mistress America, another madcap goofball performance by Gerwig which may or may not capture the attention of voters. Z for Zachariah stars Margot Robbie as “a young woman who survives on her own, fearing she may actually be the proverbial last woman on earth, until she discovers the most astonishing sight of her life: another human being.”

Mia Wasikowska stars in Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak about “an aspiring author who is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.” Saorse Ronan stars in Brooklyn, which was already seen at Cannes. Anne Thompson presumably saw the film but does not list Ronan on her predictions.

Patricia Clarkson will star in Learning to Drive in which she plays a woman learning to drive with teacher Ben Kingsley. Already seen is Emily Blunt in Sicario starring opposite Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. A strong performance from Blunt is likely, but we will have to wait on the reviews to see how far she can go with it.

Casualties of the year thus far (killed by the critics) include Emma Thompson for Effie Gray and Jennifer Connelly for Aloft, Kate Winslet for A Little Chaos.

Choosing five Best Actress contenders won’t be that hard as the months roll along. It is about the performance but it is also about the friendships and alliances in Hollywood, as with any other category. It is about publicity and it is about buzz and backlash. How annoying was last year’s epic fail of critics who pounced on Jennifer Aniston’s dramatic turn in Cake. They blamed her for being a successful movie star who dared to help produce a film to star in that would showcase her range. This is really what almost every actress in Hollywood must do to not only work but to get any attention whatsoever for their work.

More and more actresses from other countries are obliterating American actresses who seem to either lack the prestige factor or are discarded as the next fresh new face comes along. The critics, though, felt the need to bolster Marion Cotillard once work got out of an imaginary controversy involving Harvey Weinstein and the film The Immigrants. A mini revolution was held and the critics stubbornly pushed Cotillard and shat on Aniston. Cotillard, as you can see from this year or any other doesn’t have a hard time getting roles. She works because she’s absolutely great and deserves all of the praise and success she has coming. But. It’s harder for actresses over here in America to get the same kind of cred as Cotillard does from critics. The role in 2 Days and 1 night was better than Aniston’s role in Cake but I don’t think Cotillard’s work towered over Aniston’s. So color me unimpressed with that shit show went down last year.

If I had to pluck five names out of a hat based on what I know about how the race works and a vague sense of what some of these films might be I’d go with these five names:

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Rooney Mara, Carol (but she might go supporting)
Carey Mulligan, Suffragette
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash
Alts. Charlize Theron for Mad Max, Lily Tomlin in Grandma, Maggie Smith, the Lady in the Van

That’s just spitting in the wind, of course. There is no real way to tell how the race might go as there are months and months left.

Next up, the Supporting Categories.

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These days, when looking for Best Actor, follow Best Picture. Or rather, when looking for Best Picture, follow Best Actor.  For most of the past twenty years, but mostly since Oscar changed up to more than five nominees for Best Picture, Best Actor has been tied to Best Picture.  Even when the lead actor from the Best Picture nominee hasn’t been nominated, they still anchor the Best Picture contender.  This is the New Normal where Best Pic is concerned but for the odd year here or there.

The first half of the year has produced at least five notable performances that may or may not make it by year’s end, but the majority of performances have not yet been seen and could wipe the slate clean. How do we know this? For the past few years, maybe decade, films in the Oscar race have been driven by a singular male performance. This trend has not slowed, even if you count this year where there are so many female driven films packing the first half of the year. It’s funny that you will find more women this time of year in contention than men but that’s because the Oscar-bound performances are going to be found in the Big Oscar Movies coming to a film festival near you.

1. The race as it stands now, however, has one performance out front and that’s Paul Dano‘s in Love & Mercy. It helps that the film has already opened in theaters. The other four best actor contenders so far star in films that have only been seen at Cannes or Sundance.

Although Dano shares the spotlight with John Cusack in Love & Mercy, his is the more fully realized performance where Cusack’s might be seen as a supporting turn. Both could be considered Best Actor but if voters go down that road neither will be nominated.

Dano plays the young Brian Wilson who is is discovering his own ability to emerge as an artist in a band that seems committed as a hit machine. There is no denying the power of the Beach Boys and their catchy, unforgettable tunes but there was more to Brian Wilson’s composing. Dano is brilliant at conveying someone who was simply too gentle and passive to withstand the forces mounted against him — and those forces include controlling and abusive people and the progression of his own eventual mental illness.  Dano takes us down each road with compassion. Cusack, too, approaches his role with compassion and neither of them makes too much or too little of the demons that overtaken Wilson’s internal world. Dano has showed us so many different sides of his acting ability, which is often way over the top. But here, he illustrates that all of that talent can be harnessed more specifically. It’s a marvel to watch and deeply moving. Paul Dano has never been nominated for an Oscar, unbelievably.

2. Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw takes the number 2 spot even though I’ve not yet seen him in the film. He’s supposed to be great in it, though, and has Harvey Weinstein ushering him through Oscar season.  Gyllenhaal is another one of Oscar’s forgotten talents, having received only one nomination for his brilliant work in Brokeback Mountain. He almost made last year’s race with Nightcrawler. His transformative work here, becoming a beefed-up fighter, will most certainly be enough to push him through.

3. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel for Youth – where you have Dano and Cusack needing to split, you can’t really split up Caine and Keitel, mostly because they are just too damned famous.  Caine is already a two-time Oscar winner with six nominations. To say they love him would be an understatement. Keitel has only been nominated once, as supporting actor for Bugsy. Does that mean they don’t like him? I don’t know. Either way, both have fully realized, deeply meaningful career-topping performances in Youth, Paolo Sorrentino’s film backed by Fox Searchlight. Unless the film is destroyed by critics (currently it’s mixed to positive on Metacritic), it should emerge as a strong Oscar contender in all aspects. I say “if” because there is no way of telling how a movie will land. This is a film about Hollywood but more than that, it’s about artists working in Hollywood — old-school vets who make up the majority of Oscar voters. Youth, like Birdman, is a lament of things past. It’s a condemnation of and celebration of “the new” while also a condemnation of and celebration of the gone and forgotten.  If all goes well, both actors should have an equal shot at landing a lead nomination.  Jane Fonda and Rachel Weisz will be strong contenders for supporting. Paul Dano makes an appearance here in a supporting role — the one thing to note about this performance of his vis-à-vis Love & Mercy is just what a better actor he is becoming as he evolves.

5. Michael Fassbender for MacBeth – this is another one I did not see in Cannes but by all accounts the reviews were good enough to put Fassbender in contention for lead actor.   Macbeth is faring slightly higher than Youth in aggregate scores but critics these days tend to be a younger bunch, not so much interested in the same things that interest Oscar voters (85 on Metacritic so far). That it’s Shakespeare, that Fassbender is a respected actor, make him at the very least a contender, at least for now. Once things start to roll his might be the one that gets the chop.

 

Which actors are waiting at the gates to threaten these? They are mostly actors playing real-life people (highlighted in red). Hollywood seems to never tire of true stories about great or famous men — they celebrate and reinforce the patriarchy while doing so. How long will this trend last? It’s hard to say.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

2. Michael Fassbender competing against himself in Steve Jobs as Steve Jobs.

3. Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies

4. Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

5. Will Smith in Concussion

6. Johnny Depp as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.

7. Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in The Program.

8. Bryan Cranston as Trumbo in Trumbo. 

9. Tobey Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice, as Bobby Fischer

10.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in The Walk.

11. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden in Snowden.

12. Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes. The great McKellen has been all too often overlooked by the Academy.

13. Benicio Del Toro in Escobar. Del Toro is also in Sicario but probably will go as supporting, giving the chance of a double nomination year.  

14. Bradley Cooper in Adam Jones.

15. Michael Shannon in Midnight Special.

16. Richard Gere, Time Out of Mind.

17. Jason Siegel, End of Tour as David Foster Wallace.

There will no doubt be other names added to this list, and names removed from it as we barrel towards the end of the year. It will be the most competitive of the acting categories, with Best Actress coming up a close second. We’ll be covering Best Actress later today.

As usual, it will be difficult to know this early whether the films already seen will have any chance as the race surges forward. Because Best Actor is so closely tied with Best Picture, the nominees from last year (all except Steve Carell in Foxcatcher) were from films that were nominated for Best Picture.

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Coming up next, Best Actress.

Paul Dano, Brian Wilson, and John Cusack pose for a portrait during press day for "Love & Mercy" at The Four Seasons on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP)

There are two brilliant performances in Love & Mercy, well, four if you add in Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks in supporting roles. Paul Dano and John Cusack together make one whole complete lead performance, so says Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, who also folded in the same kind of thing with Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Carol. Mara ended up winning Best Actress in Cannes but it is a coin toss as to which actress stands out the most. Likewise with Dano and Cusack.

Usually partnered performances like that are divided up into lead and supporting, putting contenders either where they have the best shot at winning (or getting the nomination) or whose ever star shines brighter. In the case of both Rooney Mara and John Cusack they might have an easier road to Oscar because in Carol and Love & Mercy they are showing sides of themselves we’ve never seen before. They are too important to be “supporting” characters yet they are defined that way by star power (Blanchett) or by how much they dominate the film (Dano).

This is a pickle, no doubt about it. Both films may suffer from being seen early and won’t have the advantage of feeling “fresh” by the time the other movies roll out. My first thought with Carol was that Rooney Mara was the standout. That is, I was most impressed with her work overall because I’ve only really seen her in full wingspan display in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now she’s been given an equally powerful role to show us what she can do and it’s quite something to behold. Cate Blanchett, on the other hand, has an entire career of these kinds of performances behind her — after playing Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, Jasmine in Blue Jasmine, Queen Elizabeth in Elizabeth, and on and on it goes – how much more surprising can Blanchett be?

Likewise, Paul Dano has pulled out the stops so many times before in films like There Will be Blood and 12 Years a Slave that my first viewing of Love & Mercy put my attention more on Cusack, whom I’ve never seen so vulnerable and exposed as he is here. So to me, on first pass, Cusack was the one I thought had the better chance at a nomination — not for lead, mind you, but for supporting. But then I saw the movie again. The second time through, Dano’s performance emerged much more. So much so that I think he could be a strong contender not just to be nominated for Best Actor but maybe to win. It’s just a masterwork from Dano who tends at times to go a bit over the top. He doesn’t do that here. Both actors capture Brian Wilson’s gentle spirit and inherent sadness. Both actors show in such a subtle way how Brian Wilson tried so hard to beat back the voices and the demons.

While it’s true both actors make one complete performance, if it were me, I’d go for Dano for lead and Cusack for supporting. I say this for two reasons, primarily. 1) the Best Actor race is going to be so crowded by Oscar nomination time and 2) it will be hard to make sure this film is remembered at all because it’s being seen so early.

For those reasons I think you have to split up the paired contenders. One has to be lead and one has to be supporting.

Let’s look at a few other films that had the same kind of thing going on and how they were ultimately divided up. When there is a man and a woman they go in different categories so we’ll take that off the table and look at films where two performers of the same gender had equally powerful roles. Usually if the actors go in for the same category one is NOT NOMINATED, like Amy Adams in Julie & Julia. You always have a much better chance if you split the categories.

Training Day: Denzel Washington lead, Ethan Hawke supporting
August: Osage County: Meryl Streep lead, Julia Roberts supporting
The Help: Viola Davis lead, Octavia Spencer supporting
Chicago: Renee Zellweger lead, Catherine Zeta-Jones supporting
Wolf of Wall Street: Leo DiCaprio lead, Jonah Hill supporting
The Master: Joaquin Phoenix lead, Phil Seymour Hoffman supporting
Moneyball: Brad Pitt lead, Jonah Hill supporting
The Social Network: Jessie Eisenberg lead, Andrew Garfield supporting
Frost/Nixon: Frank Langella lead, Michael Sheen supporting
Mystic River: Sean Penn lead, Tim Robbins supporting
Pulp Fiction: John Travolta lead, Samuel L. Jackson supporting

And by contrast:
Django Unchained: Jamie Foxx not nominated, Christoph Waltz supporting
The Kids Are All Right: Annette Bening lead, Julianne Moore not nominated (she was campaigned for lead)
The Devil Wears Prada: Meryl Streep lead, Anne Hathaway not nominated
One True Thing: Meryl Streep lead, Renee Zellweger not nominated
Foxcatcher: Steve Carell nominated, Channing Tatum not nominated
The Insider: Russell Crowe nominated, Al Pacino not nominated
Philadelphia: Tom Hanks nominated, Denzel Washington not nominated

Obviously, it’s a crapshoot how things will go down. No one yet knows if anyone from this film will get recognized. There is a whole season still to go. They have four acting contenders in this film: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks. They all did great work. That’s what matters to them. I’d still run Dano lead, Cusack supporting, along with Giamatti and Banks.

At the end of the day, Love & Mercy is one of the major standouts of the year so far and if the Oscar race defines itself by picking the best, god willing, voters will remember it.

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Sure to be on the top of the Oscar pile is Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, just announced to open the New York Film Festival (September 25 – October 11).  Official release following. The New York Film Fest has become a great way to launch an Oscar film, though last year’s big get Gone Girl proved too successful with audiences, had a female screenwriter and actually starred a woman. Naturally, the Oscar voters rejected it. It’s a man only club, don’t you know, no $150+ female driven projects need apply. But I’m not bitter.

Joseph Gordon Levitt joins the ranks of yet another year of a packed Best Actor race but lo, French accent alert. With Zemeckis behind the wheel we can be sure it will be a visual feast.

The Walk, though, is right in their wheelhouse, so to speak, and early word is it’s great.

A true story, the film is based on Philippe Petit’s memoir To Reach the Clouds and stars Golden Globe nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, the French high-wire artist who achieved the feat of walking between the Twin Towers in 1974. The Walk will be the second 3D feature selected for the Opening Night Gala since Ang Lee’s Life of Pi in 2012 and also marks Zemeckis’s return to the Festival after Flight, the 2012 Closing Night Gala selection. Today’s announcement coincides with the release of the film’s trailer, which can be viewed at movies.yahoo.com. The film will be released in 3D and IMAX 3D on October 2, 2015.

New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said: “The Walk is surprising in so many ways. First of all, it plays like a classic heist movie in the tradition of The Asphalt Jungle or Bob le flambeur—the planning, the rehearsing, the execution, the last-minute problems—but here it’s not money that’s stolen but access to the world’s tallest buildings. It’s also an astonishing re-creation of Lower Manhattan in the ’70s. And then, it becomes something quite rare, rich, mysterious… and throughout it all, you’re on the edge of your seat.”

Robert Zemeckis added: “I am extremely honored and grateful that our film has been selected to open the 53rd New York Film Festival. The Walk is a New York story, so I am delighted to be presenting the film to New York audiences first. My hope is that Festival audiences will be immersed in the spectacle, but also to be enraptured by the celebration of a passionate artist who helped give the wonderful towers a soul.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Rothman said: “On behalf of TriStar and Sony, I want to thank Kent and the NYFF for this great honor. The Walk is a love letter to the Twin Towers, which through the unique magic of cinema, come back to vibrant, inspiring life. But it is also a universal story of the determined pursuit of impossible dreams, told by one of our greatest living filmmakers, and the NYFF has always been a place where such dreams come true.”

The film also stars Academy Award® winner Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Charlotte Le Bon, Clement Sibony, Caesar Domboy and Benedict Samuel. Directed by Zemeckis, the screenplay is by Robert Zemeckis & Christopher Browne, based on the book “To Reach the Clouds” by Philippe Petit, and produced by Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Rapke.

The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring top films from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Programming; Marian Masone, FSLC Senior Programming Advisor; Gavin Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Film Comment; and Amy Taubin, Contributing Editor, Film Comment and Sight & Sound.

NYFF previously announced Luminous Intimacy: The Cinema of Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, the first-ever complete dual retrospective of the experimental filmmakers works that will include the world premiere of Dorsky’s Intimations, a new untitled work, and New York premieres of Summer, December, February, and Avraham.

Tickets for the 53rd New York Film Festival will go on sale in early September. Becoming a Film Society Member at the Film Buff Level or above provides early ticket access to festival screenings and events ahead of the general public, along with the exclusive member ticket discount! To find out how to become a Film Society member, visit filmlinc.com/membership.

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David Foster Wallace’s memory brought back to life through someone who spent time with him. Looks to be another in what is sure to be another competitive year for Best Actor contenders.

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Here is a film I can’t wait for, being a chess fan and especially a fan of poor crazy Bobby Fischer. Finally, a trailer and first look at Maguire’s Fischer. Apple trailer here.

macbeth

Macbeth screened on the last day in Cannes and earned raves both for Cotillard and Fassbender. That should launch them into the race for Actor and Actress, as expected. Guy Lodge’s elegantly written review has this wonderful paragraph about Cotillard:

A plum role for any actress, Lady Macbeth proves an exhilaratingly testing one for Cotillard, whose gifts as both a technician and an emotional conduit apparently know no linguistic barrier. Streaked with unearthly blue eye shadow — Jenny Shircore’s daring makeup designs are a constant marvel — and working in a cultivated Anglo-Continental accent that positions the character even more pointedly as a stranger in her own court, Cotillard electrically conveys misdirected sexual magnetism, but also a poignantly defeated sense of decency. It’s a performance that contains both the woman’s abandoned self and her worst-case incarnation, often in the space of a single scene. Her deathless sleepwalking scene, staged in minimalist fashion under a gauze of snowflakes in a bare chapel, is played with tender, desolate exhaustion; it deserves to be viewed as near-definitive.

And the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw:

As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are a dream-team pairing, actors who radiate charisma, perhaps more charisma than can be entirely absorbed into the fabric of the film. As ever, Cotillard is able to convey enormous amounts with her face without saying a word. Fassbender is arguably less good with Macbeth’s introverted vulnerability and self-questioning, but always effortlessly virile and watchable, responding to Macbeth’s outbursts of anger and imperious paranoia. When he dismisses the witches: “Infected be the air whereon they ride/And damned all those that trust them!” he tops it off with a whooping rebel yell. Paddy Considine is a frowningly vigilant Banquo and David Thewlis is Duncan, the sacrificial victim King smilingly presiding over the nation which sometimes looks focused on a pagan court and sometimes in a vast Christian cathedral from a later age.

This is what it needs to keep moving forward and should play well with ticket buyers drawn in for both leads and of course the Bard himself.

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