Oscar Round-Up: Best Actor/ Actress

Once again a great year in film is reduced to a rather bland set of Oscar nominees, to the surprise of absolutely no one. All ten are white, all are European or American, and any hopes film fans had for even a smidgeon of diversity went out the window with the baffling snub of David Oyelowo for his portrayal of Martin Luther King in Selma. But let’s dive in anyway and cross-examine this year’s Oscar hopefuls anyway.

The five nominees this year are Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything). Whilst it’s nice to see British actors representing forty percent of the nominees, noticeably absent as well as David Oyelowo is Jake Gyllenhaal, who gave the performance of his career in Nightcrawler.

Image: Focus Features
Image: Focus Features

Having already won a slew of awards for his portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking, Eddie Redmayne is the odds-on favourite to win on the night. Whilst his performance carried an otherwise rather trite and clichéd script, it was nonetheless reminiscent of a part Daniel Day Lewis played more than twenty years earlier; he won the Oscar in 1990 for his outstanding performance in My Left Foot. Whilst it is undeniable Redmayne is a fine actor and he worked exceptionally hard on the film, it’s got exactly the same ‘Oscar factor’ as The King’s Speech or Shine. The Academy loves a good old fashioned melodrama though, so his win is all but secured.

If it wasn’t for Redmayne’s performance Benedict Cumberbatch might have had more of a look-in. His performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game has been applauded, but the film itself was rather formulaic, and it’s really the truth behind the story that makes it compelling rather than anything the film does. Benedict Cumberbatch has forged a career out of playing upper-class Brits battling personal demons, and one has to wonder how much of a challenge the performance really was for him.

Image: Warner Bros
Image: Warner Bros

Bradley Cooper receives his third Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Chris Kyle in American Sniper. Anyone familiar with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds will remember the ‘film within a film’, Nation’s Pride. a German propaganda piece celebrating a sniper who shot down over two hundred soldiers. Apparently Clint Eastwood was rather taken with this idea, because that’s pretty much exactly what American Sniper is; a bona fide piece of American propaganda about the war on terror. Cooper’s performance is downright cringe worthy at times and certainly his inclusion in the nominees at the expense of Gyllenhaal or Oyelowo is baffling.

Michael Keaton undoubtedly gave the most original and nuanced performance of the five in Birdman, portraying a washed-up actor trying to revive his career and mend his broken relationship with his daughter. If there’s anyone that can beat Redmayne it’s Keaton, but given that the Academy don’t tend to be big fans of comedies, don’t hold your breath for Beetlejuice to take home the statuette on the night.

When Steve Carrell was announced for Foxcatcher, many were surprised, and the transformation of the actor from beloved Michael Scott of The Office to beak-nosed eccentric millionaire John DuPont in Bennett Miller’s film was incredible. His performance in Foxcatcher is unnerving and subtle, staying with the audience long after the film’s finished. Sadly the film’s award buzz has died down considerably, with a lot of viewers losing patience with the film’s pace and Carrell’s heavy breathing. It’s a real shame though because Carrell was downright chilling; perhaps at least this role marks the start of a new era for his career, one that will see him never have to play Brick Tamlin again.

Image: Sony Pictures Classics
Image: Sony Pictures Classics

Over in the Best Actress category Julianne Moore is the frontrunner to take home the award for her performance in Still Alice. Having picked up just about every other award going this season including the Bafta last week, it will be a bit of an upset if she doesn’t take home the big award on the night for her portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Joining her in the category are Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Marion Cortillard (Two Days One Night). Again two British talents are present and Cotillard’s nomination was a pleasant surprise given the fact Two Days One Night has been largely ignored this awards season. The consensus in the media is that the biggest snub this year was Jennifer Aniston for Cake, but given Aniston’s track record and the snobbish politics of the Academy, as well as the fact there is often only room for one inspirational true story in the nominations and Witherspoon was a shoe-in, it’s not a big surprise that she wasn’t shortlisted.

Felicity Jones is fast becoming a household name and The Theory of Everything has cemented her Hollywood credentials. Whilst she did her best with a rather weak script her performance was ultimately forgettable and, however unavoidable it may be, overshadowed by Redmayne, and is definitely the weakest out of the five nominees.

Image: Fox
Image: Fox

In interesting film trivia, eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted Reese Witherspoon’s name in the credits of Gone Girl. She was instrumental in bringing the novel to the big screen and had her eye on the lead role until David Fincher signed on to direct and decided she wasn’t right for the part. Instead she took the role of Cheryl Stayed in Wild. Undoubtedly this is Witherspoon’s best role since Walk the Line – for which she won an Oscar back in 2005 – and the film is a damn sight more inspirational than Eat, Pray, Love, but it just doesn’t have the gravitas to rival the other nominees.

The other Brit in the running is Rosamund Pike, who beat Witherspoon for the lead role in Gone Girl. As Amy Dunne she was mesmerising, pulling off both cool girl and terrifying homicidal hell-hath-no-fury girl. Pike has come a long way since starring opposite Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English and Gone Girl is by far her most accomplished role to date. It’s hard to imagine any other actress embodying the sociopathic spirit of Amy Dunne so well and her performance invoked memories of bygone Hollywood talent such as Lauren Bacall and Bette Davis.

Rounding up the group is Marion Cotillard in Two Days One Night, and one has to wonder if the film would have garnered more attention had it been American, because Cotillard’s performance as a woman struggling against depression and the threat of redundancy was topical as well as understated and believable. Sadly the film has gone largely unrecognised this awards season, failing to even pick up a nomination for Best Film Not in the English Language. However this is Cotillard’s second Oscar nomination after winning in 2007 for her magnificent turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, and given that her career continues to go from strength to strength, it’s unlikely to be her last.

All things said and done, Julianne Moore is all but certain to win the Best Actress accolade. It’s about time considering this is her fifth nomination, and between her performances in Still Alice and Maps to the Stars, she is certainly one of the most deserving candidates this year. However, Rosamund Pike definitely gave the most interesting and daring performance out of the five nominated, and if the Oscars are any sort of celebration of innovative and risk-taking performances, then she is equally worthy of taking home the title. Eddie Redmayne is as certain as Moore for the corresponding Actor award, though Michael Keaton would be a more original choice if the Academy cared one iota for rewarding innovation and creativity in filmmaking

Hannah Woodhead

Image: Twentieth Century Fox

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