The 2014 Oscar season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and competitive awards races in some time. With the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review awarding their top prizes to American Hustle and Her respectively, two films that, while well-liked with passionate pockets of support here and there, appeared to be slowly slipping through Oscar’s grasp when it came to the big prize, the field of possible contenders has been blown open with a myriad of possible Best Picture contenders still in play.
American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, Inside Llweyn Davis, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Nebraska, Philomena, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street are all, in this humble pundit’s opinion, legitimate contenders for a slot in this year’s Best Picture lineup. That’s 14 films vying for a theoretical maximum of ten possible nominees, although in practice, at the most only nine will be able to make the cut (and if for some crazy reason there is less than nine nominees this year, brace yourself for the hurricane of outrage that will ensue). In other words, there are going to be a lot of disappointed producers and indignant fans come time of the nominations.
Perhaps the roughest and most highly contested race this year though is Best Actor. While Best Picture has an abundance of potential nominees, this year’s Best Actor crop is bursting at the seams with performances that, in any other year, would be locks. Christian Bale has two performances, in American Hustle and Out of the Furnace, that have been deemed award worthy by awards watchers in the press and could potentially crack the lineup. Bruce Dern could arguably be crowned the toast of awards season so far, winning the Best Actor award at Cannes and campaigning harder than most U.S. Presidential candidates. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in what many are calling “a career best” performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, but DiCaprio has had a notoriously difficult time earning Oscar recognition throughout his career.
Then you have the likes of relative awards season newcomer Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has been universally praised for his lead performance in one of the season’s biggest players, 12 Years a Slave. Tom Hanks, a one time Oscar golden boy, winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars in the mid-1990 s, resurrects himself this year with a terrific performance in Captain Philips (and may have the single best scene of any actor this year). Oscar Isaac’s name undoubtedly carries less weight than most of the more established veterans he’s competing against, but many critics and hardcore cinephiles consider it their favorite performance of the year. The youngest potential contender of the bunch, Michael B. Jordan, is in the same shoes as Isaac when it comes to name recognition, but Jordan’s performance is usually cited as the strongest aspect of Fruitvale Station, so if the Academy wants to recognize the film, his performance could be their best opportunity.
On top of that you have the hardest working actor of the last two years (in one of the most remarkable career course corrections in cinema history) with Matthew McConaughey, who gives an outstanding performance as the AIDS-afflicted Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club. Even with his abrasive attitude, Joaquin Phoenix managed to gain enough support to get a nomination in this category last year for his performance in The Master, so it’s possible he could do the same for his relatively more subdued work in Her. Finally, there’s Robert Redford, a movie icon unto himself who has surprisingly only received one Oscar nomination for acting in his career. Could he see his long-awaited second nomination for a nearly wordless performance?
Needless to say, this is one tough nut to crack for an Oscar prognosticator such as myself. The key in these situations is to look for the overhyped, finding the soft underbellies of the nominees that could lead to their inevitable downfall. This year though, it is no easy task. For every person who declares Redford’s performance merely a physical gimmick, there are nine others marveling at the power of his dialogue-lite turn. There are those who say DiCaprio edges over the cliff in The Wolf of Wall Street, but most are singling it out as one of the best performances of an already impressive career. I’ve read reviews of Bruce Dern’s turn in Nebraska that describe him as a zombie, but the majority are praising him for his subtlety and nuance.
As you can guess, these sort of crossed singles, with seemingly large passionate fanbases for almost every potential player, make my job quite difficult. However, being the brave soul that I am, I have decided to cross these treacherous waters and hazard up a guess of just what the final five lineup will be, reputation be damned. So here, without further ado, is my current prediction on just which five actors will make the grade for this year’s ultra-competitive Best Actor race.
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