Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2015: Best Lead Actor

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.

2015 ACADEMY AWARDS PREDICTION:
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

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1. Michael Keaton
BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)

2. Benedict Cumberbatch
THE IMITATION GAME

3. Eddie Redmayne
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

4. Bradley Cooper
AMERICAN SNIPER

5. Steve Carell
FOXCATCHER

Should’ve been here: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), David Oyelowo (Selma), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Basically, the Academy got this category wrong, but what’s new? If I had my druthers, Carell, Cooper, and Redmayne/Cumberbatch (doesn’t really matter which) would be out and Gyllenhaal, Oyelowo, and Fiennes would be in, with either Oyelowo or Fiennes winning.

As it is, Carell should still be out. Remember in 2002 when everyone freaked out about Nicole Kidman in The Hours? They just couldn’t get over that nose. Well, hers has got nothing on Steve Carell‘s sniffer, which is not only an abomination of movie makeup, but unlike Kidman, Carell can’t get beyond his prosthetic. As the mentally ill murderer John Du Pont in Foxcatcher, Carell literally leads with it, raising it in the air constantly, as though sniffing out the Schultz brothers’ weaknesses. A fan of Carell’s, and a bigger fan of comic actors turning serious (Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey), I just wish that the next time Carell tries a darker role (and he should), he tells his makeup artist – and director – to avoid all similarities to animated characters.

In the jingoist American Sniper, Bradley Cooper dials down the cocky charisma he’s so known for and packed on the pounds – 8,000 calories a day!! scream the rags – to buff up to Navy SEAL stature. As the problematic Chris Kyle, Cooper is scarily focused, grim, and alienated as he casually – disturbingly so – hunts down his Iraqi counterpart. It’s an impressive performance caught within the confines of an alarming (not in a good way) film. This is Cooper’s third nomination in a row (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle); he’s guaranteed to be 0 for 3.

Folks were losing their minds for The Imitation Game despite its multitudes of inaccuracies, but hey, the latter’s not Benedict Cumberbatch‘s fault. As the eccentric genius who helped break the German Enigma code during World War II, Cumberbatch skillfully uses his distinct physical features to his advantage in portraying Alan Turing. Building on his otter-like countenance – those peculiarly high cheekbones and wide forehead – he cultivates an air of the socially-awkward, stammering a bit as though he can’t quite get out the words fast enough, but also the pompous, with a caustic wit. It’s a smart and affecting performance, but has recently been overshadowed by another nominee.

Eddie Redmayne is going to win this award. He’s already won the Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA, and for some reason, everyone’s absolutely mad about him right now. Playing Stephen Hawking, the best-known scientist in popular culture, Redmayne does manage to rise above the mediocre screenplay that oversimplifies his personal relationships, especially with his wife, Jane. Redmayne’s gawky confidence early in the film is winning, as is his facial dexterity post-ALS, in which his muscles are pulled into a perpetual smile, leaving his expressive eyes to communicate all that they can.

But it’s easier to imitate than create, and Michael Keaton is the only nominee creating a character from scratch. In Birdman (or the unexpected virtue of ignorance), Keaton plays Hollywood has-been Riggan Thomson, haunted by the feathered super-hero he once played to fortune and fame and desperate for a re-defining career resurgence. Keaton had his own super-hero moment, twice playing Batman for director Tim Burton, but has never really reached that level of notoriety since – until now – and so the casting is marvelously meta, even uncomfortably so. While Keaton’s performance isn’t the showiest of this bunch (or even in the film – Ed Norton wins there), it’s a remarkably organic one, with truly revelatory moments, such as when he, off-the-cuff, fabricates childhood abuse. It’s a deliciously twisted moment, and Keaton delivers it with the smooth precision of an improvisational pro. In an awards race that prefers dramatic turns to a fault, Keaton’s performance showcases that magical meld of comedic and dramatic chops that, if Redmayne falters for even a second, will nab him this award.

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