It’s hard to believe that Oscar week is already here. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was writing about Birdman, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel. But here we are with a truckload of great movies to talk about. So without further ado…
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale’s portrayal of Dr. Michael Burry in The Big Short is a stand-out performance in a film that has wall-to-wall powerhouse performances. He can do anything. He might be the best actor working right now. Daniel Day-Lewis probably edges him out but just barely. Bale doesn’t get the same recognition as Day-Lewis at least in part because Day-Lewis has only made 20 films (5 nominations, 3 wins) while Bale has done 44 movies (3 nominations, 1 win) with two more coming out later this year. Some of his off-screen antics haven’t helped either. But you always know with Christian Bale you’re going to get something special. And The Big Short is no exception.
What a year Tom Hardy is having. He stars in two of this year’s best picture nominees and has scored his first nomination. As I tracked Oscar buzz throughout the year Tom Hardy was legitimately in the conversation for three different roles (Mad Max, The Revenant and Legend). DiCaprio has overshadowed him in terms of buzz and media attention but by no means is he overshadowed on-screen in The Revenant. Hardy is a versatile performer and his work as John Fitzgerald is as good as it gets.
Each time I watch Spotlight I am increasingly convinced that Mark Ruffalo deserves the Oscar. Like The Big Short, Spotlight is full of amazing performances. It’s part of what actually hurt Michael Keaton’s Oscar bid. Academy voters apparently had trouble figuring out if Keaton was the lead or supporting actor. But there was no such confusion with Ruffalo. Mike Rezendes is the heart and soul of this story. Ruffalo’s subtle transformation is so complete that you don’t fully realize it until you watch him out of character. But the performance is much more than speech patterns and a clenched jaw. It’s deep. It’s layered and it’s Oscar worthy.
Mark Rylance, where have you been all my life? He might have been off my radar during the first 30 years of his career but I’m so glad this guy’s getting more high-profile opportunities. He’s reuniting with Spielberg for Disney’s The BFG and then teaming with Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh for Christopher Nolan’s next film, Dunkirk. What I love the most about his work as Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies is his ability to give an understated performance yet command attention every time he’s on screen. No outbursts. No menacing glares. No fits of peculiar eccentricity. Just great acting.
I just want to touch briefly on the “controversy” surrounding the fact that, like last year, all of this year’s acting nominees are white. From 2000-2013 there were 29 black acting nominees and 9 winners. So 11% of the nominees and 17% of the winners. In the 75 years of Academy Awards prior there were a total of 36 nominees and 6 winners. That’s 2% of the nominees and 2% of the winners. I’m not saying that the Academy membership is as diverse as it needs to be. But I wouldn’t let 2 years without a black nominee be the defining image of the Academy. Recent history suggests otherwise. Now… with that said, as much as I like Stallone in this movie and while I believe his nomination is valid (as opposed to just sentimental), I would have liked to have seen Idris Elba nominated for Beasts of No Nation instead. But Sly does genuinely give a good performance and I don’t begrudge the Academy for nominating him but I’d have gone with Elba.
PREDICTION: While conventional wisdom would probably suggest Tom Hardy will win, I’m going with Mark Ruffalo. I think the Academy knows it has only a few opportunities to award Spotlight an Oscar. It only has 6 nominations (all biggies though) and could rightfully only win 4. This would be one of them.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Only time will tell if Tarantino has somehow magically revived another actor’s career but either way Jennifer Jason Leigh gave one hell of a performance as Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight. She’s a spitfire, a hotspur, a hellcat, a banshee. Whatever old-timey slang you want to use, she’s it. But Leigh gives Daisy real depth and her on-screen chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Kurt Russell in particular elevates the entire film. This movie deserves more awards recognition than it received but at least its strongest performance didn’t go unnoticed.
Rooney Mara as Therese Belivet gives a very special performance in an otherwise lackluster movie. I contend that if Carol was a love story between a middle-aged divorced woman and a young male shop clerk nobody would have paid it any attention. But the fact that it’s about two women still doesn’t make up for the fact the movie is boring. What isn’t boring is Mara’s nuanced performance. She’s so good in this movie she almost makes it worth seeing just for her. Almost.
At first blush this nomination is a slight head-scratcher. Alongside these other nominees Rachel McAdam’s performance as lapsed Catholic and journalist Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight seems a bit underwhelming. It doesn’t have the quirkiness of Mark Rylance’s Rudolf Abel or the quiet naiveté of Rooney Mara’s Therese Belivet. But watching her opposite Mark Ruffalo’s explosive, hypertension and not get obliterated says a lot. She brings a balance to Spotlight and holds it all together.
Just like Rooney Mara in Carol, Alicia Vikander is the best part of The Danish Girl. Playing a woman coming to grips with her husband’s desire to live as a woman she mines real depths of emotion. While the story relies on lazy clichés, Vikander does not. She delivers a strong, compelling performance. And just like Tom Hardy, what a year she’s having. Burnt, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Danish Girl and Ex Machina all in 2015. On deck for 2016 she’ll star opposite Matt Damon as he returns in Jason Bourne. Forget Denmark, it’s The Swedish Girl.
I’ll write more about Michael Fassbender’s electric performance as Steve Jobs in a few days. But it’s Kate Winslet’s performance as his counterpart Joanna Hoffman that makes it all work so well. Her exasperation, fortitude and intellect play so genuinely that the moments of levity and gravity wouldn’t have worked otherwise. Like The Hateful Eight, this movie should have gotten more awards recognition but it would have been a shame if Winslet hadn’t earned her 7th nomination. Not bad. 7 nominations in the last 20 years? #OscarsSoKate.
PREDICTION: It’s down to Vikander and Mara. I think Mara takes home the Oscar.