Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 3: Best Actor

Best Actor Nominations

Christian Bale for American Hustle

Bruce Dern for Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave

Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas-Buyers-Club-Matthew-McConaughey-gauntactors 2013

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win (in alphabetical order): Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey

This category is loaded! Each of these performances, as different as they are from one another, is darn near perfect in its particular context. Thus, each of these actors is worthy of winning the Oscar. However, it is likely that no one other than Matthew McConaughey will be giving an acceptance speech on Sunday evening. His role has Oscar written all over it with the bodily transformation through weight loss, the opportunity to play a wide range of dark emotions, and the transformation from a complete jerk to, well, a less than complete jerk. Like so many others, I have fallen in love with McConaughey’s work over the past three years. It has been quite a run. His performance is strong in Dallas Buyer’s Club, but I’m not convinced that it deserves the lock on the Oscar that it seems to have. Although the Oscar is supposed to be for a single role, if I were to vote for him here it would be for that body of work, including Mud, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, and that one delightful scene in Wolf of Wall Street. Actually, I found his role in Mud to be more interesting than in DBC, but if that’s the movie that brings him the Academy’s honors, I’ll wholeheartedly join in the salute.

Of the remaining four nominees, Ejiofor has the best chance of pulling off the upset, as much because of the movie he is in as for his performance itself. This is not a knock on his work, which was solid, but a win for him certainly depends on the affection many have for 12 Years a Slave and the feeling that it is an important movie. To a certain extent, the constraints the story place on his character actually work against him capturing the Oscar. The movie places a strong emphasis on the fact that slaves had to bury their emotions in order to survive. The genius in Ejiofor’s performance was in burying those emotions deep enough for his character to survive, but keeping them just below the surface so that the viewer could catch glimpses of his turmoil. Glimpses, though, rarely win Oscars.

DiCaprio finds himself on the other end of the emotional spectrum. Wolf of Wall Street was about excess and called for a lead performance that teetered on the edge of going overboard. Leo delivered that performance and it was fascinating to experience…if you weren’t turned off by the movie itself. If 12 Years helps Ejiofor’s cause, Wolf hurts DiCaprio’s. It was a love it or hate it kind of movie, which makes it hard for him to pick up the extra votes he would need to win. He could gain some votes of the “it’s time” variety, finally recognizing his years of fine performances, but in that regard he could be hindered by the perception that he is Leo, the Big Movie Star, rather than Leonardo, the Great Actor. He could also be hindered by Dern’s presence in the category. If there is an “it’s time” vote, it could go to Dern who has been waiting just a bit longer than DiCaprio. Dern, though, faces a challenge similar to Ejiofor’s, in that his character’s emotions have always been buried, not by slavery, but by life itself. Add to that the effects of old age, if not also the onset of dementia, and you have a part that calls for an incredibly restrained performance. I thought his performance was both, restrained and incredible, but not exactly Oscar bait. If he wins it will be a career tribute, not simply accolades for this single performance.

That brings us to Christian Bale. I’ve seen many comments about him stealing the nomination from Tom Hanks or Robert Redford. I wasn’t overly impressed with either of their performances, but regardless of their status, I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that Bale doesn’t belong among the nominees. Beyond that, I think he is as deserving of the Oscar as anyone else in the category. His performance is discounted because American Hustle is “just a comedy,” but it is more than that. It is comedy and tragedy intertwined and I would argue that Bale gives us a wider range of emotion than anyone else in the field (except possibly DiCaprio). The brilliance in his performance is achieved through the combination of what we have come to expect from Bale and what we haven’t seen him do before. We expect Bale to fully embody his roles, included the actual transformation of his body. In the past this has meant losing weight, but for Hustle he gained weight and lost hair, too. This is about more than adding a few pounds, though. He becomes Irving Rosenfeld and that is something new because Rosenfeld is certainly no Batman. Have we ever seen Bale play a part like this before, seen him become this vulnerable? I’m sure I will watch each of the five movies represented here again, but I know I will watch American Hustle over and over again, in part to partake in the delight of Bale’s performance. He gets my vote!

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