Daniel: I’m probably the 300th person to say it this year, but 2014 was an amazing year for Actors. Easily ten men could’ve legitimately received a nomination. David Oyelowo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, even Ellar Coltrane would’ve been a given in a lesser year. But here we are, and five deserving men have gotten the nod.
Tyler: For a best actor, I’m looking for a guy who commands our attention, away from whom we cannot look. Usually, these awards go to a range of role types: the physical change (Carell, Redmayne), the psychological digression (Keaton, Cooper), the struggling minority (Cumberbatch, Redmayne–where’s Oyelowo?), the moving war story (Cooper, Cumberbatch), or some combination thereof. We have the whole range here, and it is understandable why each man got the nomination.
STEVE CARELL, Foxcatcher
Tyler: This was the last of the Best Actor nods that I watched, and I was captivated by Carell’s eerie, creepy performance. He steals the show, though I agree with Daniel that Channing Tatum truly deserves the Best Actor nomination, because Carell is a supporting role. I have a few small issues, namely that Michael Scott comes through the makeup once or twice. I’m a huge fan of Steve Carell, so maybe that’s shining through a bit, but there were more than a few times where he paused to deliver a line and I saw Michael’s awkwardness. He’s capable of losing his Michael Scott-ness, as he did in The Way Way Back. For that reason, despite his achievement in the rest of the film, I think it was a misstep to snub Tatum for the nomination in favor of his supporting actor (reminiscent just a bit of Brando and Pacino in The Godfather, in more ways than one).
Daniel: Five months ago, Carell was the frontrunner. Now, months after the movie (and a dozen others with great performances) have come out, he barely squeaked in. Foxcatcher is a tough movie to love. It’s slow. Painfully, intentionally slow. Carell is transformative in his creepy role as John Du Pont. His performance was the most talked about aspect of the film, because, of course, Carell is know for his comedy, yet through makeup he’s nearly unrecognizable. His performance lived up to the hype, but was still overshadowed by the vastly superior turns from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. If Carell was taken out of the equation, Tatum would’ve easily scored a nomination here. Du Pont is a supporting character to be sure, as his unnerving oddness pervades every scene, whether he’s in it or not. Excellent performance certainly, but my least favorite of this lot. But it makes me endlessly happy that Michael Scott is nominated for an Oscar.
Tyler: Bradley Cooper deserves this. If not for the fact that he’s been nominated so often of late, and lost each time, that he needs this one to make up for those losses. He shifts between the war front and the Homefront seamlessly, displaying the dangerous and devastating effects that war has on soldiers and families alike. Even if this isn’t his best, he deserves the Oscar for this one–though so do the other nominees.
Daniel: Cooper slides in with his third Oscar nomination in as many years. When the Academy loves you, they really love you. Nevertheless, Cooper dominates nearly every frame of American Sniper. His depiction of Chris Kyle’s PTSD is truly unlike any other depiction I’ve see on film. The transformation at the end of the film, as Kyle begins to normalize is powerful. I don’t think we saw Kyle normal enough at the beginning of the film (smiling, happy, etc.) to show what he was like before the war, but it still paid off in the end. Emotionless, shut off, and hardened. You really feel what war has done to Kyle. Cooper scores here, even if he doesn’t reach the heights of his better performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, The Imitation Game
Daniel: It was only a matter of time before the beloved Benedict Cumberbatch got the Academy’s attention. As I’ve already commented in our Best Picture Roundup, I wasn’t a big fan of the very average, unsurprising The Imitation Game. That said, Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a worthy performance here as Alan Turing, the genius, tortured, possibly autistic mathematician. You feel his isolation. You understand his confusion. It’s understated and real. Great performance in an average film.
Tyler: Cumberbatch stands out from the rest in this film, as is expected of Sherlock-Smaug-Khan. He’s landed some high-profile roles of late, and this was tailor made for his vulnerable arrogance that he does so well. Cumberbatch will have his day, I think, but this year he can stand to wait.
Tyler: Michael Keaton earned this win, hands down. This is more than a physical role, it is a highly chaotic mental role, dealing with strange technical requirements, and embodying a psychological breakdown all while putting on a stage play. Whether Keaton resembles Thomson or not is beside the point–the point is that he is Thomson through and through. We feel each bit of his anguish and distress at his impending debut as a ‘real’ actor, breaking away from the pop stardom that has held him back. Keaton has always been a good actor–he was the first excellent Batman–but hampered by the cheesy roles (Mr. Mom, Multiplicity, to name a few). This is his time for the recognition he deserves.
Daniel: And we’ve come to the first of two frontrunners. First, Keaton, playing Riggan Thomson, whom Keaton wants you to know is not based on him. A washed up former superhero actor, Thomson is struggling to be taken seriously. Simultaneously an exploration of an artist and someone having a psychotic break, Keaton’s performance is complex and unexpected. At times, you both sympathize with and despise Thomson. Such a captivating, difficult role is rare to come by, especially with the way in which Birdman is filmed, presented all in one shot (necessitating very long shots on set). This is no easy feat for an actor, and Keaton executes this role fantastically. A worthy first nomination for Keaton in an interesting role.
Daniel: Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is the most transformative of the year, far more than Carell’s soft-spoken Du Pont. Starting off fairly normally, Hawking of course deteriorates drastically. Redmayne is consistently believable and real. The most incredible moments come when Hawking can hardly move. Without a word and barely twitching, Hawking heartbreakingly breaks up with his wife Jane. He sheds a single tear. In his lack of movement, you feel every emotion. Truly powerful. While this will be a tough fight with Keaton for the gold, Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking is the best performance of this bunch, and nearly tied with Whiplash’s JK Simmons for my favorite performance of the year.
Tyler: My comments about Keaton do not diminish Redmayne’s stellar performance. He dives into the disintegrating body of Stephen Hawking, and we forget that it’s an actor we’re watching. He steals the show, even with the loss of his voice. With that tool taken away, Redmayne must make use of his eyes more than ever, and he succeeds. If Keaton doesn’t win this one, it had better be Redmayne, and I would be just fine with that.
Daniel: Michael Keaton, but again, this is a nail-biter.
Tyler: Michael Keaton, because it’s time.
Daniel: Eddie Redmayne
Tyler: Michael Keaton–Redmayne did an amazing job here, and I won’t be disappointed if he wins, but Keaton was more out of the box.
Should’ve Been Here:
Daniel: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal’s performance as the creepy Lou Bloom sticks with you. Unique performances like this don’t come around often, and it would’ve been nice to see him get a little more recognition.
Tyler: Channing Tatum for Foxcatcher. His performance was electric and understated when necessary. That boy has acting chops, and they’re finally showing.