Monday, April 2, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2014

The Contenders:

Bradley Cooper: American Sniper
Michael Keaton: Birdman
Steve Carell: Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch: The Imitation Game
Eddie Redmayne: The Theory of Everything (winner)

What’s Missing

There is a specific Oscar category that caused me to start this project because the winner was so egregious that it made me angry. Had that role not already been fulfilled, the 2014 Best Actor race might have well caused this Oscar project because there are so many snubs from this year. I’ve got more than two full new slates of nominees, and while not all of them are serious, plenty of them are. We can get rid of the less serious one right away. Those will start with Matthew McCanaughey in Interstellar, who really doesn’t deserve this nomination and Keanu Reeves in John Wick. I’d also toss in both Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi in What We Do in the Shadows, which really doesn’t belong in the conversation, except that it’s great. More serious but still really unlikely to get nominations we have Domhnall Gleeson in Ex Machina and his father Brendan Gleeson in Calvary--and how cool would father v. son have been? I’d put Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel in this category as well; I think he clearly earned a nomination, but Oscar tends to hate comedy. We've got Steve Carell here for Foxcatcher, but I think we can talk about Channing Tatum as well, even if he feels overshadowed. This category wraps up with Tobey Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice. While I’d be willing to fight for all of these in some respect, there are two performances that I still have trouble believing weren’t nominated. The first is David Oyelowo in Selma; the second is Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. Seriously, I can’t understand why neither of them are here.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Bradley Cooper has been nominated for Best Actor twice, and for me, he hasn’t gotten above fourth place. In that case, I said I’d be okay with someone else being nominated for his spot. Here I’m saying overtly that he didn’t deserve this nomination compared with who wasn’t nominated. Then again, I’m consistently under impressed with American Sniper in general. It always feels like it was last or next to last in getting nominated for everything, like it was supposed to get nominations but like no one was really that enthusiastic about it.

4. It’s entirely possible that I’m taking out my frustrations regarding The Theory of Everything on Eddie Redmayne, but this is a movie I so much wanted to like a lot more than I actually did. It’s a fine performance, but it feels like it’s exceptional only because Redmayne genuinely looks like Stephen Hawking. Beyond that, it doesn’t really seem to be that much beyond simply good. Whenever a role like this wins an Oscar, I think about how often Best Actor goes to someone playing a character with mental or physical handicaps. Is that why Redmayne won? Seems as good a reason as any.

3. I’ve decided after a great deal of thought that I like Benedict Cumberbatch, although I haven’t decided how much of that is because of or despite his goofy name. I liked The Imitation Game quite a bit as well, but I ultimately had many of the same problems with it that I did with The Theory of Everything. There were aspects of Alan Turing’s life that I thought were worth exploring here, and the film doesn’t take us there. It’s a good performance—even a great one, but since he is matched in every scene by an excellent Keira Knightley, he’s not always the most compelling presence on the screen. That’s a knock (potentially), although it also says a hell of a lot for Knightley.

2. Who knew that Steve Carell had Foxcatcher in him? Given some of his other roles, it perhaps isn’t that shocking. It’s also not that shocking given the number of times that someone known for comedic roles pulls of a tremendously good dramatic role, something we’ve seen from Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey. His work in Foxcatcher is tremendous, though, and I love that he was nominated. It just rides that edge—10% different and it’s a comedy performance instead of something terribly chilling. It works perfectly.

1. Everything I just said about Steve Carrell could be said about Michael Keaton and Birdman. This movie seems to be a revitalization of Keaton, a reminder that this is a guy who had truly career-defining roles multiple times. Keaton was never really given the respect he deserved. He was never my favorite Batman, but is still my favorite Bruce Wayne. With Birdman, he reminded us that underneath all of the Mr. Moms and Beetlejuices, there is an actor who has real skill and dedication to the craft. Given the five nominees, I’m giving the Oscar to him more often than not, but that might just be nostalgia speaking.

My Choices

But, of course, I’m not limited to the five nominations and I can go elsewhere. In a world where I get to decide who gets nominated for everything, I’m keeping Keaton and I’m probably keeping Carrell, but I’m replacing the other three. One of those nominations will depend on the day, but I’m always nominating Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal, and one of those two is winning pretty much 100% of the time. Today I’m giving this to Oyelowo. Tomorrow, I might change my mind. But for me, the battle is always between those two.

Final Analysis


  1. This was a stacked year and I'm in agreement with a lot of what you're saying here. I'm especially in tune with what you're saying about #3-5. Honestly, everything you say about Cumberbatch not being the most compelling person on screen for much of his own movie also applies to Keaton in Birdman for me. He was great, but I thought Watts, Stone, and Norton all stole scenes from him. That means of the noms, I would pick Carrell as my #1. However, like you, I'm not limited to those guys. So yeah, in my world Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal both get noms and are the frontrunners. When I did my awards for that year, I gave it JG, but could've gone either way. Oyelowo's lack of a real Oscar nom is most perplexing for me, though. It seems to tick all the Academy's boxes. A great performance in a biopic in an "important" film that was nominated for Best Pic. My other snub is Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice which did get a nom for Adapted Screenplay, so it was definitely on their radar.

    1. When I wrote this, Carell, Cumberbatch, and Keaton all spent time in each of the top three positions. I get what you're saying about Keaton not always being the focus in his own film, but it feels like such a redemption for a guy who did good work without much in the way of recognition for so long that I really wanted it to be his.

      But yeah, it's ultimately between Gyllenhaal and Oyelowo for me. I thought the exact same thing about Oyelowo not being nominated--he seemed like such a natural because, as you say, it ticks all of the boxes.

      Phoenix is a good suggestion, but I wasn't a fan of the film at all.

  2. This is tough for me except to say that Redmayne didn't deserve to win. I thought The Theory of Everything was trite considering the subject and Redmayne only okay, that resemblance is striking though.

    I think it's usual to favor the performer in the film you liked best and of this lot that was Cumberbatch, a performer I'm not always a fan of but who I liked quite a bit in Imitation Game. I wouldn't have been sorry to see him win but I don't really think his was the best lead actor performance of the year.

    I'm more consistently appreciative of Keaton's work but I didn't like Birdman however he'd get my vote out of the choices nominated. Carell was good but honestly I thought Tatum and Ruffalo overshadowed him in his film.

    Which brings me to my conundrum. I positively loathed and detested Nightcrawler. I hated the story, the characters, the filmmaking techniques just everything about it but Jake Gyllenhaal made the repugnant person he was portraying frighteningly real and vivid. So if I were able to choose among all the available work I'd give it to him but wild horses couldn't get me within ten feet of that film ever again.

    1. I think it is natural to want to give the Oscar to the movie more than the performance in a lot of cases unless there is a performance that so completely knocks everything else off the table. I get that with The Imitation Game even if I don't go there with loving the movie because of its historical inaccuracies.

      I think I can make an argument for Carell. As I said above, he, Cumberbatch, and Keaton all spent some time as the winner of the nominations at some point while I was writing this.

      I also get hating Nightcrawler even if I didn't hate it. I think it's a modern-day Network and brilliant even if it is terribly unpleasant.

  3. Did you see Keaton in Spiderman: Homecoming yet? He's brilliant, mesmerizing and terrifying. It's not as big a role as it could have been, but he's great.

    1. I agree. Keaton is one of those actors who is routinely good but doesn't always get a lot of credit for it.

  4. I still haven't gotten over this one. I can't think of any reason Redmayne should have won over Keaton. A gross error on the Academy's part. That was Keaton's Oscar.

    1. Based on the nominations, I agree. But really, this is a battle that we should be arguing between Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal.