26 January 2015

A Closer Look at the 2015 Oscar Best Acting Nominations

With the SAG Awards in the can we ought to take a glance at the folks who are up for the big ones on February 22nd. It's always interesting to examine why these people were nominated and how the politics ought to play out to get them their win. It really boils down to who is down to grovel the most along with which producer can most aptly position their films in front of the right people. By now there doesn't really seem to be any heat in any of the major acting races, except for Best Actor, which has suddenly been thrown for a loop. Let's dig in:

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night 

So we'll take this thing from least likely to win to most likely. And as much as we're fans of everything Marion Cotillard could ever do, this is a really low profile film that's more of that interchangeable fifth slot than anything that can really contend. This could have been Jennifer Aniston's place for Cake (2014), which she nabbed for the Golden Globes and SAG awards. I really know nothing about this role or this film, but that just further proves she ain't gonna win.

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

This was my favourite performance of any of these ladies, but I feel like Gone Girl has been off the Academy's radar in a big way this year. Outside of The Social Network, the Academy hasn't really realized the genius of Dave Fincher, and even then Best Picture eluded him. I kind of get a Rooney Mara Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) vibe, which was also a great performance by an aggressive woman in a Fincher film ignored at the ceremony. A few months ago Pike was all over this race, but lately all the vibe has just been with other people.

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Reese Witherspoon was also a producer on Gone Girl, so she should be happy with a Rosamund Pike win, right? If only that was up for Best Picture, she could save face here. She of course is a previous winner from Walk the Line (2005), and quietly had a pretty awesome year between this, Gone Girl and reuniting with Johnny Cash himself, Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice (2014). She's on a lot of minds and Wild is great in a "see-it-with-your-mom" sort of way so there's certainly some buzz here. In the end though, this simply isn't her year, mostly because there's a big name ahead who has never been honoured.

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

This is sort of a bold call over Reese, but The Theory of Everything is peaking a big way right now and honoring young cute talent that does competent work in a safe historical picture is right up the Academy's alley. If only she was disabled! This is certainly not the last we'll be seeing of Felicity Jones, either - she may turn into a perennial like Amy Adams that's never honored or someone who gets her due sooner or later. But she'll be back.

Winner: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

I know nothing about Still Alice except for the fact that Julianne Moore is in it and that she's going to win the Oscar. That's partially true because everyone on earth is okay with that, except for maybe Jennifer Aniston. This is very much a way of honouring a lot of her past work in much better, more notable films, especially some that have slipped away from the Academy in the past. I'm just curious at this point whether or not Seventh Son (2015) gives her a little Norbit (2006)-effect and destroys her acting credibility the same way it supposedly did for Eddie Murphy a few years back. There's a bit of that going around this year. Stay tuned.

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher 

Here's another performance that I really digged, if only because he was so against type and Carell pulled it off so well. It's always exciting to see comic actors actually act and Carell has been walking this line ever since Little Miss Sunshine (2006). While a few months ago Foxcatcher looked to be a lock for a lot of acting nominations and wins, even possibly for Channing Tatum (leading to the incredible billing of 22 Jump Street [2014] starring two Oscar-nominated actors). Mark Ruffalo did get nominated, showing a bit of love, but there's not much other buzz for this beyond Carell's prosthetic nose. Hey, it worked for Nicole Kidman.

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

American Sniper ought to benefit tremendously from its recent box office success - it's certainly the most prominent in voters' minds. This is also Brad Cooper's third nomination in three years, so it's clear the Academy is in love with this guy. He's also really transformed in a role that's perfect for him. So what's the problem? This movie, although popular, is dividing the damn country, and even though it has plenty of fuel for both liberals and conservatives, its inherent conservative leaning ought to bug the typically liberal Hollywood. Then again, the Academy tends to side conservative. Who knows how this will play out, actually. Ultimately there's a lot of buzz in this race, just not for Cooper.

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Historical persecuted dream role for an up-and-coming hot actor who was just cast in a Marvel movie? This should be a lock more than Bradley Cooper! The Imitation Game got a ton of nominations but I actually haven't predicted it to win anything. That sucks. It's a super-Oscar-baity kind of film, though. It's like The King's Speech 2: Way Gayer! Despite that seeming stumbling block, it's also a great film for the family because of all that historical inspire-your-life crap. It may do better than I give it credit for, and the timing is good, but there has just been such a battle between the other two guys here I hesitate to give the Golden Man to Cumberbatch.

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Okay. Eddie Redmayne could very easily win this whole thing. Which is nuts, because he seems like the total opposite of Mike Keaton. It was fair when they split the Golden Globes, but after that SAG win, I don't know. Redmayne could do it. It's pretty natural. Famous historical disabled figure playing pretty fairly against type (his heretofore most famous role was that jagoff in Les Miserables [2012]). I'm only really curious if he gets a little Norbit-izing from Jupiter Ascending (2015). Keaton is still the obvious choice, but there's a distinct possibility that the next three weeks are the biggest of Redmayne's life.

Winner: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Almost all of these actors have a classic Oscar Role that has a long history of being rewarded. Keaton, though, is highly regarded from a lifetime in the industry, has never been honoured for his work and it's the perfect marriage of role and actor. Seriously, this was built for him expressly. He is Birdman and Birdman is fantastic. It's also a true actor's movie and it's clear the acting guild liked the film from its Best Cast win at the SAGs. The Academy generally likes films about filmmaking or in this case, the industry itself, and although it crucifies the current Hollywood business model, it upholds the importance of acting as artistry, which is huge among this crowd. I just can't picture upstart Redmayne winning, although he'd actually be a doll. But how do you miss the opportunity to honor this modern picture in favor of some typical crap?

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern, Wild

I didn't really know that anyone other than Reese Witherspoon was in Wild. You know, at this moment going through this I've come to the realization of how little I know about most of these, but that should work in my favour, right? I'm a part-time movie blogger, if I haven't heard of you or your role, you're not getting the word out enough. I loved Laura Dern in Jurassic Park (1993). That's also my level of investment here. She does have a solid body of non-Dinosaur related work behind her and an award here could easily honor that. Too bad that's true for just about everyone here.

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Remember all that stuff I said about Cumberbatch? The same mostly goes here except Knightley didn't play gay, so it's tough to imagine her winning here. I love that that's a thing. Why aren't gays honoured on screen for just being normal? Like Kieran Culkin in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)? That's the first normal gay role I can picture, actually. But just like African Americans it's tough to get noticed if you're not showing white people how they persecuted you. I should get back to Keira. She's gotten more into non-crappy roles, and to be honest, she's way more interesting in Laggies (2014), but whatever.

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

It's not even fun anymore, really. Streep gets nominated because she's Streep, even upstaging people in her own movie who at least match her level like Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt. It's tough to knock Streep because she is awesome and great here as usual, but it's getting to be like the New England Patriots. I want to see someone else in the Super Bowl. There isn't much buzz at all around Into the Woods (even though I picked it to win Best Costuming), and it was pretty well received in general and Streep in particular.

Emma Stone, Birdman

Emma Stone is loved by everyone on earth and she's made a nice name for herself with a ton of feel good roles in easily digestible flicks like Easy A (2010) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), and even in tripe like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) she's pretty sublime. I'm also just happy that Superbad (2007) now boasts two Academy Award nominated actors. When will we come to our senses and honor McLovin? Not soon enough. This is a great role for Emma, who is able to add real-Emma Stone-ness to a character with more depth than she's been provided before.

Winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Here's another long due acting award. Patricia Arquette doesn't have any real career-defining roles despite a lifetime of being in everything. Really this is honouring Medium. And Little Nicky (2000). It'll give some good momentum to Boyhood, and she does do an excellent job as mother of the boy in question. She's wrapped up every award she needs to, and with no one else in this category really in a classical position to earn this, there's no sense in choosing anyone else.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Duvall is of course a living legend, who is rounding out his seventh Academy Award nomination. He won in 1983 for Tender Mercies, which seemed like a way to recognize him for the incredible work he was doing in the 60s and 70s. Still, it's been 31 years since that win, and this nomination makes him the oldest nominated actor. Of course he's most known for being more grizzled than Garth Brooks. Anyway, The Judge was somehow a terrible movie, despite having an incredible cast and this nomination is almost surprising considering Duvall has still been pretty awesome. I mean, Get Low (2009), people.

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

I'm not sure why Arquette has caught on while Hawke hasn't, it's not like one is really better than the other in this movie. It probably has more to do with the fact that the Supporting Actor category this year is quite a bit tougher and is full of people more deserving of long-time honouring than the Supporting Actress. It would be cool if Hawke was given something for his oft partnering with Dick Linklater, but it won't be here.

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

I'm also given to buy into the Ruffalo train after the SAGs, because everyone there just seemed to love him for some reason. It's always a good indication that that branch of the Academy digs the dude. He's getting to be a more high profile, Hulked-out actor but like I was saying about Carell, Foxcatcher just doesn't seem to have caught on the way it seemed it would when it was first announced. It's possible it makes some last minute waves, but at this point it just seems like a long shot.

Edward Norton, Birdman

Here's our second Hulk on the list, which is fairly awesome. Ed Norton is the kind of guy you can't believe doesn't have an Oscar. In fact, he's only been nominated three times. He's also damned incredible in Birdman, which is made all the tougher because he is supposed to play a character who is a really good actor. The Academy ought to side with him pretty hard, or they might not like what they see in the mirror he's holding up to them. Like Keaton, it's also a perfect role for him, merging the fictional character with perceptions of his public persona to create a really memorable performance within and without the film. Ultimately it's just really really unfortunate that J.K. Simmons is in this race.

Winner: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

I still thin that Whiplash is an underdog for a lot of Awards come Oscar Night. This is a guarantee, though. While I mentioned that Patricia Arquette has been in everything, that's small shit compared to Simmons. I mean, let's start with Farmers Insurance - that's an incredible role. But if you've ever needed an aloof father, angry boss, or demolitions man with IBS, Simmons has been the man for the past twenty years. He's had a few incredibly articulate acceptance speeches on his way to winning every major award leading up to this, and is one of those "everyone-loves-him" kind of long-working actors. This category also loves the loud, boisterous villain, and that's exactly the kind of thing he pulls off in Whiplash. There's really no question in this one.

So, what do you think, folks? Will Redmayne upset Keaton? Is it even an upset anymore? What about young Felicity Jones, Brad Cooper, or Eddie Norton? Leave a comment below with your own thoughts and predictions!

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