Academy of One: Best Actor in a Leading Role 2013

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

With this post we enter DiCaprio Oscar Watch, round two. I dismissed his win in 2015, so surely, surely, I can’t deny our man Leo the prize for another worthy performance?

Hmmmm…

Well, let’s get into it and present the nominees as they stand now.

  • Christian Bale - American Hustle

  • Bruce Dern - Nebraska

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave

  • Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club

These nominees are all worthy of going home with a prize. Most if not all have been around the business for a decade or two at this point, but they’re all reaching career heights like they haven’t seen before.

And it goes without saying any post about this year has to reference that it represents the peak of the McConaissance, an incredibly silly term used to describe the period of time when Matthew McCanaughey eschewed his typical rom-com lead and embraced being the capital A, Actor, he had always been thought to be since his breakout roles in 1996/97.

Yet, I feel there are some other very worthy and stellar performances unjustly left off this list. Here are a few good men (get it?) I think could ascend to the status of a nominee.

  • Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis

  • Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station

  • Joaquin Phoenix - Her

  • Robert Redford - All Is Lost

It’s hard not to be transfixed by Oscar Isaac’s misanthropic folk singer because from the clues all around him, we know he’s got some sadness bubbling underneath that’s just waiting to burst forth. When he’s finally ready for it and it finally does it’s a catharsis not only for him, but the audience as well.

Michael B. Jordan knows how to enter a character’s head. He knows how to become someone else through mannerisms and movement. He plays Oscar Grant III as a man desperately attempting to make the lives of his loved ones better, but who has that hardness underneath the surface that’s ready come out at the flip of a switch.

Joaquin Phoenix is very much a chameleon. He can disappear into a role and he makes us believe a lonely human being can fall for a computer program. He’s charming as he realizes what’s happening and how happy he’s become and heart-breaking when he realizes he’s going to lose that happiness.

It’s always a pleasure to watch a venerable and well liked movie star take on a role that’s far more challenging than they have in a long time. That’s what Robert Redford does and it showcases what a truly great actor he is. He exists in this physical space and really puts in an affecting performance with virtually no words spoken.

So, now that I have my contenders, I know that I want two of them to move into the nominee field. I have to see if there are two slots I can take from the current list of nominees. Here’s that list again.

  • Christian Bale - American Hustle

  • Bruce Dern - Nebraska

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave

  • Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club

O.K., I have two actors in mind. I have a feeling the second one will be controversial, so I’ll save him until I get rid of the easy one.

Well, I say easy one, but Bruce Dern has been an actor a long time and is someone who many feel is underrated. I don’t agree and I think this nomination is one that’s meant for more of a lifetime achievement status than for this particular role.

It’s a good performance, it’s just got no real meat to it. Most of the time the fact that he’s playing a cantankerous old man with delusions of grandeur and is there, but not anything overtly new or surprising about it.

All right, here’s my next choice and I’m going to rip the band aid right off, it’s Matthew McConaughey. I know what you’re thinking and it’s not just my apathy toward actors who dangerously lose weight to play a role that plays a part in this decision.

It’s mostly because, with a few exceptions, I rarely don’t see McConaughey when I look up at the screen. He’s always playing himself. I find it hard to see a character other than himself when I see him on screen. That’s his style. That’s what makes him a name, but I fear that’s all that he is. He’s good at what he does. He’s that charmer and has that charismatic personality, but that’s all I ever see. I don’t see an incredible amount of depth to his performance.

It’s different. It’s surely different for him, but he doesn’t have the physicality Leonardo DiCaprio does in The Wolf of Wall Street, changing up how he moves in certain situations, and on certain drugs, and he doesn’t have the eccentricity and method drive of Christian Bale who I never see as the same person and especially not any persona he’s created for himself.

Now, here are the two men I propose to add to the list of contenders.

  • Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis

  • Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station

Here’s what our field of contenders looks like moving forward.

  • Christian Bale - American Hustle

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave

  • Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis

  • Michael B. Jordan - Fruitvale Station

Well, with McConaughey out of the running, that leaves room for DiCaprio to swoop in, right? That was the plan all along, right? Short answer, no.

Chiwetel Ejiofor gets my vote. His performance in 12 Years a Slave is astounding and incredibly nuanced.

As Solomon Northup, we see Ejiofor go from free man to slave and within that new world, he learns quickly that his intelligence and wits can’t save him. He tries and he tries to get people to listen, but it’s of no use.

Ejiofor is able to deftly move between Solomon’s terrified obedience and his foolhardy defiance, while never losing the essence of who he was as a free man. That spark of freedom is always present and it’s what gives him and the audience hope.

That hope is what makes Ejiofor’s performance so compelling as every sympathetic ear, every act of kindness fills him with possibility and every time we see the heart break written on every line of his face.

One of the most memorable scenes is as Solomon is at his lowest and he stands with his fellow slaves as they sing around him. He lets them sing, mumbling a word or two, his eyes are downcast in his despair. Then the words catch him and he lets them come forth and he lifts his head, as if in prayer, fully embracing the spirit of the slaves around him, needing the strength they carry in their hearts.

The scene is all on Ejiofor’s face and the anguish and pleading is all there as he sings. It’s incredibly powerful and just part of the whole of the fierce and incredible performance that this is.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the Best Actor in a Supporting Role nominees for 2013.

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