Oscar Analysis 2014: Best Actor
What started out as one of the most competitive categories of the Oscar race is looking to be the easiest one to predict. The Oscar statue is now Matthew McConaughey’s to lose, but is his performance as Ron Woodroof truly the best performance of the year? I’d say no, as I can name at least 2 other actors in the category who deserve to win over him. Of course, McConaughey is good in Dallas Buyers Club and, as we all know, he lost around 50 pounds to play Woodroof. My problem is that the film works for McConaughey rather than with him. It’s an incredibly transparent actor’s showcase, and considering the material it’s based on it’s a tasteless move to push a true story like this to the background (Ask yourself: Have people even talked about the actual subject matter of this movie, or has it all been dedicated to gabbing about the performances?).
At first the category seemed lined up for Chiwetel Ejiofor to win. He’s brilliant as Solomon Northup in 12 Years A Slave, at times carrying the film on his shoulders. The arc that director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley portray, as Solomon goes from a free man to accepting his role as a slave, wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if it wasn’t for Ejiofor’s performance. The other truly great performance in the category belongs to Bruce Dern in Nebraska. Dern’s character, Woody, is a man who keeps to himself and never really says much throughout the film. The film starts out looking like Dern would play a one-note character, but as more details about Woody’s life are revealed the layers of Dern’s performance become clearer. Woody is not meant to be likable, but Dern communicates so much through his understated performance that it’s impossible to not sympathize with his character.
For me, my choice for who deserves to win comes down to Ejiofor and Dern. As tough as it is to choose, I’d give Dern a slight edge over Ejiofor as Dern completely elevated Nebraska into a better film than it actually was. Leonardo DiCaprio is also great as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a manic, over the top turn for him that might be his best work yet, but it won’t appeal to Academy voters. I’m sure one year DiCaprio will finally win an Oscar, but it won’t be this year. As for Christian Bale in American Hustle, well, does anyone even remember that movie by now? It had a brief moment in the spotlight, but it feels like it was only there to shake up a pretty cut and dry awards campaign. Then again, I’ll probably be completely wrong here. American Hustle had as much staying power as a gust of wind for me, but a lot of other people love it dearly. Either way, Bale doesn’t have a chance of winning this year.
When it comes to who should have been nominated, well that can be tough. Let’s go through some of the great performances from lead actors this year: Joaquin Phoenix in Her, Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight, Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis, Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, Isaiah Washington in Blue Caprice, Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station, Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty, Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now, Paul Eenhoorn in This is Martin Bonner and Simon Pegg in The World`s End. It’s a huge list (and I haven’t even mentioned additional great performances), but my pick goes to Robert Redford in All is Lost. There’s something truly impressive about the way Redford simultaneously makes himself a blank slate for the audience while giving enough screen presence to still make his character feel distinct. Redford is just the kind of actor who can carry an entire film on his shoulders and make it look like a breeze.
All in all, whoever takes home a statue on Oscar night is among very good company.