On Thursday, January 15th, the nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards will be announced and if last night's Golden Globes are any indication, it looks like the Best Actor win this year comes down to two performances: Eddie Redmayne's physically transformative work as Stephen Hawking in the Oscar-bait biopic The Theory of Everything and the comeback of 80s movie star Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a former superhero looking for an artistic rebirth in Birdman. I think the slight edge goes to Keaton, in a film more generally liked overall, and whose teary acceptance speech last night left many moved. The other three rounding out the category will undoubtably include Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and Jake Gyllenhaal, who at one point seemed like a longshot, but after recognition from SAG, the Golden Globes, and BAFTA seems pretty secure with a nom. The last spot, once reserved for Steve Carell's dramatic work in Foxcatcher seems to have lost steam with a chilly reception for the film (I was not a fan). So given the love the Academy has for biopics, and how great the film actually is, I predict the 5th spot goes to David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. A moving performance that brought some humanity to the revered icon.
Every year, there are great performances that just never mange to make it in the final five. And I can't always say that I ever really agree with the opinion of the Academy (actually, more times than not, we aren't in agreement. Previously, the week before nominations are announced, I've always selected a favorite performance of mine in each of the acting categories and made an impassioned plea that somehow they are honored with a nomination. (Check out previous years here and here.) I'm continuing it this year with my Best Actor pick, Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel.
FYC: Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel as Best Actor
Classically trained, British Actor Ralph Fiennes has a reputation for being, well, intense. Perhaps it was due to the film that first brought him recognition and his first Oscar nomination (and what should've been a win), brilliantly playing a sadistic Nazi officer in Steven Spielberg's Best Picture winner Schindler's List (1993). Even when he became a romantic leading man, like in his other Oscar-nominated performance in another Best Picture winner The English Patient (1996), Fiennes still brought a smoldering intensity to his role. His love for Kristin Scott Thomas' Katharine almost more possessive and all-consuming than your regular affair. It doesn't help that he spends the majority of the film as a burn victim. From playing the noseless embodiment of pure evil as Harry Potter's Voldemort to a violent, expletive-spouting killer in the dark comedy, In Bruges, it's safe to say that a light-hearted Fiennes is not something we're accustomed to seeing.
Which is why his turn as Monsieur Gustave H. the concierge of the prestigious titular hotel at the center of Wes Anderson's colorfully detailed caper seems like such a departure for the actor and a wondrous revelation. As the suave, heavily-perfumed proprietor, Gustave has a tendency to be a little hands-on with the older, female clientele and Fiennes playing off his clipped, upper-crust persona relishes the opportunity to subvert his image. His Gustave H. is a bit of a cad and pretty much a snob, but Fiennes makes him endearingly so. Much has been said about how Anderson's films are perfectly calibrated and meticulously crafted, and Fiennes' comedic timing is just as precise - deadpan, droll, and there's nothing quite like hearing Fiennes deftly dropping a well-placed f-bomb to awaken a naughty comedic sensibility titillating in its execution.
The Academy has a tendency to overlook performances as effortlessly enjoyable as this, preferring their actors to suffer for their art. But after years of watching Ralph Fiennes suffering to great effect, it would be wonderful if his foray into comedy was also able to be recognized by the Academy. And in a year of intense performances from other actors in biopics or disabilities, it only seems right that perhaps the Academy should lighten up a bit. After all, one of our most intense actors did this year and it couldn't have been better.
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Final Best Actor Predictions
Benedict Cumberbatch The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton Birdman
David Oyelowo Selma
Eddie Redmayne The Theory of Everything
My Favorite Best Actor Performances
Ralph Fiennes The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal Nightcrawler
Tom Hardy Locke
John Lithgow Love Is Strange
Jack O'Connell Starred Up