Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Category at a Time: Actor

What a tight year it's been for leading actors. We all knew that with such a glut of competition, someone was gonna be unpleasantly stiffed on nomination morning, but few of us probably anticipated that two of the season's top contenders (Robert Redford and Tom Hanks) would end up on the outside looking in. Since then, a clear frontrunner was established who it would be unwise not to predict. However, with an extended waiting period between nominations and voting, not to mention a strange BAFTA snub, there's still a lot of wiggle room. But first, the foremost candidate:
Some pundits were projecting over a year ago that Matthew McConaughey would have an excellent 2013. His celebrated performance in Magic Mike last year turned a lot of people's heads, and he kept that profile high with strong reviews in festival favourite Mud. Mouths were already abuzz with how much weight he had lost for his upcoming prestige drama Dallas Buyers Club, and when the film finally landed in early November (the perfect time for a mid-budget indie to avoid the Christmas rush) and everyone finally got to see it, the word was out: This was an Oscar performance, and a wonderful one at that. It boasts the kind of redemptive character arc and engaging personality that Oscar voters can't resist. He cleaned up the early precursors and treated all who bothered to watch them with his typically laid back and charming demeanor. Adding fuel to his fire was the fact that the HBO series True Detective premiered shortly there after, helping to keep his buzzmeter high and showcase his versatility. It seems impossible to think that he'll lose, and yet I'm predicting him with a certain discomfort. One of the acting categories must be ripe for an upset, and this has been an excruciatingly long season to maintain one's own hype. Could there be a spoiler lurking, and if so, who?

My guess: Leonardo DiCaprio. The Wolf of Wall Street ending up being a much stronger contender overall than I initially gave it credit for. Could it have been one of the five under Oscar's old system? One has to ask oneself in which category would the Academy opt to give this movie its one token win, and to me, it seems clear that Leo would be the one they choose. Even though he isn't yet 40, there's already an underlying sense of him being overdue for an Oscar, and The Wolf of Wall Street is a passion project of his that he's been labouring to put on screen for years. With nothing to lose, he's been campaigning like crazy to sell his charisma and likability to the industry at large, and after two straight months of hearing about the "McConaissance", perhaps that'll persuade some AMPAS members that they want to see the status quo shaken up on Oscar night. As much as that would suck for McConaughey, who does frankly deserve an Academy Award for the way he's turned his career around, a win for Leo (and for a project he put so much effort into) would be hugely satisfying. Maybe that feeling of potential satisfaction is what will tip enough votes in his favour.
There's another upset contender who would not be an entirely surprising: Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave. I suspect that his recent BAFTA triumph will convince a few prognosticators to shift their predictions over to him, and it's not a completely foolish move. Ejiofor did, after all, dominate with regional critics groups earlier this season before McConaughey started winning all the televised awards. However, I do feel like the BAFTA win might be a tad misleading. McConaughey wasn't even nominated for it, and Ejiofor was always more likely to earn the goodwill of his hometown Brits. If he does manage to pull it out on the big show, then that may be a deal-sealer for Best Picture.

The most surprising inclusion in this field is Christian Bale. Edging out presumed lock Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips made it clear that American Hustle was one of hottest Best Picture prospects in play. It also repeated the feat that Silver Linings Playbook accomplished last year by earning nominations in all four acting categories. It's rare for such a film to lose all four of those nominations, but I can't see Bale being the one who ekes it out. His costar Jennifer Lawrence is in much better position to do that, even though both of them have already won Oscars recently for David O. Russell films. Bale should be happy to be nominated.
And finally, Bruce Dern first started generating Oscar talk back at Cannes when critics first got a look at Nebraska. The film was right in the Academy's wheelhouse, and while I can't say that I appreciated the whole as much as everyone else did, I can't deny praise for Dern's beautiful performance. In a less competitive season, he could have won on sentiment votes, because it really is a heart-warming story to see the veteran character actor finally land a leading role and absolutely hit it out the park. Alas, the film ultimately stands to go home empty-handed.

Will win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Runner-up: Leonardo Dicaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Should win: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Should've been nominated: Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis


  1. If Leo had won the BAFTA I would predict him. Even if he got no major precursor awards he did get the chance to give two speeches this season due to winning Best Comedy actor at the Globes and BFCA. It is possible people liked the idea of seeing him with an award.

  2. It's kinda foolish to bet against McConaughey at this point, though DiCaprio's win would be so frigging awesome!