Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Academy Awards Week 2014: It's a Man's World. Looking at Best Actor

Over the last few years it has been hard to ignore that the Best Actor category is often the most competitive.  There have been numerous times where male leads in films have been pushed down to be campaigned in supporting just to get a film more nominations, and even potentially a win.  Last year Christoph Waltz in Ing...I mean Django Unchained was a prime example of a lead performance in the supporting category.

Django was a film few had seen but early word from the Weinstein Company was that Waltz would be competing supporting.  In November this changed, and goldderby.com had reported he had been bumped to lead.  As the competition grew fiercer in the leading category Waltz was bumped down in time to be nominated and win the Golden Globe; he missed a nod at SAG, but was nominated and won at BAFTA, and then went on to win his second Oscar.  Why the category fraud?

Weinstein wanted more nominations for Django, and Lead Actor had tons of contenders.  Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) were looking to attain their first nominations, and those were locked into place.  Denzel Washington was back in the game giving a great dramatic performance in Flight.  Then there were the indie darlings John Hawkes (The Sessions) and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master).  The eventual winner was the tour de force performance from Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln who was just unbeatable.  In the end of these men Hawkes was snubbed, and even Phillip Seymour Hoffman like Waltz should have been a lead contender for The Master, he competed in the supporting category instead, to get the film more nominations, another Weinstein Company film.

Even the year before last had at least 8 contenders in the Best Actor race ranging from George Clooney in the Descendants, Jean Dujardin in The Artist, all the way to one of Ryan Gosling's multiple performances in either Drive or The Ides of March.  The Oscars, and their films within the last 30 years have been a leading man's world, and this year is proof of that even further.

Throughout this Oscar season the following men were all strong contenders for Best Actor:
Robert Redford-All is Lost
Christian Bale-American Hustle 
Tom Hanks-Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club
Joaquin Phoenix-Her
Oscar Isaacs-Inside Llewyn Davis 
Idris Elba-Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Bruce Dern-Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 Years a Slave

At the end of the day there 10 strong contenders, most of which at some point or another could have made the 5 at Oscar, even if you cut out Elba and Isaacs whose films were mainly missing in action that meant this category had 8 strong performances contending for 5 spots, still competitive.  This year's Best Actress also ended up being mildly competitive, but that does not happen as often.  In summation films are driven by strong male performance more often, but this is not a big revelation.  The main argument now is that between the top five contenders is there a big of a lock as there was last year, or has this competition carried over.

The Nominees for Best Actor are....

Christian Bale-American Hustle 
Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club
Bruce Dern-Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 Years a Slave 

Of the three major critics awards groups, there were three different winners, New York crowned Redford in All is Lost (not nominated).  The National Society of Films Critics honored Isaacs in Inside Llewyn Davis. Los Angeles was the only group to pick a nominee, Dern in Nebraska.  The rest of the critics groups were split amongst a variety of winners, but Chiwetel Ejifor's name was mentioned the most.  Enter the Globes, BFCA, and SAG, which all honored McConaughey.  The Globes picked DiCaprio as well.  BAFTA supposedly did not see Dallas Buyers Club in time so McConaughey was left of the list, and Ejifor won there as well.  At the moment McConaughey is the front runner, but after a long dry spell of watching him does he still have what it takes to win this prize?

And the Oscar goes to....

Christian Bale-American Hustle-Yes Bale is even in this, and while he is in fifth place, American Hustle is well liked, and Bale will score some votes.  Who does he siphon votes from probably DiCaprio.  Bale is clearly in fifth place, while people like the film his nomination is the reward.

Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club-The front runner, this role, and many of his recent performances have changed people's perception of him as an actor.  McConaughey is also showing them how its done on television in True Detective.  Are there any negatives, like ability is one; he is not known to be like able as an actor, but this is the Erin Brockovich type role, he is a crusader.  Going against McConaughey is the BAFTA snub, while his film did not qualify , the last person to win the Oscar without a BAFTA nomination was Denzel Washington in Training Day (2001).  Can McConaughey overcome the fact that he was not even in attendance at BAFTA, is True Detective buzz worthy enough?

Bruce Dern-Nebraska-The vet, this often helps people in the supporting races as opposed to lead, but Dern is so well liked, and doesn't Hollywood want to give this former supporting player a hug?  Many older voters probably worked with him, Nicholson is on his side, remember many years ago, this helped Adrien Brody.  Dern saved his focus for the Oscars, and could pull off the upset.   Part of me wants to see Dern win, but he's out, the person who won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award and no other pre-cursor, was Denzel Washington in Training Day (2000), so its possible, but history and Russell Crowe's bad boy antics had more to do with that.

Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street-This guy is all over the place, and while Tom O'Neil is championing his performance, I am re-thinking his strength here.  DiCaprio is making the rounds, but many voters honestly do not care, they make their decision on film/heart.  DiCaprio is the deserving one, not McConaughey, but voters like roles like in Buyers Club over dastardly villains in Wolf.  There have also only been three men who have won Best Comedy Actor Musical/Comedy, and won the Oscar from 1990 until this year, Jack Nicholson for As Good as it Gets (1997), Jaime Foxx for Ray (2005), and Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011).  It's a hard mountain to climb, most of these men who numerous precursors, and Leo's loss at BAFTA hurts him. I do think he can spoil, but he is in third.

Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 Years a Slave-His BAFTA win has me thinking, can he come from behind, and win here?  Possibly, yet part of me is over thinking this win as well. BAFTA has crowned the same Best Actor winner for the last three years, but only seven times in the 2000s, and those other 5 times the winners were typically Brits. Ejiofor is a native, and the BAFTAs like to honor their own, hence him beating Leo and Dern, without McCounaghey.  Ejiofor was the only other win for 12 Years a Slave that evening.  Voting for him could be a way for many to massage their guilt.

The big question at the end of the day is can Dallas Buyers Club win two acting Oscars, the two most recent films to do this were, Million Dollar Baby (a Best Picture winner), and The Fighter (both supporting).  Does this film have the steam to do what few films have done in Oscar history, win more than one acting Oscar without even being a strong front runner for Best Picture, do Oscar voters even care/know about this.  Do they sometimes conscientiously spread the wealth?

Here is my thought two years ago I predicted Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, and last year I predicted Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, but they each had the Globe and BAFTA on their side.  No one has that, McConaughey has the Globe and SAG, Leo has a Globe, and Chiwetel has the BAFTA. I do not count the BFCA.  This looks more split than people have made it out.  

Even after I wrote this I paused re-read it, and looked at this from a realistic lens, and for me this is an award between McConaughey and Ejifor, with DiCaprio as a spoiler.  My gut is telling me there should be a surprise, but at this time, I am going to sadly play it safe, even after all my jabbering.

Who Will Win: Matthew McConaughey-Dallas Buyers Club
Spoiler: Anyone but Bale, Ejiofor seems to be in second place.
If I had a vote-Leonardo DiCaprio-The Wold of Wall Street
Personal Winner-Oscar Isaacs-Inside Llewyn Davis

No comments: