Lead Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Lead Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
These four actors have championed prizes in their respective categories from the three award shows—SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globes—that are instrumental for a success at the Academy Awards. There should be no hysterical dramatics and edge-of-your-seat anxiety during the Oscars for a nominee when they have swept the category clean at all of the preceding award shows. The absence of those hysterical dramatics in the race can lead to people who spend a superfluous amount of time thinking about the outcome of these awards to speculate who would win if the frontrunner were not nominated in the category.
So, who would in each category win if the frontrunner didn’t exist? With little evidence and much confusion over the past few months of this year’s Oscar race, it’s not something easily calculated.
Despite early distress about the strength of contenders in this field, the Academy ended up producing an array of impressive performances in its lead actress field. If Julianne Moore would have won for Far from Heaven, The Hours or Boogie Nights, this would be the biggest prediction gamble of Oscar night.
Once you take the projected winner, Moore, out of the lineup, the list of nominees divides into two subgroups: 1) Felicity Jones and Marion Cotillard, 2) Rosamund Pike and Reese Witherspoon.
Particularly when picking predictions for the BAFTA awards, many pundits and award season followers pitted Jones in the runner-up position for The Theory of Everything. Yes, she is a co-lead in a popular film with the older Academy members, but the performance itself has never been the distinctive focal point of the film’s praise. Her role is not as dramatically heavy as her fellow nominees, and the industry’s good will for the Stephen Hawking biopic is being dosed over Eddie Redmayne’s work.
The numerous awards Cotillard won from critic associations is probably what kept her alive enough to hop into the last Best Actress spot, despite being excluded from the Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA nominations. The performance itself, though considered brilliant by many, is quite subdued, lacking the overt fireworks of Witherspoon and Pike’s towering performances. And the last foreign language performance to win was Cotillard herself in 2007, and whether we like it or not, to win an Oscar for a non-English-speaking role is not common. In addition, Cotillard has a history of being unpopular with the Academy since her win for La Vie en Rose. Many regard her missing the Academy’s lineup for Rust and Bone and Nine to be egregious snubs.
If Moore weren’t in the race, it would most likely come down to Pike and Witherspoon.
After Wild’s premiere at Telluride this past summer, Witherspoon’s buzz was moving at an accelerated level. But whenever the film was released widely, the critical acclaim was there…the support just never felt as passionate as we were led to believe. But still, Witherspoon received the best reviews of her career for her portrayal as Cheryl Strayed, she has been working the campaign trail harder than anyone and had a “comeback” year after a decade of flops and tabloid treachery. Taking the role itself was a drastic change of pace for Witherspoon, and the fact that she pulled it off terrifically could have won her a second Oscar, had Moore not been in the race.
The major problem that would have prevented Pike from going all the way is the distance the Academy put between itself and Gone Girl in every category but Best Actress. (Many are still waiting to wake up from the terrible dream and learn Gillian Flynn’s snub in Adapted Screenplay was a bad dream.) But everything else is in Pike’s favor. Playing a character as memorable and iconic as Amazing Amy holds more weight than most are giving it credit for. Pike disappears into a role that is bound to ignite some form of strong reaction from just about everyone who watches the Gone Girl. And besides starring in an R-rated film that grossed over $165 million domestically, she was named as the best actress preference by over a dozen critic associations.
Projected Outcome without Julianne Moore
1. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
3. Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
4. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
This category is not as securely fastened as the others, because Birdman has won the major guild awards in spades, and before Redmayne won the SAG, most were predicting Michael Keaton to soar to Oscars. Keaton was the critics’ darling of this category and the Golden Globe winner in the musical/comedy category. To bet against Redmayne and his winning streak would be imprudent, but Keaton is still viable option for a Best Actor win if his film scores the Best Picture trophy. If Redmayne wouldn’t win, it would (and could) be Keaton.
The wild card of the group this year is Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, because he has not competed in any other award show until the AMPAS. His movie has surged at the box office, making inconceivable amounts of money, and the Academy proved their admiration for Eastwood’s war on terror effort by nominating it six times this year. This is Cooper’s third consecutive acting nomination from the Academy, and it stands to reason that the politics of playing a United States veteran could finally put him in a more “winner-friendly” stature. If American Sniper performs better at the ceremony than many pundits surmise, it would not be too surprising to see Cooper upstage the two other frontrunners.
Steve Carell launched the season with glowing reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival for Foxcatcher, but his buzz began to wilt as the year progressed and other performances joined the sprint to the finish line. Benedict Cumberbatch, currently an “it” man in pop culture, acquired raves for playing Alan Turing, but so far this season The Imitation Game has a barren record despite piles of nominations.
Projected Outcome without Eddie Redmayne
1. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Patricia Arquette has been invincible the past few months for her moving work in Boyhood. Because of her popularity with the critic association awards and the televised award shows, we do not have the smallest indication to even suggest an alternate frontrunner. The only contender that began to build a case against Arquette was Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, but she ended the season with a snub from the Academy. Any one of the other nominees could rise to the occasion if Arquette would not have been nominated.
Meryl Streep’s nomination always felt secure for her creative turn in Into the Woods, but it seems as if people are not taking her film seriously enough to reward it in a substantial way. Laura Dern’s nomination was an inspired one considering her role in Wild is limited to flashbacks–which means a smaller amount of screentime–and the fact that she was largely ignored before her nomination from the Academy.
Keira Knightley rode The Imitation Game’s buzz to all of the crucial award shows this year. In playing Joan Clarke, Knightley does her usual melodramatic, aggressive British act and she has Harvey Weinstein’s heavy promotion in her favor, but I hesitate about relying on her rank in the race too heavily. Knightley’s role, in a similar way to Jones in Lead Actress, does not feel vigorous enough to take down her co-nominees.
Birdman reminds me of American Hustle in the Oscar race last year. The ensemble was among the most heralded aspects of the film and several of the actors were nominated, yet none of them were unable surmount the frontrunner and most likely took second place. Like American Hustle, Birdman lacks an acting frontrunner despite having various performances nominated.
To compare Emma Stone’s standing to Jennifer Lawrence’s position last year would be unfair because the Lawrence had more going for her, but Stone relates to her in another way: She holds a position in pop culture that could have been an entry into frontrunner status had it not been for Arquette. Also, Stone benefits from starring in a Best Picture frontrunner, having an uproar of an “Oscar clip” and losing a significant amount of weight to portray her character more accurately. She makes the most sense of the non-Arquette contenders.
Projected Outcome without Patricia Arquette
1. Emma Stone, Birdman
2. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
3. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
4. Laura Dern, Wild
Like Best Actress, a race without J.K. Simmons for Whiplash in Best Supporting Actor would divide the other nominees into two groups: 1) Mark Ruffalo and Robert Duvall, 2) Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton.
Duvall was one of the better attributes of The Judge, but his nomination feels like a gesture of reverence from his peers, showing their appreciation for all his years of hard work in the business. Mark Ruffalo has settled into a place in the film industry as a character actor, like his work in Foxcatcher exemplifies. His respect may be growing in the industry, but it’s not enough to climb over the other, more emphatic performances in his company.
In a world where Simmons was not orchestrating another Supporting Actor sweep (like we saw in previous years with Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Christoph Waltz, Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem, ect.), the hypothetical winner would most likely be either Ethan Hawke in Boyhood or Edward Norton in Birdman.
After winning a fair amount of critics association awards, Norton’s loud, grabbing, memorable turn would probably be named the best of the year, especially when the industry’s support of his film is taken into consideration. I do have my reservations because of Hawke and the general question surrounding which film the Academy will support more: Birdman or Boyhood? Hawke gives a more flavorful performance in Boyhood than his co-star Patricia Arquette, and yet she is the undivided frontrunner for Supporting Actress. In addition, he has paid his dues and collected several nominations over the years from the Academy between acting and writing.
Projected Outcome without J.K. Simmons
1. Edward Norton, Birdman
2. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
4. Robert Duvall, The Judge