Every year, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestow their awards upon the people that are in front of the camera. They typically present the award for acting to beautiful people who have made themselves slightly less beautiful, sometimes through prosthetics and other times through weight gain or loss. Like much of the Academy’s history, the voters don’t always get things right.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
It’s crazy to think that we live in a world where Sylvester Stallone is the frontrunner for an Academy Award for acting. But Stallone was great in reprising the role of Rocky Balboa for the seventh time in Creed, quite possibly the best Rocky movie since the 1976 original, which netted Stallone nominations for acting and writing. Most likely on this Sunday, a weathered Stallone will take the stage, statuette in hand, and proclaim, “Yo, Adrian, I did it!”
While Stallone seems like a lock, it would be foolish to think that Mark Rylance’s wonderful performance in Bridge of Spies might not give ol’ Sly a run for his money. Though I think Stallone was very good in Creed, his performance was more of a bridge between the past and the new, the pugilist taking over the mantle of trainer. Conversely, I feel that the Rylance performance in Bridge of Spies is much more essential to the overall power of Spielberg’s drama. Rylance’s Rudolf Abel is accused of being a Soviet spy, and is most likely is, but the moral dilemma of the film stems from the soft demeanor of a seemingly innocuous old man who is a spy. Had the role been played in any other way, the struggle for the soul of a nation wouldn’t been as strong, which would have rendered Bridge of Spies as a rather generic drama. It is nothing of the sort.
On the outskirts of the race are Mark Ruffalo, who give the showiest performance in the dramatic ensemble Spotlight. I doubt Ruffalo’s few lengthy speeches in Spotlight will be enough to secure him the award. Christian Bale was nominated for his role in the ensemble financial crisis drama The Big Short, though it should be said that Bale likely earned the nomination based up name recognition alone – he didn’t give the best performance in The Big Short, which was given by Steve Carrell who wasn’t nominated.
Rounding out the nominees is Tom Hardy’s rugged rambling in The Revenant. Hardy, who will likely have his own statuette in a matter of time, gave a stronger performance than his co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, though Hardy’s almost incomprehensible frontiersman likely won’t earn him Oscar gold.
Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
Who Should Win: Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
The Best Supporting Actress category this year is interesting because it features two lead performances relegated to supporting likely because their studios thought it gave them the best chance to win. Rooney Mara in Carol and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl are co-leads in their respective movies. I’d wager to bet that Rooney Mara has more screen time than her co-star Cate Blanchett, who is nominated in the Best Actress race. Despite these games with categorization, I feel that the award is Mara’s to lose. She was marvelous in Todd Haynes’ Carol as Therese, a young woman entering into a relationship with the woman she’s just met. Mara plays the role with such apprehension and curiosity, embodying the tentative half of a risky, forbidden relationship.
While Alicia Vikander is nominated in the wrong category, the real tragedy is that she’s nominated for the wrong movie. Her performances in either Ex Machina or The Man From U.N.C.L.E. are far more captivating than her role in the generic Oscar bait of The Danish Girl. Though I doubt she’ll be honored on Sunday, Vikander will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Unlike most of these categories, Best Supporting Actress seems like each and every nominee has a chance to walk away with the award. Rachel McAdam’s assured performance in the ensemble Spotlight is a standout performance from the venerable actress, adding a sense of empathy and doubt to the story of the Boston Globe reporters uncovering a pattern of abuse.
Kate Winslet gave an equally strong performance as Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs. She’s the loyal assistant whose patience is constantly tested by the demands of her boss. While I wouldn’t rank her above her fellow nominees, reputation and name recognition may just give Winslet the push she needs to take home her second Oscar.
Finally, there’s the amazing performance from Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue in Quentin Tarantino’s controversial film The Hateful Eight. The physical abuse that Daisy suffers at the hands of her male co-stars generated its fair share of controversy and charges of misogyny, but those charges overlooked that Daisy is the main villain of a movie about eight hateful characters. As much as I’d like to see Jennifer Jason Leigh take home the Oscar, I doubt she’ll be able to hoist the trophy due to the myriad of controversies that sensitive voters of the Academy will likely want to avoid.
Who Will Win: Rooney Mara (Carol)
Who Should Win: Rooney Mara (Carol)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Matt Damon (The Martian)
Overall, 2015 didn’t feature many classic performances from male leads. Just looking over the roster of this year’s nominees doesn’t exactly inspire many thoughts of the truly memorable. Sadly, both Bryan Cranston and Eddie Redmayne highlight just how thin the pack was this year, with each earning nominations for playing historical figures in generic Oscar period pieces. It’s as if the options were so thin for the whitewashed nomination process that Cranston is being nominated because of Breaking Bad and Eddie Redmayne for his victory last year. Neither film that these fine actors appear in should warrant any awards consideration. When it comes to complaints about racial bias in the nomination process, these two stick out like a sore thumb. A lily-white sore thumb.
Matt Damon and Michael Fassbender each gave strong performances in the The Martian and Steve Jobs, respectively. Damon is charming and funny as the stranded astronaut Mark Watney in Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel. Meanwhile, Fassbender commands the screen as Steve Jobs in the Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic. But Danny Boyle’s film suffered from the similar structure of its three characters and reduce Fassbender’s performance into slight variations of the same asshole. The similarities between Damon and Fassbender continue as each has pretty much been pushed to the side of the conversation.
All the talk this year is about Leonardo DiCaprio, and the pain and suffering he subjected himself to in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. Don’t get me wrong, Leo gave a committed performance in The Revenant, but what is actually great? I would argue it isn’t. Coupled with the fact that The Revenant has no real point beyond the suffering of its actors and crew, this merely amounts to honoring DiCaprio for his stellar career.
I’d personally have no problem if they give Leonardo DiCaprio the Oscar for Best Actor as long they inscribe it with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which was the greatest performance of DiCaprio’s career. In a way, DiCaprio’s career award will resemble the Oscars that Martin Scorsese secured for The Departed. As if the entire body of the Academy said in unison, “Sure, we overlooked your best work, which was revolutionary at best, but it’s a weak year and we feel bad.”
Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio (retroactively for The Wolf of Wall Street)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
If the other acting awards are any indication, the Best Actress category isn’t shaping up to be dramatic. All signs are pointing to a victory for Brie Larson and her powerful performance in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. In the gripping drama, Larson is forced to run through such a wide range of emotions and is never anything less than captivating. Winning an Oscar would be the cap on Larson’s meteoric rise, whose star has been constantly ascending over the past five years.
My personal pick for Best Actress would be Cate Blanchett in Carol. The two-time Oscar winner is worthy of a third statuette on her mantle. As the eponymous Carol Aird, Blanchett is seductive and commanding as the aristocratic lesbian stuck between her romance of the future and the failed attempts at love of the past. It’s the kind of powerful performance that only someone as talented as Blanchett can make look entirely effortless.
Another one of 2015’s strongest performance from an actress came from Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey, a timid young Irish immigrant trying to make her way in New York, in John Crowley’s Brooklyn. Ronan is entirely charming in her understated performance, capturing the apprehension and optimism of her newly transported character.
Finally, there’s the nomination for Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell’s Joy, which is obviously a nomination earned solely from name recognition. Lawrence is an amazing actress with an almost impeccable track record, but in Russell’s sloppy film the actress gives one of the weakest performances of her career. Full disclosure, I’ve not seen Charlotte Rampling’s performance in 45 Years, the only nominated performance I did not see this year.
Who Will Win: Brie Larson (Room)
Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett (Carol)