The Best Actress race has come down to six names. Julianne Moore in the lead with Still Alice, right behind her Reese Witherspoon for Wild and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. Next in line would be Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The fifth slot is still pretty tricky. The critics put forth their support for Marion Cotillard. But the Screen Actors Guild went for Jennifer Aniston over Cotillard, and what I thought that fifth slot would be, the very deserving Hilary Swank.
The problem for Swank is twofold. 1) she’s won Best Actress twice already. That removes a sense of urgency to nominate her. Aniston has never been nominated and, like Sandra Bullock, has been a reliable work horse and popular actress for years. 2) The Homesman has not been embraced as it might have been, or as it should have been. Swank’s brutally raw performance was not uplifting enough for many women critics who seem to need their heroines to always be empowered, positive role models (blech, how boring). And the way Swank’s character disappears from the film left many unsatisfied. I thought it was a daring move for director Tommy Lee Jones. The Homesman was, for me, one of the best films I saw this year but the Oscar race is a popularity contest. Usually the most liked celebrities, if they really work the circuit, get in.
That leaves us with five–
Moore – SAG, GG
Witherspoon — SAG, GG
Pike — SAG, GG
Jones – SAG, GG
Aniston — SAG, GG
There is some wiggle room, I think, with Aniston and Jones but at this stage of the game I would consider them locked. Surprise nominees would be Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Beyond the Lights in a last minute surge, or Cotillard.
Our winner: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
Best Supporting Actress possibilities are wide-ranging, once again, with potent roles women because that’s mainly what women get to do in Hollywood films – be supporting characters. But we seem to have our locked five with this group:
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood –SAG, GG
Emma Stone, Birdman — SAG, GG
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game –SAG
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods — SAG, GG
And then we get to the fifth slot, which will most likely be filled by Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, which earned a Golden Globe nomination but not the SAG. The SAG went to Naomi Watts for St. Vincent. There was a last minute push for Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer but that hasn’t materialized. It certainly could show up as a surprise pick by the Swinton-loving Academy. Laura Dern was once the favorite to be nominated in the fifth but my money, right now, is on Chastain.
Our winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Best Supporting Actor is likewise locked, with the first four names showing up everywhere:
JK Simmons, Whiplash SAG, GG
Edward Norton, Birdman SAG, GG
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher SAG, GG
Robert Duvall, The Judge SAG, GG
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood SAG, GG
The problem with choosing a winner in this category is that it’s likely going to come down to Best Picture heat. While I think Simmons has this, Norton could be in the more liked film overall, Birdman. There’s just no telling what the Academy will do but if Birdman is nominated for Best Picture and Whiplash isn’t, you can probably figure Norton could take it in a surprise win. Smart money right now is on Simmons.
Our winner: JK Simmons, Whiplash
The year started with the Best Actor category filled up by the time Telluride rolled around. Michael Keaton took the lead out of Venice with his undeniably brilliant, vulnerable turn as Riggan in Birdman. The next one to launch was Benedict Cumberbatch with his heartbreaking portrayal of Alan Turing. I just watched it again last night and it’s just a dazzling performance, top to bottom. Then came The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne as the charming, brilliant Stephen Hawking. Such a great performance by Redmayne, whose career so far hadn’t really hinted at this kind of physical transformation he was capable of. These three contenders are the stars of the top contending Best Pictures. It’s a toss up between the three of them at the moment for the win.
There was also Steve Carell out of Cannes with his icy turnaround performance as John Dupont in Foxcatcher. Carell lost to Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner, the other strong contender in the Best Actor race. And then there is David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the best performances I saw all year. Finally, the biggest threat for the fifth slot is Jake Gyllenhaal, as a creepy sociopath in Nightcrawler.
It’s looking, so far, like this:
Michael Keaton, Birdman SAG, GG
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything SAG, GG
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game SAG, GG
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler SAG, GG
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher SAG, GG
David Oyelowo, Selma – GG
Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner – Cannes
Generally speaking, the SAG Best Actor category usually goes on to be nominated at the Oscars. But, as you can see, it’s a mind blowing toss-up. The only reason I have little sympathy for the embarrassment of riches in the Best Actor category is that it should be equally crowded for women. There should be more parts for women and I hope that women can eventually be afforded the same freedom as men to explore the wide spectrum of the human experience. Just look at the flak David Fincher and Gillian Flynn have taken — especially from Manohla Dargis at the New York Times who not only can’t let it go but feels the need to bring it up yet again in her Best Of list. Nobody thinks twice about Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher being negative portrayals of men. But when it comes to women? They have to be put in that cage continually.
Okay, back to Best Actor — I don’t know which way this thing is going to go, honestly. It’s likely Keaton’s to loose, I figure, based on what will be the overall popularity of Birdman. But Redmayne would make me nervous because his is the kind of performance where the heart gets involved. The heart can often override any other impulse in picking a winner.
Finally, there is the very popular Cumberbatch, who plays a troubled genius with Asperger’s who also must suppress his sexuality.
If Redmayne doesn’t just take it from the outset, it could come down to how the winners appear at the mic. The most charming of the three could tip the odds in his favor. Publicity will, as usual, count for a lot, but not all.
As of now, we’re at a stalemate.