Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: Actor in a Leading Role

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

2014 ACADEMY AWARDS PREDICTION:
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

new-wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-leonardo-dicaprio-is-the-wealthiest-stockbroker-in-the-world

1. LEONARDO DICAPRIO
The Wolf of Wall Street

2. CHIWETEL EJIOFOR
12 Years a Slave

3. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY
Dallas Buyers Club

4. CHRISTIAN BALE
American Hustle

5. BRUCE DERN
Nebraska

Missing: Joaquin Phoenix (Her); Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Robert Redford (All Is Lost)*

Slightly hunched over,  with his wispy white hair sticking out at all angles, Woody Grant is a stubborn ol’ coot who sets off for Lincoln, from his Billings, Montana home, believing he’s won a million bucks in Alexander Payne’s Nebraksa. This is Bruce Dern‘s second nomination (his last was in 1979 for a supporting role in Coming Home), and it’s an interesting choice, because Woody isn’t the most emotive of folks. Dern’s portrayal is taciturn one, though Woody’s sad illusions are always there, even under the several layers of cragginess. It’s hard to feel for a hardened, tight-lipped alcoholic, yet somehow, Dern does just that. Unfortunately it’s an odd duck of a performance amidst four typically showy Oscar-bait roles. Woody never had a chance.

One of the surprises on nomination morning was the inclusion of Christian Bale for his portrayal as small-time conman Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle. With a sagging paunch and a bald head covered, hilariously, by an embarrassing comb-over, Bale plays the comedy of this ridiculous character rather nicely, for once finding the humanity in his typically cool but unaccessible characters. He even exudes a great deal of warmth in the more intimate scenes with his female counterparts (and the one child in the film); it’s a welcome change for the talented, but difficult to actually like, actor. Bale has one Oscar to his name already for another David O. Russell film, The Fighter, and he’ll have to be content with that for now.

In his stoic portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s round, open countenance subtly transitions from stunned bafflement to bitter defiance and finally to a sad, if proud, acceptance of being enchained when once he was free. It’s a beautifully restrained performance that could easily have played the opposite, to exaggerated affectation. And for awhile, this elegant performance seemed the easy winner here, but then the winds seemed to change.

And then suddenly there was talk of Neptune and Just Keep Livin’, and Alright, Alright, Alright! Matthew McConaughey, we get it: You’re going to take this one home. For his role in Dallas Buyers Club, he lost 45 pounds (“or what actresses call being in a movie” – Tina Fey) and threw himself into the role of HIV-positive Texan Ron Woodfruff, swiftly progressing from an unapologetic asshole to a not-quite-sensitive-but-almost activist-martyr. It’s a great part for first-time nominee McConaughey who gets to layer his performance with more emotional depth than usual (there’s no Kate Hudson for him to woo), but still gets to keep that masculine swagger, even as he wastes away. And though I wouldn’t award it, it’s a very moving, solid performance, and the type that Oscar likes to award (think Tom Hanks in Philadelphia).

Personally, I preferred the slightly-insane swagger of financier McConaughey in The Wolf of Wall Street (that chest pumping chant = amazing), but even better than that was Leonardo DiCaprio‘s swindling stock broker. As Jordan Belfort, DiCaprio throws himself full throttle into the self-delighted, deranged, yet utterly charming millennial Gatsby. All twinkling eyes and megawatt smile, he woos men just as easily as women, as he twirls about, arms wide, grin wider, as the parties get wilder, the yachts get bigger, and the dwarves used for office target practice are thrown farther and harder. So serious, he’s funny, so over-the-top, he’s ludicrous, and he makes it all look so fun. But even though The Internet Really Wants Leonardo DiCaprio to Win an Oscar, he’ll go home empty-handed for the fourth time in his career. Because the oldish, conservative Academy voters don’t want to award the (portrayals of the) Jordan Belforts of the world with all their profanity and excess. But Leo is picking up some steam as the season goes on, so keep him in mind, as he’s got some serious spoiler potential.

*As you can see, I’d have a different set of nominees than the Academy chose, in this order:

1) TOM HANKS
Captain Phillips

2) ROBERT REDFORD
All Is Lost

3) LEONARDO DICAPRIO
The Wolf of Wall Street

4) JOAQUIN PHOENIX
Her

5) CHIWETEL EJIOFOR
12 Years a Slave

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