This year's Best Actor race seemed to have received more talk about the big stars that didn't make the cut: Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips and Robert Redford in the one-man show of All is Lost, than about the ones that did. Still not sure how Hanks didn't make the final 5, particularly with an amazing scene that everyone mentions as some of his best work ever. Living legend Redford (who has only ever received one acting nomination, for The Sting) just never got the traction with his film that early buzz indicated. And although general censuses seems to agree that McConaughey will take home the gold Sunday, there seems to be a case for any of the other actors winning...except Bale. That's just not happening.
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Previous Oscar Nominations: Bale won Best Supporting Actor the last team he teamed up with David O. Russell in The Fighter (2010)
The Role: Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist in the 1970s that is somewhat based on the real-life Melvin Weinberg and his involvement with Abscam. "He wasn't necessarily in good shape and he had this comb over that was rather...elaborate."
Why He's Here: For the longest time it seemed that the Academy was ignoring Bale. Despite great performances in American Psycho, Rescue Dawn, and all the insane amount of weight he lost in The Machinist (do NOT goggle those pictures. You will have nightmares), it just wasn't enough to receive the Academy's attention. He finally won with his first nomination and it looks like Oscar's love of David O. Russell has found its way over to Bale as well. His nomination was the biggest surprise of the 5 guys here, but it looks like his tricks of gaining and losing weight (this time gaining and herniating a disc in the process) are finally getting noticed. He also sports one of the absolute worst hairstyles in all of cinema. Which translates to praise for a lack of vanity. But, for all the physical transformation, there's not much that seems believable with the character nor Bale playing him. The accent is shaky and I just kept thinking, if they wanted a fat, bald guy why not just have cast a fat, bald guy?
Previous Oscar Nominations: Dern was previously nominated once before for Best Supporting Actor in Coming Home (1978)
The Role: Dern plays Woody Grant, a man that thinks he's won a million dollars and goes on a road-trip to Nebraska with his son (Will Forte) to retrieve it. He enjoys long walks along the highway and is prone to losing his teeth along railroad tracks.
Why He's Here: God bless, Bruce Dern. I hated your movie, sir, but I'm somehow alright with this nomination because you seem like a generally nice person that is completely honored to receive it. But, make no mistake about it–Dern wanted it and he campaigned hard. Hitting every news outlet and film festival (early buzz started when he won Best Actor for the film at Cannes) and playing up the fact that he's been a great character actor for so long but never had that breakthrough role that would have made him a star like his friend Jack Nicholson, Dern charmed his way onto voter's ballots. Dern, who is known for more wild, crazy-eyed characters is pretty subdued in Nebraska. He's a man of few words and usually that word is, Huh? I can't say that I'm necessarily impressed with his work in the film which is so subdued that it borders on comatose, but there's a world-weariness to the performance that seems authentic.
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is the fourth acting nomination for DiCaprio. He was previously nominated for Supporting Actor for What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) and Best Actor in The Aviator (2004) and Blood Diamond (2006). He has yet to win. He's also nominated this year as one of the producers on Wolf of Wall Street
The Role: The real-life Wall Street broker Jordan Belfort who created the firm Stratton Oakmont and was arrested for money laundering and securities fraud. He also had a taste for the finer things in life: hookers, blow, and Quaaludes. A lot of Quaaludes.
Why He's Here: Leo just seems like one of those people that will win an Oscar one day. I'm just not completely convinced that this is that time. After winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor...in a Musical or Comedy, which isn't really what the Academy goes for, it seemed the internet was filled with "Could Leo Win?" pieces. The film definitely has its haters that take issue with the way Jordan gets away with his crimes and how it glamorizes his hedonist lifestyle. But the film never intends to be a morality tale, but presents a story without judgement. Whatever your issues with the tone of the film (or the length), there's no denying that DiCaprio is having the time of his life in it. He's never been more exciting on film and seems to throw himself into the role with abandon. After self-serious work in films like Revolutionary Road and J.Edgar (ugh), it's a pleasant change to see this side of DiCaprio. After winning at the Golden Globes, he joked that he never thought he'd win an award for comedy, but his comedic skills were on full display in the film. Particularly the scene in which he is so hopped up on so many Quaaludes that even trying to get to his car is a laborious effort. It was one of my favorite moments in film of the past year and if his efforts result in a win Oscar night, I wouldn't complain.
Previous Oscar Nominations: This is his first nomination
The Role: The British Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free man in New York that was kidnapped and sold into slavery in rural Louisiana in the 1840's. Northup wrote about his true story for the book published in 1868 that the film is based on, which will soon be be taught in schools.
Why He's Here: It seemed for the longest time that Ejiofor was always just on the verge of a bigger break. He's been one of those actors that the media hypes as the next big thing, but the films he was in (although, great) never really panned out in making him a star. But his skills as an actor have never been in question. He has 5 Golden Globe Nominations, an Olivier award for his performance in Othello in the West End, and was honored with the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen for services to the arts. With his work in 12 Years a Slave, it seems that audiences (and the Academy) have finally caught up with him. And his performance in the film (which recently won him a BAFTA award) is perhaps the crowning achievement in a long line of accomplishments. So much happens surrounding Northup that Ejiofor knows that just being present and engaged is almost enough. But within his face is written the struggle and endurance and, despite it all, the hope that his nightmare will end. He is a powerful presence on screen, but the key to his survival is bringing a calm to that inner tempest while still allowing us as an audience to see the fire burn in his eyes.
Previous Oscar Nominations: Can you believe this is his first nomination? None for Failure to Launch? (But, seriously, he should've been nominated for Magic Mike.)
The Role: As the homophobic, HIV positive Ron Woodroof, McConaughey lost 40 pounds to play the real-life man. Woodroof sought non-FDA approved HIV medications and sold them to other people suffering from the disease in the 1980's.
Why He's Here: One word: McConaissance. The man once known for his golden bod (let's not forget the naked bongo drum playing) and the go-to leading man for every formulaic romantic comedy is now being taken seriously as an actor. After winning the Golden Globe, SAG, and countless other awards, he is also the frontrunner to win an Oscar. Over the past years, it seems that McConaughey has actively sought out roles and films that challenge or excite him. This year alone, in addition to his Oscar-nominated role, he received praise in Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, showing that he really is stepping up his game as a respected actor. And his turn in Dallas Buyers Club is the sort of role that attracts the Academy's attention. In the film, the sight of such a gaunt McConaughey is almost too shocking to watch. His commitment to the role in full display in his weight lose. But, the film never really connected for me and as good as it is to see McConaughey challenge himself, the performance never really astonishes in the way his physical appearance does.
Will Win: Alright, alright, alright. It's McConaughey for the win
Should Win: That one is tougher to call. I would say Ejiofor or DiCaprio