BEST ACTOR

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It’s interesting to be on the selling side of the awards race because you can tell which studio is really in it to win and which ones are either confident, nervous, or resigned. In some ways, it seems that many in Hollywood feel this race is all but locked up and thus, expect no surprises. And indeed, it could be. Will the SAG Awards tell us anything different from what we thought we knew before? Are any of the acting races still open? Are there any performances ripe for an upset? Can we expect some surprises?
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The Wrap asked readers for suggestions on how to improve the Academy. A reader response is a pretty good example of what the Academy members really think — and honestly, it’s not all that different from what a lot of middle-aged dudes I know think. This is why nothing changes. This is white privilege summed up in one comment. I don’t want to single anyone out, at least not until the final ballots are in, but he has to be shitting me if he thinks that people are nominated because of some level of excellence. Yeah, no.

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A reader named Jason sent in this letter this morning:

I’m a huge fan of your site. I’m going to tell you that I’m a black man that loves movies ever since I was born. I read alot of reviews about movies. Most critics I don’t really care for. In all honesty, I dont think most critics are good at their jobs.

To tell you the truth, you are my favorite critic. Roger Ebert was a genius at his craft. I always enjoys reading and listening to his reviews about movies because he always dug deeper into what a movie was about. Most critics don’t do that. Another thing that I loved about Ebert, he understood race. He cared about the stories being told about black people. I always felt that he cared about us. Most critics I don’t get that sense from them. I dont get the feeling that they understand or even care about black or minority lives. Through Ebert’s writing, I got a sense that he cared about our journey and our lives. I got a sense he was open to us. He was intrigued by us. He had a respect for us that most critics do not.

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At last, the glamour categories. A lot of tricky maneuverings happening here as our voters cast ballots to decide which performances are Lead and which are Supporting. Mathematics brings down the gavel to make the final judgement. Dr Rob will be here to explain how it all happened – and how it may play out tomorrow morning when the real Oscar ballot results are revealed. How do actual Oscar voters differ from you and me? To quote Fitzgerald and Hemingway:

F. Scott: “The rich are different from you and me.”
Ernest: “Yes, they have more money.”

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The Golden Globes were held after the Oscar ballots were turned in so there would be no way to measure that enthusiasm translated to an Oscar nomination, which is how the Globes used to be placed way back when. In an effort to boost their own ratings (I think) the Academy changed their deadline to being before the Golden Globes hold their telecast – they did this last year, I think, and this year. It would have been nice to ride the wave of momentum from Sly’s win to a potential Oscar win.

After his long list of thank yous, Sly did thank director Ryan Coogler and co-star Michael B. Jordan but the cameras had already pulled away for commercial break by then. It was a great moment for the film Creed that will be sullied by internet hysteria for the next couple of days over this – the think pieces, the clickbait. Unless you write down names you are going to forget the most important people when you’re standing up there trying to remember everyone.

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After a victorious season for Eddie Redmayne last year, the Best Actor winner returns to the awards conversation this year for his latest collaboration with director Tom Hooper, The Danish Girl. Having previously worked together on the big-screen adaptation of the Broadway smash Les Miserabes, Redmayne and Hooper comfortably join forces again to execute their vision of Lili Elbe, one of the first known people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The film is adapted from the fictionalized novel of the same name, not a representation of Lili’s actual experience, and The Danish Girl uses that responsibility and artistic liberty to find its voice in telling such an important story. The film honors Elbe for being a champion in the transgender community. Dripping of class and jeweled sentiments, The Danish Girl will illuminate and enlighten its audience, and serves as another title for the two Oscar winning artists to add to their portfolio of cinematic riches.
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The year has been filled with great performances by actors. So many good ones – Oscar worthy turns – that you could fill a list of 20 deserving names and find 10 more besides. Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer, Michael B. Jordan in Creed, Will Smith in Concussion, Josh Brolin in Sicario, Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes, John Cusack in Love & Mercy, not to mention Géza Röhrig in Son of Saul – that’s just scratching the surface. To have to narrow it down to five is not easy.

The festival season began with two performances that were strong enough to be considered frontrunners out of the gate. Michael Fassbender, whose Steve Jobs icily delivered Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue to chilling effect. Fassbender can be a powerful presence on screen — evil incarnate in 12 Years a Slave, and now, the witty, charming asshole behind the Apple empire. Fassbender’s Jobs was different enough from the real man that he enabled the Sorkin dialogue opera to be a few steps removed from the “true story” of Jobs. How willing a person was to depart from the truth and embrace the myth and the symbol would determine how they responded to the film. The one thing that was irrefutable was the quality of Fassbender’s work.  The other performance seen at Telluride was Johnny Depp in Black Mass. Depp never wavered from the blackness of this character’s deep soul. Even in the scenes with son and wife where he is supposed to be almost human, it’s clear that Whitey Bulger had a dark hole where his soul should be. Depp’s work is magnificent — even with the makeup that almost distracts from it. These performances defined the polar opposite paths that two outsiders took in their non-traditional routes to success. Neither was likable but both were remarkably accomplished. Deep down in places we won’t admit we admire people who succeed at any cost — especially when those people get get rich.
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In the flurry of SAG nominations, and the shocking realization that Spotlight was the only film being talked about to win Best Picture to get a SAG nomination, the equally shocking news about Beats of No Nation getting in seemed to drift pass everyone, as though it was an expected thing. It was not only unexpected, it was unheard of. Surprises like Straight Outta Compton and Trumbo do happen, but Beasts of Nation was a film that survived and flourished on word of mouth and devoted advocacy of prominent figures in Hollywood. This is the first time in Oscar history that a film that opened almost simultaneously on VOD has come this close to being nominated for Best Picture.
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It’s interesting that this year’s SAG awards showed that the nominating committee, those 2,000 randomly chosen voters, definitely chose to go outside the reach of film critics when they picked many of the contenders. This surprised many in the awards-watching community because usually voters are more “plugged in” to film reviews and thus have an idea of how a movie is “playing.” Then again, maybe they don’t. Helen Mirren and Sarah Silverman’s nominations were both surprising to many of us. But perhaps most surprising of all was Trumbo’s rise to prominence in this stage of the race. You’d never know it was headed for the big show if you’d have been paying attention to the critics, as we all were. Charlotte Rampling was always a possibility, though looking at it now most of the other nominees are true “insiders” to the LA film and TV crowd. Rampling clearly isn’t. You just never know what mix of actors you’re going to get with that random selection.
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Mark Watney died once before. He was hit with debris during a storm on Mars that knocked him out leading his crew to abandoned him and leave his corpse lying there for all the world to see. You might actually think he died, because a lot of people did. They even held a funeral for him back on Earth. They had press releases about his death and they all went about their business. But guess what. Mark Watney didn’t die.  Mark Watney survived by thinking outside the box.  The opposite of what we in the silly little universe known as “Awards punditry” do. Take Jeff Wells for instance. He was happy to dance a jig on the presumed death of Mark Watney. He never did like The Martian. He said it was a movie “people who watch the Super Bowl might like.” You see, that’s probably true, because the beauty of The Martian is that it slyly used the magic of the movies to bring science to the masses. That’s no easy feat considering everything else out there vying for attention. I have to correct Jeff’s assumption about the film, however, as it takes a smart person to appreciate what’s great about it. Only a stupid person would mistake how entertaining The Martian is without seeing the importance of it.

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(Left to right)  Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll  in SPOTLIGHT.
 
Photo credit:  Kerry Hayes / Distributor:  Open Road Films

The SAG ensemble award is going to be an interesting thing to watch, especially the day before the Globe nominations. The thing that’s easy to forget about both is that typically they depict the earlier part of the Oscar race, not what it becomes the time Oscar voters vote – about a month from now. A lot can happen in a month. Movies can rise and fall. Contenders can be celebrated or forgotten. Scandals can and do erupt. Money is made or lost. Many award announcements in between as we watch, guild announcement by guild announcement, a consensus building – and even then the Oscar Best Picture nominations can be a surprise. Continue reading…

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2015 has been one of the best years for ensemble acting in recent memory. From the smallest independent films like Tangerine on up to the biggest studio films like Bridge of Spies, ensembles drove the season probably more than any leading performances did. We’re at the end of the year and the only film left to see is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Films this year went far into the past, glided through the 1950s, dug through the 1990s and soared through to the future of mankind.

In a year with so many choices, finding a consensus is going to be tricky and we might see several shakeups and upsets, even among the big guilds. But today, let’s talk about the actors who brought it all together on screen.

The Best Ensemble of the Year
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As you all know who have been reading this site, we’ve been advocating hard for Paul Dano since first seeing him in Love & Mercy months ago. Dano has, believe it or not, never been nominated for an Oscar for some inexplicable reason. From his work in There Will Be Blood, and in 12 Years a Slave Dano has showed again and again his versatility. He won Best Actor at the Gothams, but is being placed in the supporting category for the Oscars. Dano and John Cusack shared one lead performance, thus it’s perfectly reasonable to see Dano in supporting. This is a well earned, and well deserved win.

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Finding the single best moment in Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is impossible as you have two actors playing the same person. Then there’s Elizabeth Banks. Add Paul Giamatti and you have one of the best ensemble performances of the year. Banks glides confidently through the film in a way we’ve never seen before.

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In looking over last year’s predictions around this time we were still caught up in movies that hadn’t yet played and/or been rejected, so Unbroken was still riding high, as was Interstellar, even though it had been seen. See, we don’t really “know” anything. We’re just guessing. And last year, even the best of them weren’t on target. Anne Thompson, Thelma Adams and Tim Grey were the only ones who had 7 out of 8 right. The rest of us had 6 out 8 right, which still isn’t that bad. Overall, the Gurus had 6 out 8 right on Thanksgiving weekend, as did Gold Derby.

Like last year, we were messed up because of the late breaking films that embargo reviews until after voting for so many of the critics awards, like the New York Film Critics or National Board of Review. Such is the case once again with The Revenant and Joy at least. Therefore, even if we think they might not be/or might be Oscar nominees, we can’t get that confirmed until the movies get reviewed, seen, talked about. Thus, we’re in a bit of a vacuum even now.

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From Cannes to Telluride

I saw three or four films in Cannes back in May that count as tectonic shifts where this year’s movie performances are concerned. One of the most surprising moments in Mad Max: Fury Road comes from the scene where Tom Hardy trudges through the sand towards the war rig. Up to now, we’ve only seen Charlize Theron as the driver of the rig, but once Hardy rounds the corner there emerge the women, the “breeders,” barely clothed in white gauzy material, washing themselves with fresh water. What a sight for Hardy’s Max, who can’t quite figure out what he’s seeing. But even more of a jolt is the way Furiosa approaches Max in this scene, attacking with one arm, then pulling back, then attacking again. Clearly this isn’t a woman who will be beaten. After all, she knows the passcode that enables the war rig to run. Theron as Furiosa owns Mad Max – both the film and the character, a power swap that caused a shift in how people regarded Mad Max the icon. Theron’s focuses her hold on Hardy as she battles him for the gun, all in defense of nothing any bigger than saving whatever humanity is left of the human race. When Max momentarily bests her and tries to leave (he can’t, she has the codes) her toughness flickers and briefly fades – but never much shakes her tough facade. It is a masterful, steady and ultimately brilliant performance by Theron.

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The Oscar race hasn’t really changed now that The Revenant’s been seen. It has confirmed its place, especially if you were thinking of it as a nominee for Best Picture, but perhaps not the winner. For a film to win Best Picture usually means you can sit anyone down in front of it – cashier, stripper, teacher, princess, president, security guard, nanny – and they will get it if not love it. That’s because thousands of people vote to call it the best. How can you get thousands of people to agree your movie is good? What Alejandro G. Inarritu is going for with The Revenant is to make a piece of art more than a general crowdpleaser. And while the review embargo has not yet been lifted, there are a few things that can be discussed.

You can check all of the boxes for nominations — especially in the tech categories. The cinematography is beyond anything I’ve ever seen because I don’t know if any crew has attempted anything like this, ever. You might have to go back to the 1970s, when filmmakers were still kind of, sort of allowed to experiment on this scale. The score is also breathtaking. The art direction (Jack Fisk) is subtle because nature is really the art director here but it is nonetheless authentic, very McCabe & Mrs. Miller looking. Tom Hardy is as strong as expected for a supporting nomination. The sound design of the film is probably going to be one of the hardest contenders for Star Wars to beat. But really, more than anything, The Revenant is two things – a love letter to the natural world that we have all but destroyed in our thirst for more “things” and the bravest, hardest thing Leonardo DiCaprio has ever done.

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Ian McKellen performed a one man show recently here in Los Angeles wherein the actor spoke about the many actresses he’s worked with over the years. McKellen is such a great storyteller, which is why rare appearances like these are so memorable. Here he is on Maggie Smith.

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The first frame of the original Rocky, as the famous music comes up, the date: November 25, 1975. You probably had to live through the Rocky phenomenon to understand just how big that movie was, what it gave audiences, and why it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1976, besting All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver and Bound for Glory. What most people don’t realize about that year looking back was that Sylvester Stallone – the unlikely lottery winner of that year – never won an Oscar, even though he wrote the script for Rocky.

How could he have beaten William Goldman for All the President’s Men or Paddy Chayefsky for Network? He couldn’t have. Both of those films, and Taxi Driver, launched a thousand filmmakers. A generation of filmmakers wanted to make movies that good, that revered. People like me spent many hours lamenting Rocky’s Best Picture win over the other, presumably better movies. That it won was a thing that the movie forever had to live down.

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I’ve been blogging about the Oscars so long I often forget that most people out there don’t really know as much about the Academy’s recent history as I do. Part of knowing that history is, in effect, shutting down. Bit by bit, year by year, loss by loss, one learns – or tries to learn – to stop caring. Or as my site’s tagline used to say, “The trick is not minding.”  One of the most curious things about Oscar season is how the cult of personality can sometimes overtake an Oscar season so that the win comes not from the most deserving but from the most likable at the moment – the Mr. Right Now instead of the Mr. Right. This year, there are many Mr. Rights, and Ian McKellen is among them. The trick will be for one of those Mr. Rights to also become a Mr. Right Now.

McKellen has been up for two Oscars – just two. I will say that his performance of Richard III is maybe the best thing I’ve ever seen an actor do – but most certainly the best thing I’ve ever seen an actor do doing Shakespeare. It was mind blowing. He did not, however, receive a nomination for it.

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