The fellas are definitely more competitive than the ladies this year but still a lot of solid work. However, both groups have a lot of “also ran” nominees. Both of these are all but done deals.
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) – Marion Cotillard is an excellent actress. But this is a terrible movie. I think her nomination was given for her simply enduring this film. She had so little to work with and still was able to deliver a strong portrait of a woman recovering from depression while facing the likelihood of losing her job. Marion gets the “lemons out of lemonade” award.
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) – On sheer depth of character Felicity Jones turns in a more fully developed performance than her acclaimed costar. But it’s still just fine, nothing particularly spectacular. I think she’s in this race because the film as a whole was so well received. It’s hard to imagine how she’s nominated but Jennifer Aniston is out in the cold.
Julianne Moore (Still Alice) – Nobody else in this category matters but Julianne Moore. Her performance is so head and shoulders about the rest that it doesn’t even matter who else got nominated. There aren’t going to win. Moore is so solid in this movie it makes up for Julie Christie getting nominated for Away from Her. In fact, Still Alice makes none of the mistakes that Away from Her made almost 10 years ago. It should be up for best picture or at least best screenplay, but when you get into those discussions you have to boot somebody out and it’s hard to say who. Nonetheless, Moore’s portrayal of Alice Howland, a linguistics professor struggling with the progressive effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s is outstanding. No gimmicks. No clichés. No sentimentality. Just an honest and transformative performance by an actress who is overdue for an Oscar.
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) – Great work from Rosamund Pike. She’s come a long way from Die Another Day (one of the worst Bond movies ever… and there are some stinkers). I felt this was another movie that could have been up for a lot more than it was and she is a huge reason why. Not only is there is so much going on under the surface, but she has to run the gamut of so many different emotions, emotional states, mindsets and physical conditions that without such an absolutely solid performance this roller coaster ride of a movie falls flat. She nailed it.
Reese Witherspoon (Wild) – I think Reese is nominated because she had to carry this movie almost entirely on her own. She’s a really good actress and a lesser one in a film like this wouldn’t have even been noticed. Like Marion Cotillard she didn’t have much to work with. At 115 minutes it feels about 30 minutes too long. There is a LOT of stuff that could have been cut. But Witherspoon overcomes the challenge of doing most of the movie by herself.
OSCAR WINNER: Julianne Moore
SELBY PICK: Julianne Moore
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) – From Dan in Real Life to The Way, Way Back Steve Carell has been on the brink of this kind of recognition for several years now. His performance as eccentric philanthropist and Olympic wrestling enthusiast John du Pont put him over the top. He embodies this troubled man far beyond makeup and a prosthetic nose. As I mentioned yesterday about the screenplay, this is the slow burn and Carell plays it perfectly keeping so much bubbling just under the surface of deep-rooted insecurity and awkward emotional dysfunction.
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) – What a roll Bradley Cooper is on, three consecutive Oscar nominations. Sadly for him this won’t be his year but that shouldn’t diminish the extraordinary performance her delivers in American Sniper. His portrayal of Chris Kyle is so nuanced that his emotional journey is surprising, enlightening and inspiring. His experiences in Iraq, like so many, changed him. But Cooper shows the man and that transformation but goes beyond what we’ve seen so many times before. It’s not just this one-way journey from being whole to broken. He shows us what it means to overcome, not just on the battlefield but in the aftermath. I have the privilege of knowing a woman who, with her husband, served indirectly with Chris Kyle in Iraq. She recounted to me how when they saw the film and commented at certain points to each other, “I remember that day.” She told me that in her estimation American Sniper is 95% accurate. What you saw on screen was what she experienced there and what she knew of Chris Kyle. That says volumes about Cooper’s portrayal.
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) – It’s hard to believe that nobody knew who Benedict Cumberbatch was before 2012. Sure, he had a small part in Atonement in 2007 and War Horse in 2011 but do you remember him in those? I don’t. Yes, Sherlock was on the BBC in 2010 but nobody in America discovered in for 2 years. Since then he’s had this meteoric rise that includes blockbusters (Star Trek, The Hobbit) and critically acclaimed Oscar nominated films (August: Osage County, 12 Years a Slave). Now he has his own Oscar nomination for giving a well-textured performance as Alan Turing, the mathematician who cracked the Nazi’s Enigma machine and helped end World War II. Get used to Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s about to overthrow Hollywood.
Michael Keaton (Birdman) – I really hope he wins. I really do. He has stiff competition but his remarkable performance as Riggan Thomson in Birdman is the crowning achievement of his illustrious career. Like Paul Newman for The Color of Money, Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, Humphrey Bogart for African Queen and others, will the Academy give Keaton the Best Actor Oscar as his de facto Lifetime Achievement Award? They just might. It has been said many times before but it is still hard to believe they pulled it off casting Michael Keaton as an actor who played a comic book hero in a blockbuster movie franchise 30 years ago now trying to bring some legitimacy to his career. What Keaton was able to achieve in this performance goes way beyond any similarities between him and Riggan. He isn’t playing himself. He has given life to this new character and made him unique. This performance won’t be what people remember Michael Keaton for. He’s done far too much iconic work (besides Batman) for decades. But hopefully this will be the role that will forever label him as Academy Award Winner Michael Keaton.
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) – Debbie Downer has reminded me that Redmayne is probably going to win though (whomp whomp). And it would be well-deserved. It’s not just because he does a great Stephen Hawking impression. It’s the physical transformation from before Lou Gehrig’s disease through the onset and to paralysis. But the brilliant move of the filmmakers was to include at the end of the film a surreal moment while lecturing where Hawking visualizes himself getting out of his wheelchair and walking. It encapsulates the complexity of Redmayne’s performance in a few brief moments. No complaints if he wins. But I’m hoping the Academy considers the high probability that Eddie Redmayne will have other nominations in his future. This might be their only opportunity to honor Keaton.
OSCAR WINNER: Eddie Redmayne
SELBY PICK: Michael Keaton
I’ll give you my prediction for Best Director tomorrow.