The Best Actor category, being the most uncertain of the night, could potentially go in the direction of predictable, sentimental, or result in a flat-out upset. Added to the excitement of what makes this category difficult to predict falls in that each of the nominees gave the most dense, diverse performances out of the four acting categories this year. Steve Carell proved he was a capable of separating himself from his comedic roles and being a dramatic actor in Foxcatcher as real-life millionaire and murderer John Du Pont. He gave a performance that was both subtle in the manner in which he attempted to control others and sought validation with while also being mentally unstable. Eddie Redmayne provided the most emotionally-demanding performance of the year in the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything. Not only did Redmayne have the task of forming an emotional attachment between viewer and character, he also gave the most complex and realistic portrayal of one afflicted with the debilitating disease, ALS. The caliber of acting Redmayne offers is astounding, with his depiction of the disease being eerily accurate. Regardless of the controversy surrounding American Sniper, the one constant is Bradley Cooper’s extraordinary performance. The entirety of American Sniper is dependent upon Cooper, whose performance relied on his being astute and emotionally conflicted at the same time. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as real-life mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game is the sort of performance the Oscars love, in which Cumberbatch exhibits extreme intelligence while discreetly conveying vulnerability due to his repressed homosexuality. Cumberbatch is a powerhouse in his respective film and has shown he is capable of extending his acting abilities past being Sherlock Holmes. Lastly, there’s Michael Keaton’s tremendous and electrifying performance in Birdman. In a role that has taken both viewers and critics by surprise, Keaton has proved he is more than a mere comic-book actor. What Keaton is able to achieve in Birdman is nothing short of brilliance by weaving together elements of satiric comedy and dense drama, and theater-acting with film-acting, he has established a new style of acting. Additionally, his performance is a dual performance, with the internalized voice of Birdman being a secondary character that never leaves the focus of the film, despite the viewer never actually seeing Birdman until the film’s third quarter. Keaton’s acting range in Birdman must be acknowledged when considering his Oscar chances.
This category has been a battle between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton since the beginning of Oscar season and the likely winner is just as difficult to predict as when the season began. The primary reason of this falls in that the award ceremonies are split down the middle between the two actors, with neither of them having a definite majority of the awards. Both of them have won Golden Globes and Keaton’s only other precursor win has been The Critics Choice Award. Redmayne has managed to additionally grab the SAG and BAFTA awards, two necessary precursor awards that usually highlights the path of its winner to the Oscar. Therefore, on paper, this Oscar is Redmayne’s to win. Yet this doesn’t guarantee his win due to a unusual outlier that has been thrown into this year’s category. The outlier in question is Keaton’s performance being the comeback of a lifetime. Keaton, who had disappeared below the radar in the last twenty years, came out of nowhere with his extraordinary performance in Birdman, thus proving he is still relevant to contemporary audiences. This gives Keaton a tremendous edge and notability with winning the Oscar. This officially makes Keaton the sentimental vote of the night, which shouldn’t be underestimated, especially when sentimental voting has given many actors an Oscar win in the past (i.e. John Wayne for “True Grit” in 1969 or James Coburn for “Affliction” in 1998).
Yet this category is highly reminiscent of the Best Actor race in 2002 and what occurred should be noted in the context of this year. It was the year of Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) versus Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York). Nicholson, deemed the sentimental vote, gave a vulnerable performance unlike anything he ever had in his career. He won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice award and was deemed the likely winner at the beginning of the Oscar season. Then, Daniel Day-Lewis’s gritty performance as Bill the Butcher won the SAG and the BAFTA, clearly splitting the probability between the two actors. When the time came for the Best Actor category, everyone held their breath to see who would come out victorious and exhaled in surprise. Neither Nicholson or Day-Lewis won. Instead, Adrian Brody walked to the podium for his win for The Pianist. Nicholson and Day-Lewis effectively canceled each other out to allow Brody to win. When taking this Oscar history into account, it seems very possible Oscar history could repeat itself this year between Redmayne and Keaton. In the chance they cancel each other out, it would be Bradley Cooper who will probably stand victorious. The rationale of assuming it would be Cooper stems from three reasons: 1. He is popular with the Academy Awards, this nomination being his third consecutive nomination, 2. Despite the controversy for American Sniper, the film has been highly successful, thus putting it at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and giving Cooper the win would be a sly way of awarding the film with a prestigious award, 3. Having not been nominated for any of the precursor awards, there is no true way to measure Cooper’s performance against the other nominees. Cooper is an outlier nomination, one that shouldn’t be disregarded.
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Could Win: Michael Keaton, Birdman or Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Should Win: Michael Keaton, Birdman