The Toronto Film Fest is a few days in and so far there isn’t a lot to scream about, Oscar-wise. What does pop this year (and every year) are the handful of leading male performances.
At the top of the list to include in the Best Actor lineup — joining Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner, Ralph Fiennes in the Grand Budapest Hotel, and Michael Keaton in Birdman — would have to be, going by the response in Telluride, Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything.
Jeff Wells calls The Theory of Everything one of the biggest contenders for Best Picture, without even getting to Best Actor. But if it’s THAT good, Best Actor is a done deal.
Second would be Bill Murray in St. Vincent. Though the film itself appears to be drawing mixed reactions, most agree that it’s Murray’s show. That puts him in the running and his beloved status overall helps that. But in a year as competitive as this I don’t know if that’s enough. Best Actor these days is very much tied to Best Picture. So if St. Vincent isn’t a Best Picture thing it’s a little less certain that he’s a slam dunk. But nonetheless, on the list he goes.
We should also add Jake Gyllenhaal for the creepy breakout hit, Nightcrawler, though for some reason, film critics see in Nightcrawler many other films. I’ve read references to Taxi Driver, Bringing out the Dead, Network, Broadcast News, etc.
Todd McCarthy continues the trend in talking about Gyllenhaal:
Still, Gyllenhaal does a fantastic job channeling Louis’ outrageous and overwrought personality, whether he’s offering up lame sermons on entrepreneurship or tying his greasy long hair into a knot. It’s a performance that seems to take cues from both Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, although the real reference could be Timothy Treadwell in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man – another character risking his life to capture something deadly on video, well aware of both the danger it entails and the self-aggrandizement that it generates.
Better for Gyllenhaal if his performance didn’t recall other performances and better if the film is a contender for Best Picture but a good performance is a good performance and it’s worth noting.
In addition to the co-starring male performances like James McAvoy in Eleanor Rigby and Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, there are bravura leads coming up with Brad Pitt in Fury, Bradley Cooper in American Sniper and Jack O’Connell in Unbroken. These performances will likely not be ignored. There’s also Jeremy Renner in Kill the Messenger, David Oyelowo in Selma, Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes, etc.
How these names will fare at year’s end will depend on what’s coming next and what performance is going to crack the top five that isn’t on our radar at all. Some believe that what matters most is what powerful performance voters see LAST. Popularity in the industry, like ability of star, how much publicity they do – the talk show circuit, whether the SAG voters respect them or not, whether they “like” the character or not. All of these factors are always in play.
Every year it’s the same story – a spectrum of richly drawn male characters for actors to sink their teeth into, whole films built around them, character studies of them – good men, bad men, rich men, poor men, young men, old men, happy men, sad men, funny men, serious men, in love men, heartbroken men, desperate men, evil men, heroic men – yes, that’s the ticket. Heroic men. That is usually where the Oscar wheel stops spinning. It goes without saying that the same opportunities simply do not present themselves to women. No, women have to be women that men can deal with.
I really don’t think Oscar or industry voters are sexist when it comes to their choices – I think the the whole industry that covers films leans towards male-driven subject matter which is how those films get such great reviews and how they land in Oscar’s pocket and moreover, why so many more like them are being made. What I do know is that the picture used to look very very different when women had more power in Hollywood and films were built around that power, that strength, that box office appeal. Now it feels like it’s not about that so much, unless you count the big ones like Meryl Streep, but more about fuckability. If your only function is to rise the peen your shelf life will be short. Perhaps things are changing. One can always hold out hope.
If I had to pick five right now I’d go with:
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, Imitation Game
Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Alt. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner
That fifth slot, it’s always about that fifth slot.