Oscar Watch: The Best Actor Race

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I can’t remember a year in which I was more anxious and excited about the Oscar nomination announcements back in January, and it was for one reason, and one reason only…Best Actor. I can’t say I was studying the Oscars back in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, whatever, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more stacked race then this one. Whenever the Oscar nominations get announced, within ten seconds you can collectively hear the world shout “SNUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUBS!!!!!” And what a surprise, it happened again. But to be perfectly honest, it’s really hard to call “snub” with regards to this year’s Best Actor category. When you look at the names who didn’t get in, it’s just ridiculous. In any other year, some of these people may have even won.

In what is the most talked about award in years, I’m going to break down this category with a scalpel. In fact, I’ll do you one better – how about the actors who didn’t get in? Yea, let’s cover them too. Why not? I will leave no stone unturned in this category, so buckle in! Here’s my analysis on the 2013 Best Actor Race!

Why The Following Didn’t Get In…

Matthew McConaughey (Mud)
This was a very much buzzed about performance, and officially started the year of McConaughey. But this one’s pretty easy – 1. Everybody knew Dallas Buyers Club was around the corner. 2. It wasn’t really the lead performance.

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Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station)
Had Fruitvale Station come out at Oscar time, maybe he would have had a chance. Everybody tried to will this nomination into existence, but it was never going to happen for several reasons. The film came out too early. Jordan is basically a newcomer. But at the end of the day, it just wasn’t Oscarey enough. Personally, I felt the performance was excellent, and would have had no problem with him getting a nomination. But I can’t pinpoint that “Oscar Scene,” whereas with Octavia Spencer in the same film, I could.

Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)
Full disclosure – I did not see this film. I know he got a SAG nomination, but from what I can gather with this movie is that it was more of an ensemble piece, with Oprah Winfrey stealing the show. I know many are screaming to the high heavens that this film got snubbed left and right, but it was an awards pandering movie, and sometimes that stuff doesn’t work.

Hugh Jackman (Prisoners)
Great performance. Great movie. But this was a group effort. Jackman was no better than Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, or Paul Dano here. Prisoners was just too cluttered.

Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Oh, boy. This is the big one. Would I of had Hanks in my top five? Yes. But it’s not a snub. While he absolutely carries a film I feel is ridiculously mediocre, Hanks only goes into vintage Oscar mode in the last five minutes. Now don’t get me wrong…it’s a hell of a last five minutes. But at the end of the day, with a category this stacked, Hanks just didn’t get enough Oscar moments in the film.

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Robert Redford (All Is Lost)
This is another one that would have been in my top five. The film unfortunately just didn’t get enough attention, and because of Bruce Dern in Nebraska, it bounced Redford from the “old veteran” spot. There’s only room for one. In any other year, he may have even won this.

Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
Good performance, but a “been there, done that” sort of thing. We just saw Morgan Freeman get nominated for the same role a couple years ago.

Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Other than the fact that this came out at Oscar time, you can cut and paste my answer from Michael B. Jordan. Newcomer. Not Oscarey enough.

Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
This was a tough one. In any other year, this performance would have been a lock. So much of the film is just him on screen. A great performance, but in this type of year where you already have DiCaprio and Bale getting in for roles that were more comedic, there just wasn’t room for Phoenix.

That gives you an idea of just how deep and difficult this category was. But now onto the real shebang. Let’s break down the actual nominees…

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Christian Bale (American Hustle)

What He Has Going For Him: The Academy loves American Hustle. Ten nominations for a comedy, including every single major award…that’s just silly.

What He Has Going Against Him: Other than the fact he’s the only one here with a statue, this is your prototypical “just along for the ride” type performance. You want him to be there, but he doesn’t have a chance of winning.

My Thoughts: I’m just glad to see him here. It’s such a different performance from Bale, so nuanced and subtle. That first scene of him fixing his hair perfectly sets up the character, and the way Bale conveys the weight of the world in his face when dealing with all these crazy people is so much fun to watch.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska)

What He Has Going For Him: Old. But other than that, the performance is just so sad, but also funny at the same time, and that’s the kind of stuff the Academy eats up.

What He Has Going Against Him: Again, much like the theme to this entire category, in any other year he may have won, but not this year. It’s a nice performance, but he’s overshadowed by June Squibb in the same film, and you could argue Will Forte is really the true lead.

My Thoughts: Dern’s subtlety and pain is the reason this movie is so powerful. A totally deserving nominee and winner, but it’s just too stacked a year.

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Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

What He Has Going For Him: HE’S DUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, you could make the argument, “Well, isn’t Bruce Dern due as well?” Maybe, but with all due respect to Bruce Dern, we aren’t talking about a career at the level of DiCaprio. Just look at the guy’s IMDB for crying out loud. And while I mentioned it’s hard to call a “snub” in this category, there are two names where if they didn’t get nominated, it would have been a snub. This is one of them.

What He Has Going Against Him: I agree that the whole Wolf of Wall Street controversy may just be enough to keep him from getting this award, but let me just say this: If The Wolf of Wall Street is so controversial, then explain to me how it still got nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor, a category it wasn’t even supposed to get!? Some controversy.

My Thoughts: Out of all the lead actor performances this year, this is it. This is the one. He deserves this award. All the physical humor. All the dramatic moments. All the speeches. Seriously, he’s channeling Peter Finch from Network in some of these scenes! I’m pulling for you, Leo.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

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What He Has Going For Him: Out of all the nominees, without question, Ejiofor’s character is the most heartbreaking and sympathetic. It’s this reason why many Academy members are going to find it hard not to vote for him, especially when comparing him to DiCaprio’s character, a law breaking Wall Street drug addict. Also, if Jennifer Lawrence beats Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress, and Jared Leto wins Best Supporting Actor over Michael Fassbender, many voters will want to give one of the acting awards to 12 Years a Slave, and Ejiofor may be the most viable option.

What He Has Going Against Him: It’s his first time out, and honestly, Ejiofor has lost a lot of momentum, whereas performances like DiCaprio and McConaughey have gained a ton.

My Thoughts: Out of all the nominees in this category, his performance just isn’t there for me, I’m sorry. When you look at 12 Years a Slave, his character is vastly overshadowed by the likes of Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender, both of whom are very deserving of Oscars. With all the other nominees, I can pinpoint several “Oscar Scenes,” but with Ejiofor, I can’t.

“Ahhh, wait a minute, Dan. What about the hanging scene?”

Okay, a powerful and devastating scene to be sure. But that scene was more about Steve McQueen’s direction, and not the performance. And honestly, I even felt like Ejiofor was overacting at times. While 12 Years a Slave is a good movie, it’s the protagonist that kept it from being one of my favorite films of the year. Ejiofor’s performance feels powerful because of what the character endures, but in evaluating the actual performance, it’s just not Oscar worthy.

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

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What He Has Going For Him: Lost a lot of weight. Oscar moments all over the place. Completely transforms into the character. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Out of all the nominees, McConaughey is the front runner.

What He Has Going Against Him: He hasn’t exactly been the most eloquent during awards season (the Golden Globes comes to mind). But who is eloquent at the Golden Globes anyway? Along with Ejiofor, this is also his first nomination. Also, the Academy might feel giving the award to Jared Leto will honor Dallas Buyers Club enough, so they may go else where for this one.

My Thoughts: Along with DiCaprio, this is the other guy I felt would have been a true snub had he not been nominated. McConaughey would be my second choice for this award behind DiCaprio. It’s a career performance, and 100% deserving.

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.