They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Early Look At Lead Acting Races

By J. Don Birnam

December 3, 2014

Really, he should have won for Night Shift back in the early 80s.

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Are Michael Keaton and Julianne Moore headed for overdue acting Oscars, or are there potential spoilers lurking in the wings?

Surprising few people, the New York Film Critics Circle named Boyhood their Best Film of the year, while the National Board of Review did go out on a limb and gave the top honor to A Most Violent Year. The former seems destined to receive a Best Picture nomination (although I don’t yet buy the win), while A Most Violent Year at least got a boost up the screener pile if nothing else.

But enough of the Best Picture handicap for now. It’s time to start looking at some of the other main Oscar categories for this year’s race and the acting races provide a good entry point into this endeavor.

This year’s Best Actor and Actress races are very similar to most years: There is a wide depth of male performances to pick from, and the ones that get in usually lead strong Best Picture contenders. By contrast, Best Actress choices seem much fewer and far between, with one main performance scorching the earth on the way to the podium, and the others coming from an uneasy mix of indie movie also-rans.


Anything you read about movies these days - the newspaper, Oscar blogs, editorials - points to the disparity between roles for men and women in Hollywood. Cate Blanchett made it the focus of her winning speech last year. I add my voice to the chorus because it only takes one glance at the lists below to see that great roles are available for men everywhere, but not so much for women. Just look at this statistic: approximately 28 Best Actor winners in history were for roles in movies that also won Best Picture. That’s more than one out of every four movies. By contrast, only about 11 Best Actress winners came from Best Picture winners - fewer than one in eight.

A pity, because as strong as some past male winners have been, I feel like strong female roles are always more challenging (perhaps because of their rarity) and therefore perhaps more rewarding. Unfortunately, a similar pattern has emerged this year, leaving us with a seemingly-locked Best Actress winner and a more open Best Actor field.

Best Actor: Keaton vs. Redmayne?

As I mentioned before, there are at least 10 credible performances in this category that could get a nomination. The New York Film Critics Circle awarded Best Actor to Timonthy Spall for portraying the title character in the biopic Mr. Turner, while the National Board of Review gave that award to Michael Keaton. As beloved as Spall is, I think it is fair to point out that it seems like the win is between Michael Keaton’s career-reviving performance as the semi-psychotic actor in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne’s career-defining performance as the paralyzed genius in The Theory of Everything. Both come in much more widely seen and beloved vehicles.

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