I’m on my way to the Red Carpet Party at Malmaison (3401 Water St. NW, DC) in Georgetown to see the 87th Annual Academy Awards! But before I go, I am here to share a few last thoughts on the nominees in the categories of Best Actor and Best Actress!
This is generally a good year for the Oscars in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role…
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
…except for Steve Carell. Why’s he here again? Because he dared to do something that wasn’t a comedy? It’s hard to accept that his acting is to be lauded here as he does very little other than look blank and act boring. A big problem with “Foxcatcher” is that it never really gives you anyone to cheer for, even in the small stakes, and it certainly never attempts to go any lengths to give any insight into what you’ve just seen. The movie ends with Steve’s character waking up and shooting Mark Ruffalo one day without any real examination as to why that had to happen. Yes, we get that he’s challenged by the other character’s leadership abilities but there’s nothing in the acting from anyone that enables you to feel anything about it. The movie is a flat, dull film, and I can only wonder why anyone connected with it was nominated for an Oscar.
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Bradley Cooper makes an interesting turn in “American Sniper.” The oft-goofy actor trades on his looks a lot, but he does bring some depth to his portrayal of Chris Kyle. His depiction of Kyle’s certainty and moral clarity grounds him and the film in a very watchable manner. You understand why this man does everything that he does. Brad’s ability to carry us through that speaks of a good performance and really makes the film a good film. So let’s have more of this stuff from him and less of The Hangover movies?
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Benedict Cumberbatch runs hot and cold. Sometimes, I feel like he’s two completely different people. One of those chooses poor roles and mugs his way through them; the other is silently adept at doing the right thing in the right role at the right time. In “The Imitation Game,” we have the “good” Benedict. His performance isn’t groundbreaking but he brings enough gusto to the role of Alan Turing that we feel like we are there as the events of the film unfold. He puts you in his corner from the start of the film, and you stay there firmly throughout. It’s a fine performance in a good film with a good ensemble and good direction, and hence a worthy nomination.
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
“Birdman” is hands-down my favorite movie of the year. The film speaks so much about being a man through its main character’s journey through life, which is served up to us in his interactions with the other characters around him. Michael Keaton is phenomenal as he brings a lot to his character, who is trying desperately to stake his claim as a real artist and to really justify everything that he has done to date. He doesn’t want to be perceived as a washed up pop culture figure; he wants to be substantive and important. And his existential struggle to achieve his goals says a lot of the hubris, desires and ambitions of men in general. Michael gives us a really terrific performance, and I really hope he wins.
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Eddie Redmayne is very good as Stephen Hawking. There are points in the movie in which Eddie has to demonstrate the struggles of living with ALS. And he does a fine job. While that’s all well and good, I’ll be disappointed if he wins this award. The physicality involved in portraying the effects of a deliberating disease is laudable, but here is much more intellectual heft in the performance by Michael Keaton in “Birdman,” much of it quite subtle. I suspect that if Eddie wins, it will be because of the rush of the Academy judges to recognize the disease and the pop culture figure at the center of this movie rather than give weight to the actual depth of the performance. There’s a lot more meat in “Birdman” than in “The Theory of Everything,” and it all really comes down to leading actors.
As my Oscar thoughts continue, I’m sad to report that I have bad marks for seeing the films up for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
I recently caught this small Belgium film, and while I liked it well enough, I’m mostly surprised it is nominated at all. Marion Cotillard does a capable job as a woman trying to bounce back from depression as she visits each of her coworkers in bid to save her job. But the film doesn’t really have much to offer viewers outside of a slice-of-life perspective on the Belgian working class. For me, as someone who goes to movies primarily for the 2-3 hour “emotional experience in a box,” the movie offers very little. Again, it’s not a bad film per se but it’s a bit puzzling why it’s even here.
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Felicity Jones does a capable job in “The Theory of Everything,” which was somewhat reassuring given that the only other thing I’d ever seen by her was a small role in Amazing Spider-Man 2. But the movie never really settles on her enough to give you the sense that she has an independent story to tell. It’s not a necessity for a Best Actress performance, I suppose, but it makes it harder to sell her in this category when her character lives in the shadow of another character—in this case, the movie’s Stephen Hawking. Again, while she does a capable job, there isn’t enough there to convince me that she’s all that worthy of a nominee.
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Julianne Moore is the critical favorite to win this year, but I haven’t seen her movie! I generally do think she brings a lot to a movie, and I’ve no objections if she does win this year. I really let time get away from me with missing out on this movie, however.
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
It’s unusual for a pop movie like “Gone Girl” to receive this much attention, and I gotta say I rather like that shift in paradigm. It’s a trashy movie based on a trashy book, but man does Rosamund Pike dance circles around the script, her castmates and her audience in an off-the-hook performance of a total psychopath. The movie calls for her to go from A to B to C then back to A again as far as emotional states are concerned, and she deftly does so without missing a beat. Part of the reason the movie is so damn scary is because Rosamund is so damn convincing. This was the same woman who was in Simon Pegg’s “World’s End” movie??? She bears no resemblance whatsoever to herself! It’s a remarkable piece of work, and definitely worthy of a nomination. I might even like to see her win, but no one is seriously suggesting she will. Too bad!
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
Reese Witherspoon in annoying, and this movie looks pretty annoying. I’ll be glad when it goes home without any awards so that I can feel justified in not seeing it.