They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Best Actor and Director: Birdman Bellwethers?

By J. Don Birnam

February 18, 2015

You see, my life is really... complex.

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Has Eddie Redmayne pulled away for Best Actor, or will Michael Keaton squeak through? Will the Academy reward Richard Linklater for his 12-year labor of love, or go for the auteur visionary and award Best Director to Alejandro González Iñárritu? And, is there room for a dark horse spoiler to upset either race? These are some of the questions occupying the minds of Oscar watchers, when we’re not obsessing over the confounding Best Picture year.

Best Actor

Obtaining a nomination in this category was, for the second year in a row, extremely competitive, as male-dominated films once more led the charge during awards season. Many worthy contenders didn’t make it, including Jake Gyllenhaal’s chilling portrayal of a sociopath in Nightcrawler, and what was, in my opinion, the best performance by an actor this year, David Oyelowo in Selma. But while last year the race was decided after the nominations were announced, with Matthew McConnaughey the unchallenged favorite, this year the race has provided the lone intriguing question among the acting races.

Let’s get rid of the two that are unquestionably out of contention. First, discard Steve Carell, who I believe gives the best performance of the five. The other performances come from Best Picture favorites, and Carell has no accolades this season so far. I was glad to see him recognized (comedic actors turned serious are gaining traction here) but he will not win. Second, say goodbye to the versatile Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the troubled genius Alan Turing. Benedict will surely earn more nods - his work is diverse and non-ending - but this is not the nomination that is going to get it for him. Cumberbatch has been missing from the awards and campaign circuit, occupied with other affairs in London. If he couldn’t even pull out a win at British-heavy BAFTA, you know he has no chance at the Oscars.


The two that have led the charge so far are Eddie Redmayne for his moving portrayal of the afflicted genius Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton for his career-reviving role as the struggling actor of superhero fame in Birdman. Bradley Cooper is the other nominee with a chance for a win thanks to his lauded portrayal of war veteran Chris Kyle in American Sniper. Let’s set aside Cooper for a second and focus on the two leading the race.

The lead has changed a few times: Redmayne seemed the obvious choice at first, given the showiness of the performance. But, after his Globes speech, Keaton seemed to pull ahead. Then, Redmayne won the SAG and the BAFTA, and now he is in the lead. Let’s analyze this. Redmayne also won a Globe (for drama), and it is extremely rare to win the Globe/SAG/BAFTA trifecta and lose. That said, BAFTA was obviously going to go to local kid Redmayne as the American-centric Birdman clearly did not resonate there. And SAG wins can be fickle friends. Just ask Viola Davis or Mickey Rourke, both of whom won SAG only to lose the Oscar (to past winners, no less). Nor is BAFTA a great acting bellwether, if you ask me - just last year Chiwetel Ejiofor took the prize for 12 Years a Slave, only to lose to McConaughey on Oscar night.

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