Latest posts by makeitsnowondem (see all)
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The Oscars are almost upon us, with all their unpredictability. You don’t need an oracle to tell you what will happen. You don’t even need a film critic. You need someone who sees into the very souls of the Academy voters. You need a Straight White Man.
Monday’s bullshit. You’ve undoubtedly had a bad enough day, just because it’s Monday evening, that you don’t want to read a thousand words about camera angles from a guy whose only insight comes from taking pictures of beers, or about foreign language films you haven’t seen. (Okay, fine: I’m not writing about the latter because I haven’t seen them yet either.) Today, we’re going to do a couple of the categories that the people tuning in on Sunday will actually care about.
But before we proceed with the nominees, though, here’s a quick and non-exhaustive list of actors who weren’t nominated this year. Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. Michael B. Jordan in Creed. Benicio del Toro in Sicario. Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton. O’Shea Jackson Jr. in Straight Outta Compton.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christian Bale, The Big Short – I read that Bale was the first choice to play the titular Steve Jobs, and that makes sense, because when you’ve got an intense character with a tenuous grasp on social cues, you hire Christian Bale. (If you’ve got two of them, apparently you also hire Steve Carell.) I can’t remember Bale’s Dr. Michael Burry ever interacting with any of the other principals in The Big Short. He’s mostly left on his own to piss off his investors and beat up his drums to heavy metal music, resulting in some of the most entertaining scenes in a movie that’s already quite a thrill ride.
Tom Hardy, The Revenant – There are two standard rejoinders to criticism of the Oscars’ overwhelming whiteness: “Well, did any actors of color deserve to be nominated? We can’t just give nominations to undeserving actors because they’re nonwhite,” and “Well, which nominees would you have left out?” I do something like this movie-watching spree every year, but this year I was especially interested to see what I thought the answers to those questions were. I think I already answered the first in the introduction; for the second, I’d start with Hardy. He’s not bad. No actor in either of these categories is bad. Hardy is a snarling, frightening presence who seems from the very beginning a very real threat to destabilize the movie’s band of trappers. He doesn’t really make anything more of the role though. He’s every bit the villain the movie needs, but it’s hard to look at him on the one hand, and the equally terrifying Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) on the other, and conclude that Hardy’s doing the better acting.
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies – Rylance’s Rudolf Abel—if that even is his real name!—is everything a Russian spy should be and more. Calm, collected, and utterly magnetic when the movie throws him an occasional soliloquy, Rylance takes on a real cipher of a character and gives him a wry since of gallows humor and a sympathetic humility. He’s helped out a lot by a script that gives him one killer recurring line, and he doesn’t waste it, transforming what could have been a mere punchline into maybe the best bit of characterization in the entire movie.
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight – Ruffalo has to be one of the most underappreciated actors in the business, but I can understand why. His turn as the Incredible Hulk aside, his roles tend toward the low-key, and Spotlight‘s no exception. I spent a lot of the movie just waiting for Ruffalo to be let off the leash, and when he finally was, in a confrontation with Michael Keaton over whether to publish, the results were spectacular and satisfying.
Sylvester Stallone, Creed – Stallone’s widely considered the frontrunner here, and I kinda get it. He brings a whole lot of sincere emotion to this Rocky sequel, and never lets it lapse into manipulation or schmaltz. Stallone’s Rocky is a man who’s still learning and growing after all this time, and Stallone makes his most recent arc organic and believable. I still can’t quite get on board with the crowd, not because there’s anything wrong with this performance, but because other actors—including some not nominated—were just that much better.
Will Win: Sylvester Stallone.
Should Win: Mark Rylance.
Upset Special: Christian Bale.
ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE
Brian Cranston, Trumbo – This wasn’t the best performance of the group, but it was absolutely the most fun to watch. Cranston plays the unapologetically Communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo with grace, charm, and seemingly effortless comic timing. If you’re not sold yet, this one’s also worth checking out for John Goodman.
Matt Damon, The Martian – If Astronaut Matt Damon turns out to be the inspiration for tens of thousands of young scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. This man made growing potatoes the most exciting thing in the world for an hour and a half. Everything about his portrayal of Mark Watney feels real and earned, but the best part is probably watching him go from being resigned to death, to being resigned to doing all the mental and physical labor necessary to survive until a rescue he doesn’t really even believe is coming.
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant – I’ve always found Leo’s face and mannerisms to be just comically expressive. It’s why he’s in so many Internet memes: You can always find a picture of him making a face that seems to be expressing some incredibly specific emotion or reaction. We memed him in The Great Gatsby, we memed the absolute hell out of him in Inception, we follow him around memeing him in real life, and it’s only a matter of time until we start memeing him in The Revenant, if we haven’t already. That’s not a criticism at all. He’s very convincingly cold and sick and angry and in excruciating pain, but also especially cold. I was cold just watching him. Also, the bison liver he eats is the genuine article. I’m just saying, be ready for the hilarious freeze-frames of what were, in the actual movie, not-at-all hilarious expressions of pure anguish and torment.
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs – Fassbender undeniably brings a lot of energy and force to the movie, but he veers so far and so often into angry asshole territory as to obscure any reason why the people around real-life angry asshole Steve Jobs would actually have put up with the guy. Maybe other viewers saw those reasons more clearly in the film than I did. Maybe the screenplay, written by #1 Successful Asshole Fan Aaron Sorkin, is the bigger part of the problem. And I don’t want to come off as too harsh: Fassbender still does a fine job and probably deserves to be here. But his performance was one of many things about Steve Jobs that didn’t quite work for me.
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl – Controversy over whether director Tom Hooper should have cast a transgender actress to play Lili Elbe, and it’s true that there are transgender actresses out there who could probably have performed the role. There aren’t many actors out there of any gender, though, with Redmayne’s talent. Redmayne plays Lili with such tremendous sensitivity, strength, and depth that, while you can certainly argue for the importance of giving more opportunities like this one to trans actors, I couldn’t argue specifically against giving him this role. It’s a varied and brilliant performance, and (spoiler!) this isn’t the last time I’ll say something like that about one of The Danish Girl‘s stars.
Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio. No reason to overthink this one; between the high degree of physical difficulty for his role, a quality performance, and the sentiment that his time has finally come, DiCaprio is going to win handily.
Should Win: Eddie Redmayne. I can’t really overstate how affecting I found his portrayal of Lili. If there’s a criticism here, it’s probably about overacting, but I think that misses the point; so much of this movie is literally about a woman trying to figure out what it means to act like her authentic self.
This is your open thread, folks. Discuss the movies if you like, or whatever else is on your mind.