For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition

By Jim Keller

I maintain that the Oscar race can be likened to a horserace where each studio bets on its thoroughbreds and hopes that they can at least place at the end. The studio is the owner, the public relations department is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here we thrust those roles I’ve discussed in the three-part Ones to Watch edition under a microscope to separate the nominees from the contenders and to identify the power players for each studio. I’ve also included my rankings as they stood on Oscar nominations eve—the number in parentheses indicates my placement following nominations. I chose the maximum ten nominees for Best Picture and all categories reflect five nominees. The top five in the table were my nominee picks, those that fall outside of that were outside chances that I had listed.

In the September issue, I examined the Best Actor race. Here are the roles I discussed and where the candidates ended up five months later…

THE CHANGELING: Steve Carell – Foxcatcher (director: Bennett Miller, studio: Sony Pictures Classics):
FYC: Carell’s campaign can best be described as “steady as she goes.” Following rave reviews for his portrayal of paranoid schizophrenic murderer and heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, John Eleuthère du Pont at the Cannes Film Festival last May, it was soon announced that he would campaign as lead actor. This raised some eyebrows given that Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo who play Olympic wrestling brothers and victims Mark and David Schultz in the drama based on Mark Schultz’s autobiography are co-leads while Carell’s is a supporting role. But Oscar voters went along and placed him in the lead category as predicted. Don’t look for Carell to pull out a win though, despite Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Golden Globe, and BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) nominations. The nomination is his award.

THE HAS-BEEN: Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):

FYC: In this tale of redemption and self-reinvention, Keaton plays an also-ran who once portrayed an iconic superhero, and battles his ego as he mounts a Broadway play and works to recover his family and career. Not only is the irony that Keaton played Batman twice not lost, but one could argue his performance is a prime example of imitation of life.

While the race is decidedly between Keaton and Eddie Redmayne for the win, it’s Keaton who won the Golden Globe, the National Board of Review (NBR), and two awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA): Best Actor and Best Actor in a Comedy Movie. More on those last two awards in a minute, but one has to wonder if it’s Keaton’s imitation of life that has given him the edge thus far? And why did the BFCA give him two separate awards for the same performance, especially when the film is not a comedy? These questions may never be answered but they’re important to ask when considering all of the angles. Keaton also has the requisite SAG and BAFTA nominations. He is likely your winner.

THE DRUGGIE: Joaquin Phoenix – Inherent Vice (director: Paul Thomas Anderson, studio: Warner Bros. Pictures):

FYC: On paper Phoenix’s role as “Doc” in this adaptation, based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel, which follows a drug-fueled detective (Phoenix) through 1970s Los Angeles as he investigates the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend seemed like primetime for Oscar. But the result was more of a comedic role (Phoenix’s only nomination this season was a Golden Globe, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy) and did not catch on further, effectively leaving him out of the hunt for gold.

THE SELF-STARTER: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything (director: James Marsh, studios: Focus Features, Universal Pictures):
FYC: Despite having no major precursor wins, Redmayne remains steadfast just as his biopic subject physicist, Stephen Hawking did when faced with ALS. At the end of the day it’s the Academy that decides who will win, not the precursors. Regardless, Redmayne delivers the goods and has the appropriate honors to assist him in snatching the Oscar from the clutches of Keaton: Golden Globe, BAFTA, BFCA, and SAG. Can he do it?

THE STRAIGHT GAY MAN: Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game (director: Morton Tyldem, studio: The Weinstein Company):

FYC: Outside of Keaton and Redmayne, Cumberbatch remains one to watch for the win. A great deal has been made in the media about Redmayne and Cumberbatch’s films canceling one another out because of their British ties. This argument makes little sense, but sadly is a way to split the difference and hand the statue to Keaton. Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing—the English mathematician/logician who helped crack the Nazi’s Enigma code during WWII and who invented the modern computer before being prosecuted for homosexuality by the British government. Like Keaton, Cumberbatch has SAG, BAFTA, and BFCA nominations. Unlike Keaton, he has yet to win any major awards.

THE MONEYMAKER: Brad Pitt – Fury (director: David Ayer, studio: Columbia Pictures):

FYC: The extent of Pitt’s awards glory this season was a BFCA nomination for Best Actor in an Action Movie. His hopes were dashed earlier on in a competitive year.

THE ARTIST: Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner (director: Mike Leigh, studio: Entertainment One):

FYC: While Spall made headlines last May when he won the Best Actor award at Cannes and won the European Film Award (Europe’s answer to the Oscars), he failed to register with any of the other larger film award bodies and subsequently missed an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner.

DYNAMITE: Chadwick Boseman – Get on Up (director: Tate Taylor, studio: Universal Pictures):

FYC: In September Boseman was earning positive reviews for playing the American icon James Brown in this film that chronicles his rise from poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history. At that time I posited whether Boseman could remain in the awards discussion for the remainder of the season. He did not.

THE NEWCOMER: Jack O’Connell – Unbroken (director: Angelina Jolie, studio: Universal Pictures):

FYC: As it turns out, O’Connell’s embodiment of Olympic runner and former WWII POW Louis Zamperini also missed Oscar’s mark. To be fair, the film, much like its central character, faced insurmountable odds ever since a trailer was released to dovetail with the XXII Winter Olympics last February. The move prompted many Oscar pundits to place the film at the top of their prediction lists and to keep it there throughout most of the season, placing lofty and unfair expectations on the film. There was only one place for it to go, down, and it took O’Connell with it—despite an NBR Breakthrough Performer win he shared with his Starred Up performance.

Not to be outdone, the leading ladies were covered in the October issue. Let’s see where they stand:

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Into the Woods (director: Rob Marshall, studio: Walt Disney Pictures):

FYC: As indicated in last month’s column, shortly after the October issue it was announced that Streep would run a Supporting Actress campaign. There she sits (see below).

THE BRIDESMAID: Julianne Moore – Still Alice (director: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, studio: Sony Pictures Classics):

FYC: Yes, folks, it appears our bridesmaid is about to become our bride! After 16 years and five nominations, Moore looks to be the one who will take home the top prize on Oscar night. The film follows Alice Howland, a well-respected linguistics professor who begins to forget words, receives a devastating diagnosis, and is severely tested along with her family. Like her counterpart in the Actor category, Moore won the Golden Globe, the NBR, and the BFCA, and has the requisite SAG and BAFTA nominations. Her performance is devastatingly real—a word of caution for anyone with a relative who has faced dementia.

THE COMEBACK KID: Reese Witherspoon – Wild (director: Jean-Marc Vallée, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):

FYC: Following the film’s premiere at this summer’s Telluride film festival, Witherspoon became the early frontrunner, but as indicated above, this is no longer the case. No matter, she still finds herself in the thick of the race with an Oscar nomination alongside Golden Globe, BFCA, SAG and BAFTA nominations for her raw performance. Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed, the author of the best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which chronicles her 1,100-mile hike undertaken in an attempt to heal from catastrophe.

THE ARTIST: Amy Adams – Big Eyes (director: Tim Burton, studio: The Weinstein Company):

FYC: While Adams won the Golden Globe for Best Actress – Comedy or Musical and earned a BAFTA nomination for her portrayal of painter Margaret Keane, the perennial favorite has been left in the dust following the film’s lukewarm reception at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in December. What’s interesting is that Adams was unseated by Marion Cotillard, who was snubbed by the Academy two years ago for her searing performance in Rust and Bone.

THE PIONEER: Hillary Swank – The Homesman (director: Tommy Lee Jones, studio: Saban Films, Roadside Attractions):

FYC: Early on in the race Swank was thought to be destined for the fifth slot for her performance as pioneer woman Mary Bee Cuddy, who teamed up with a claim jumper (Tommy Lee Jones) to escort three insane women across the plains. That was not to be, as the film failed to impress several critics, and Swank earned her only honors this season from a few smaller critics groups.

THE BUSINESS WOMAN: Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year (director: J.C. Chandor, studio: A24):

FYC: Like Streep, and as indicated in last month’s column, shortly after the October issue it was confirmed that Chastain would run a Supporting Actress campaign (see below).

THE BRIT: Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl (director: David Fincher, studio: 20th Century Fox):

FYC: Without giving anything away, Pike plays three different versions of the same person with deft care in this mystery-thriller based on Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel of the same name. In another world where a woman can truly lead a film and whether or not they portray a likeable character is inconsequential, Pike would be the frontrunner. Sadly, our world (and especially the Hollywood world) is run largely by men who decide what is in, what is out, and therefore who is in and who is out. Make no mistake, Pike is in, but there’s no question that the film got a raw deal. Pike stands alongside her peers with Golden Globe, BAFTA, BFCA and SAG nominations.

 

The Ones to Watch series concluded in the December/January issue with a look at the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races. Let’s see how their contenders have stacked up following January 15th’s Oscar nominations:

 

~THE GENTS~

THE NEWBIE: J.K. Simmons — Whiplash (director: Damien Chazelle, studio: Sony Pictures Classics):

FYC: It would be a big surprise if Simmons didn’t take home the gold on Oscar night. He, like his contemporary Keaton in the lead race, is the de facto frontrunner and has been for some time. He won the BFCA and has earned SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations for his role as a relentless instructor who knows no bounds when it comes to realizing his student’s potential. 

THE ACTOR: Edward Norton — Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (director: Alejandro Iñárritu, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):

FYC: It seems that Norton has been following just a half step behind Simmons all season. It remains to be seen if his portrayal of the caustic actor who joins the Broadway play put on by Riggan, can topple Simmons. Where Simmons took the BFCA, Norton won the NBR, earned a BFCA nomination and matched Simmons SAG, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations. Could it be another year where Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor come from the same movie?

THE GOOD GUY: Mark Ruffalo — Foxcatcher (director: Bennett Miller, studios: Sony Pictures Classics):

FYC: It’s no surprise that Ruffalo managed a nomination while the film itself fell short. For one, his ill-fated David is the only 100% likeable character. But Ruffalo gives a well-wrought performance imbued with warmth and tenderness that cannot be ignored alongside his more rugged, lived-in contemporaries. He also earned SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA, and BAFTA nominations.

THE FATHER: Ethan Hawke — Boyhood (director: Richard Linklater, studio: IFC Films):

FYC: There isn’t much to say. Hawke landed a nomination due to the unyielding momentum of Boyhood. The force was unstoppable, and while Hawke too earned SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA, and BAFTA nominations, the nominations are his reward. I would be shocked if he took any hardware home.

THE COMEDIAN: Josh Brolin — Inherent Vice (director: Paul Thomas Anderson, studio: Warner Bros. Pictures):

FYC: Despite a BFCA nomination, Brolin’s hilarious turn as Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen in this murky, stoner mystery has largely gone unnoticed. Instead, Robert Duvall took the fifth slot for another murky film, The Judge.

 

~THE LADIES~

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Into the Woods (director: Rob Marshall, studio: Walt Disney Pictures):

FYC: Unlike last year, Streep’s 19th nomination was a cinch. Her performance as the witch in this adaptation of the Tony award-winning Broadway musical carries the film. Her character presides over various Grimms’ Fairy Tales characters including Cinderella, and the Baker and his Wife, as they learn life lessons. It’s clear that Streep relished every minute of it and she has secured SAG, Golden Globe, and BFCA nominations. At this late hour in the race, the only one standing in her way of a fourth Oscar is Patricia Arquette, who is picking up awards on the circuit like eggs in a basket.

THE MOTHER: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood (director: Richard Linklater, studio: IFC Films):

FYC: Of all of Boyhood’s nominations, this is one of the most deserving. Arquette seamlessly inhabits her role as “Mom” through twelve years of film snippets pieced together to create Linklater’s crowning achievement. The awards chances of such a unique vision could’ve gone either way—fortunately the critics tipped the scale in its favor. Arquette’s awards season haul matches Simmons’ to a T. She won the BFCA and has earned SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations. Look for this trend to continue and for Arquette to take home the Oscar.

THE BRAIN: Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game (director: Morten Tyldum, studio: The Weinstein Company):

FYC: In this come-from-behind WWII drama concerning Alan Turing’s (Cumberbatch) plight to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code Knightley plays Turing’s friend, colleague, and one-time fiancée Joan Clarke. Much like others in this category Knightley has received the requisite SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA, and BAFTA nominations for her performance. With Arquette as unstoppable as a speeding locomotive, a win would be astonishing.

THE TART: Emma Stone – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):

FYC: Stone plays Riggan’s (Keaton) fresh-from-rehab daughter who flirts with disaster, literally and figuratively. Like many others discussed here she has been nominated for SAG, Golden Globe, BFCA, and BAFTA awards.

THE BUSINESS WOMAN: Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year (director: J.C. Chandor, studio: A24):

FYC: Without a doubt, Chastain’s is the biggest snub among the acting categories this year. She has the misfortune of being the next to earn that honor after Oprah Winfrey last year for The Butler. It’s worth noting that Winfrey had those coveted and soothsaying SAG, BAFTA, and BFCA nominations. Chastain won the NBR and earned BFCA and Golden Globe nominations, but came up short with SAG and BAFTA. It has been widely publicized that Chastain’s Interstellar contract prevented her from campaigning for A Most Violent Year until the latter half of December. But by that time Chastain would be on a film shoot. This is likely your culprit, though we’ll never know. How different would the race have been if she had campaigned from the get-go? Arquette’s win would likely not be as sewn-up—remember Chastain, like Moore, is overdue for a win and people want to award her. So much so that the Critic’s Choice Awards gave her its first MVP Award this year.

 

With that, I give you my predictions as they currently stand:

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