Academy of One: Best Actor in a Leading Role 2014

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.

I don’t have much banter here at the top. Although, this is important to note that this year marked the first year since 1997 that no actors of color were nominated in any of the acting categories.

As I’ve stated, there are many political reasons for someone to get an Oscar nomination over someone else, but one of the biggest reasons is casting. With casting announcements coming across social media, it’s easy to see that actors of color aren’t given the same opportunities as white actors, especially people of Asian descent.

Recently, Scarlett Johansson was cast in the lead role for an adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, a very popular Japanese anime. We also saw as Tilda Swinton took on the role of The Ancient One, a monk, typically of Asian descent in Doctor Strange. There’s also Emma Stone’s turn as a half-Vietnamese soldier in Aloha. Unrelated to Hollywood’s Asian erasure, we won’t even get into the issues of Joseph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson for a wild comedy about 9/11.

The simple truth is that if the character is human in a human situation, without the burden of historical representation, there is no reason they can’t be portrayed by any actor of any race. They just have to be cast.

Let’s get down to business. Here are the nominees for Best Actor as they currently stand.

  • Steve Carell - Foxcatcher

  • Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

  • Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game

  • Michael Keaton - Birdman

  • Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

This year marked the third consecutive acting nomination for Bradley Cooper. Strangely enough he’s the veteran in this race. The rest of the men, including Keaton and Carell, who both have great bodies of work behind them have never been nominated.

Of course, as I detailed the process a few posts ago, there is an instance of category fraud here and as someone who sat through the entirety of Foxcatcher, I can tell you, Steve Carell is very much a supporting character in the film and Channing Tatum is clearly the lead. Although, the movie is long enough and the cast is present enough, that I think Carell barely squeaks by and can be considered.

Yet, with these worthy nominees, I have to wonder if there aren’t others that could replace a few on this list. Here’s who I think could easily be a nominee in this category.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler

  • Irrfan Khan - The Lunchbox

  • David Oyelowo - Selma

  • Nate Parker - Beyond the Lights

  • Miles Teller - Whiplash

I’m nearly positive that Louis Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Nightcrawler, does not blink the entire movie. He stares out at the world with wide open eyes that deceive the darkness that hides beneath the bright smile and polite demeanor. It’s a haunting performance and one that sticks with you.

You’re going to see this name pop up quite a lot on this blog, remember it, Irrfan Khan. You know the man if you don’t recognize the name. In The Lunchbox, Khan uses his delicate approach to acting to play a man changed from someone who’s lonely and curmudgeonly into a man who gets a new lease on life because of a mistake in his lunch delivery. It’s a beautiful performance.

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we’ve never seen. He’s vulnerable, fallible, and utterly human. Oyelowo captures King’s essence so fully, it’s a performance that one forgets they’re watching an actor playing a character.

Nate Parker plays his police officer, Kaz, with just the right notes to not make him completely perfect. This character has jealousy, a hero complex, and a very sweet side. It comes out so well in Parker’s subtle performance.

Ambition and force of will propel Miles Teller’s Andrew into the orbit of the sadistic impresario, Fletcher and we’re all the better for having seen it this way. Teller plays Andrew as he actually plays his drums, with a steady beat at first that gets wilder and wilder as the emotions and stresses get more complex. It’s enough to give one heart palpitations just by watching it. It’s brilliant.

I believe that three of these performances are great enough to push into the race, but that means we need to eliminate three of the current nominees to make room. Here’s that original list again.

  • Steve Carell - Foxcatcher

  • Bradley Cooper - American Sniper

  • Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game

  • Michael Keaton - Birdman

  • Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

First on the chopping block is Steve Carell. I think this performance, while frightening and eccentric, lacks something in the direction. I don’t think Carellcould have added too much enthusiasm as that’s not the character, but there are parts where the camera stays on Carell for about three beats too many in order to convey a particular eccentricity. It just doesn’t do it for me in the long run.

Next is Bradley Cooper. He did a fine job, but I really didn’t feel that this performance was very noteworthy in any way. It really only has two modes, docile or rage. It doesn’t show off the range of emotion of a human, much less Bradley Cooper as an actor.

Lastly, I have to remove Benedict Cumberbatch. I don’t think he brought anything to this role that any other actor couldn’t have and unlike other actors who are able to shake off their most famous roles, I still see Cumberbatch as Sherlock more often than not. I can’t seem to move passed that with him and playing another eccentric Brit certainly doesn’t help.

So, now that I’ve gotten some folks out of the way, here are the three I’m going to add to the list of nominees.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler

  • David Oyelowo - Selma

  • Miles Teller - Whiplash

All right, let’s see what the field of nominees looks like with these additions.

  • Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler

  • Michael Keaton - Birdman

  • David Oyelowo - Selma

  • Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

  • Miles Teller - Whiplash

Now that our nominees are set, the real question is, does Eddie Redmayne, retain his title? Short answer, no.

I won’t say what I didn’t like about Redmayne’s performance, but instead focus on what I love about David Oyelowo’s, which is a very different performance, but overall, a better performance.

It’s very hard to step into the shoes of a person who actually lived. A person who was fully realized with thoughts and feelings and a past all their own, but with one look into the camera and the first few lines of a practiced speech in a recognized cadence and drawl, I’m pulled in. That’s what David Oyelowo does as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.

Oyelowo is able to take on traits and mannerisms that never feel like caricature or impression, but feel like a lived in, almost channeling of the person. As I mentioned before, with Oyelowo in control, we’re able to suspend our disbelief and focus on the story and the characters we don’t know as well, who aren’t in the history books and we’re able to honor their memory and sacrifice.

It’s an incredible performance that relies on humanity and not idolatry and it pays off for both the audience and our understanding of a complex man who championed a movement that changed the lives of millions of people.

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 of 2014.

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