Now, here’s an Oscar race to savor. Best Actor has a pair of front-runners, each with their own stories and strengths, and I’m frankly at a loss to tell you who is going to win.
Michael Keaton, in a bit of a meta role, plays an actor much like himself in Birdman, who was on top of the world playing a superhero and then disappeared from sight, only to stage a comeback by trying to write, direct, and star in a Broadway play. Keaton likewise disappeared for awhile, at least from the Hollywood scene, and his re-emergence in this work has reminded everyone who much they missed his slightly skewed take on things.
Ordinarily, this would be a slam dunk for Keaton, because the Academy has mostly actors in the membership and what actor can’t root for Keaton here? But then comes the other Oscar bait: the great man with a disability. And here is where Eddie Redmayne comes knocking, playing the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, the world’s most famous Lou Gehrig’s Disease sufferer aside from Lou Gehrig. If the Academy loves a comeback, they also love it when an actor changes their body, and then on top of that, plays a real person.
The other actors here are along for the ride. Bradley Cooper, as American Sniper‘s Chris Kyle, does a remarkable job of transforming his body into Texas beer-belly, but this movie has become such a controversy I don’t think anyone wants to touch it. Benedict Cumberbatch, as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, gives a finely nuanced performance, and at one point, when the film had more steam going, might have been a contender. But he and the film have been shut out in all precursors.
Finally, Steve Carell got in with the comedian-turns-sinister gambit, wearing a lot of makeup and acting creepy in Foxcatcher. I really like Carell but I thought the performance here was based on gimmickry, and he probably took the nomination away from David Oweloyo in Selma, who was far more deserving.
I’m going to go out on a slight limb and pick Keaton to pull through, since Redmayne is still young and perhaps hasn’t payed his dues yet. He has a lot more chances for a nomination, and for Keaton this is probably it. It is a nail-biter, though.
Will win: Michael Keaton
Could win: Eddie Redmayne
Should win: Michael Keaton
Should have been nominated: Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel