Oscars 2016: Best actor slam-dunk

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How fitting that Trumbo was the quill in my Actor in a Leading Role cap, the last nominee under my belt, and this year’s homage to Hollywood. (Although Hollywood played the antihero, as part and parcel to 1947’s congressional Commie witch hunt.)

Tragic that a movie about one of the most courageous and prodigious screenwriters in history did not itself earn a screenplay nomination. (Rewrite!)

A shame, too, that Dalton Trumbo’s stand-in won’t be taking home any Oscars next week. As much as Bryan Cranston embodied the wry stoicism of this blacklisted stand-up guy, he can’t touch my untouchable Leo. Cranston is the oldest nominee, nearly 60, but he’s the newbie in this form, with a style still suiting the small screen.

No need to belabor or overthink this category. It’s a two-horse race between Leonardo “always-the bridesmaid” DiCaprio and karma-chameleon Eddie Redmayne. It could be a photo finish, but my money’s on — and my heart’s with — Leo. 

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Eddie was fabulous; his long scene before the long mirror, spellbinding. Ultimately, though, despite The Danish Girl‘s gorgeous production design and superlative acting throughout by all, I found myself drifting, uninvolved at the end. Eddie sure can pose and emote — eventually it devolved into vogueing for me. He was technically masterful, enough that I accepted him as a woman, but Leo brought me along in a more visceral way — not just in the eviscerating scenes. I could see Eddie pulling off an upset and making history with a back-to-back Oscar win. Spencer Tracy won consecutive best actor Oscars in the late ’30s, Tom Hanks did it in the ’90s. Ought the aughts be a three-peat feat?

Speaking of three, that’s three … who else is nominated again? Will Smith? No …

Ah, yes, Matt Damon for The Martian. He was darling but not my favorite martian. One might argue he had fewer lines than Leo, but, no, astronaut Mark Watney definitely talked to himself more than frontiersman-fur trapper Hugh Glass in their parallel-universe isolation. Both left for dead and each having a special way with the blade — and grimacing. A survivalist’s showcase, but I love Leo best. He brought HEAT. No heat shield could protect me from that. I’m not down on Damon, and he hasn’t won an Oscar since his screenplay win for 1997’s Good Will Hunting. But he’s kinda the same guy film to film, if we’re to be honest. He’s got all that musculature and the wave of his arm and that clueless-stunned look. The Martian is not his vehicle to Oscar glory.

fassbender-jobsFinally, consider Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs. Wow. Unbelievable this is the 12 Years a Slave villain. He might be flying under many radars, but stand by for Fassbender 3.0.

Now I didn’t cry in Trumbo; I didn’t cry in The Danish Girl, even though I was supposed to; I let a few tears fly in The Martian, but only when the mass of humanity was applauding the sky; I did cry in The Revenant for that minute my mouth wasn’t slack-jawed, when Glass “reunites” with his half-blood son at the church ruins; but, my goodness, Fassbender’s rooftop scene with daughter Lisa, and the tape recorder bit? Puddles. Both times I saw it, his telescoping genius got me. Score. Despite an Oscar nod, Fassbender is underrated, and it’s a shame there was so much backlash about the “accuracy” of this film. A) Movies, by nature, don’t have to be accurate and B) WHY wasn’t this screenplay nominated?! It “read” like a stage play to me, with brilliant patter so much more noteworthy than what critics fawned over in The Social Network. Kate Winslet — another one I wish could win this year. I barely recognized her until halfway through! But she’s been overshadowed by Alicia Vikander, whose double-duty in The Danish Girl and Ex Machina could put her over the top, so the pundits say. But I’ll save actress predictions for another post.

Funny: I’m pulling for both DiCaprio and Winslet. A Titanic slam-dunk!

At least one will survive.

My pick and prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio

Oscars 2016: Leo’s growing pains

What creates buzz?

Lord knows critics and moviegoers aren’t lemmings. They don’t submit to a showing once browbeaten by word on the street or Internet that a movie is worth their precious time and greenback. Right?

Then again, we’re human, so a little FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) pressure must be at play. So-and-so, whose opinion I trust, says it was good. And in the run-up to the Academy Awards coronation, we dutifully do our homework (or, in my case, legwork), because Oscar wins mean nothing without having sampled the winners.

796468df-9f1c-4b1c-b6df-92bf943c29b5Unless you’re of the camp that Oscar wins mean nothing, period. Art for art’s sake. That there shouldn’t be big Hollywood players and “A list” actors at all — those who achieve such labels based on their Bank-Ability.

Glorify instead the workhorses of the industry. Noses down, sculpting art in remote places and private spaces, in a vacuum, where fame and fortune need not apply. Sewing costumes, tweaking scripts, risking hypothermia and eating raw bison liver …

Poor, poor, poor Leo. A true survivor, he is. Having survived … his entire career without an Oscar!

So let’s give it to him. He’s earned it. That’s what the buzz says. At first it was all Eddie Redmayne, his second-straight shot at the gold for inhabiting the underrepresented: the disabled genius, the transgender pioneer. A contortionist chameleon, he is. Where did he come from? Give it up for Eddie!


20160223_100635Then in the last stretch, after umpteen profile pieces, such as the one in today’s WaPo Style section, the world concedes. The ripples of praise gather into a roaring tide, and Leo is “lionized.” You must admit, photos of his innocent Growing Pains self compared with that untouchable Revenant greasy mane give off a Simba-turned-Mufasa vibe. Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba! The Oscar King. (Slaying the Redmayne — get it? red mane?!)

My eldest daughter, a proud member of the LGBT community, explains it as politics. Redmayne didn’t have the strength of the transgender community behind him, so that star faded. No matter how brilliant his acting was, he couldn’t get the votes; people are pissed, or not ready for this combination of factors, this constellation. Whereas in Leo’s case, it’s past time to acknowledge his gifts. Whether or not he went to such lengths to top himself in acting feats over a storied career, we now bow to him, as a tree bough against a biting wind.

Then we are decided? Better get on board, because it’s happening. Like Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the momentum has taken on a life of its own.

So if you want a piece of Leo, put your little checkmark by his name so you can be on the winning team. Do it, and fait accompli.

Lord knows he deserves it. Into your hands, we commend Leo’s survivalist’s spirit.

(Do you like me now? You like me! You really like me!!!)

 

Oscar picks: Best Actor

This year’s Actor in a Leading Role is the hardest category for me. The Academy often gets this one wrong, but thankfully there’s no wrong choice this year. So here goes.

The nominees

Christian Bale (American Hustle). Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout Matthew McConaughey’s transformation, but with Bale, a picture is worth 1,000 pounds. On the right is him with the 40 pounds he gained for American Hustle. At left is him a decade ago, in 2004’s cultish The Machinist.

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This Welsh-born Brit won his first Oscar for 2010’s The Fighter (supporting actor), again unrecognizable. Being a chameleon seems to be the hallmark of a great actor these days. Wasn’t Philip Seymour Hoffman among the best? Such a dichotomy that actors strive to make a name for themselves, while striving to not be recognized. Here is Bale disappearing again into his Bob Dylan persona in I’m Not There  (Bale is also a song-and-dance man from way back):

Unfortunately, we mustn’t award this Oscar based on body of work. He’s flawless, terrific  but the standout moments of Bale’s performance as grifter Irving Rosenfeld are searing and subtle and small, such as when he regrets duping his friend Camden, N.J., Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). Don’t have a clip of that, but here is Bale talking about the role — and other than the accent, his gestures and manner as Bale suddenly seem a LOT like Rosenfeld’s (trailer follows). Not sure he deserves the Oscar on this one against such a superlative field of contenders. Interesting, though, how Amy Adams’ con is being high-class British and Bale’s con with this character is being a crass American. We’ve all been hustled!

Bruce Dern (Nebraska). Folks say this is 77-year-old Dern’s last major role, so there’s the lifetime achievement aspect to consider. He has never won an Oscar, and has received only one previous nomination — for a supporting role in 1978’s Coming Home. Moreover, he admits director Alexander Payne stretched him for this role. He wasn’t simply “doing a Dernsie,” he told Rolling Stone; he was given a character to play and played it well. His walk alone is a revelation.

But is it a stretch? Does that matter? Maybe it’s enough to be cast well and directed well. I hear Ringo singing “All ya gotta do is act naturally.” … Here is a revealing (but long) interview that shows he walks and talks like that in real life, and includes the news that Gene Hackman was also considered for the role. Drat, woulda loved that.

As much as I loved Dern as wandering Woody, I must agree with him that it was Will Forte’s performance (and directing and screenplay and cinematography) that made the movie so great. Still, Academy voters may be feeling soft for papa Dern. (Robert Redford is also 77, and he carried an entire movie himself. Hmmm. For that snub alone, I may have to choose someone else.) I only wish I’d known Laura Dern had a cameo in Nebraska, near the end, before I saw it, reinforcing the family message. Onward.

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street). Oh, Leo, Leo, wherefore art thou, Leo? I’ve always been a sucker for DiCaprio’s work. This is his fourth Oscar nomination and he has never won. What?! A look at his Oscar history:

1993 (66th)
2004 (77th)
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLEThe Aviator {“Howard Hughes”}
2006 (79th)
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLEBlood Diamond {“Danny Archer”}

In Wolf, Leo is a beast in that Quaalude scene … this is physical comedy in the vein of Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis. True art: DiCaprio is like a Salvador Dali painting come to life (only the roll down the stairs is a stunt man). And he told Ellen DeGeneres that he and Jonah Hill did 70 takes of the subsequent ham scene. Talk about hams.

I have to admit, the rest of this role was not a huge departure for pretty boy Leo. He did win the Golden Globe for this role, but Americans somehow don’t take him seriously enough. Maybe a comedic turn will do the trick … or maybe we wait until he’s 77.

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Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave). Every year there’s the newcomer who steals the show. This could be Englishman Ejiofor’s year. I’ve told many people that 12 Years a Slave  struck me more as live theater than film — it was as if they were performing Shakespeare. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think Ejiofor’s regal forbearance and sense of dignity for his character is what touched me so deeply. The one languorous shot (above) in which we stare at Ejiofor’s face for a minute or more was as profound as anything I’ve seen on film.

Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club). Not only did he wow us as a cowboy with AIDS, he was hilarious as Leo’s creepy mentor in The Wolf of Wall Street.

What’s brilliant about McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is he manages to imply duality in the real-life figure — some claim Woodroof wasn’t homophobic at all, rather a closeted bisexual. McConaughey manages to leave his angry, agonized, opportunistic character open to interpretation.

It was a true labor of love for McConaughey, with no trace of the work involved (except maybe the weight loss, which is work in itself). He gets my vote.

My pick & prediction: Matthew McConaughey

(although some days I think it could go to Ejiofor or Bale. Ask me in a week, ha.)

Saving Mr. Hanks

Poor Tom Hanks. Once dubbed “the most likable guy in Hollywood,” his star is sullied by so-called Oscar snubs this year — or so the Tinseltown media are buzzing. A Los Angeles Times headline last week asked: “Is the academy over Tom Hanks?”

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Tom Hanks falls for a mermaid in “Splash” — another Everyman’s fantasy.

Save your hankies. From Saving Private Ryan to Saving Mr. Banks to (spoiler alert) getting saved by the SEALs in Captain Phillips, the charming, Southern-flavored (though he’s from California) Hanks has enjoyed a charmed career. Getting his start as a comic actor, with those signature deer-in-headlights, goofball gazes, he made a splash in Splash (1984), made it bigger in Big (1988), and then started to shed his comic veneer with Punchline that same year. His character in that film was a stand-up comedian down on his luck looking for his big break. When he reveals his tears-of-a-clown side in a famous meltdown onstage, Hanks exposed himself as a multifaceted, “serious” actor.

It didn’t take him long to command iconic roles (and million-dollar salaries): He is the astronaut who utters “Houston, we have a problem” in Apollo 13 — heroic not because he flew to the moon but because he survived as his dream to do so died. He’s the good soldier on a hellish mission to extract from the battlefield the last surviving son of one family in World War II in Saving Private Ryan, representing the best of our best, even in a killing field. He’s a 9/11 victim in 2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — and not just any victim, but one of those photographed jumping from one of the twin towers. Although his role is small, he looms large as a spiritual guide to those left to grieve and suffer.

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A waif of a Hanks in “Philadelphia.” Take that, McConaughey.

And even though he’s not nominated as best actor this year, he has already plumbed some of the territory the best actor nominees are being recognized for. In 1993, Hanks starred in one of the first mainstream movies to shed light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Philadelphia) — and shed about 30 pounds to do it. (To achieve his own dramatic weight loss as an AIDS patient 20 years later for the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey admits he consulted Hanks — while also eating little more than daily spoonfuls of pudding.)

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WILSON!

Hanks also pulled a De Niro (re: Raging Bull, a 1980 Best Picture Oscar winner) by gaining 55 pounds for Cast Away (2000) and then losing it again during filming. Besides providing catharsis for yo-yo dieters and workaholics alike in that movie, he caught the wave of Americans’ growing love affair with soccer. Not to mention spoonfuls of sugar and Type 2 diabetes.

perdition-splshHe did a sort of prequel to The Wolf of Wall Street exposing Wall Street’s festering greed in 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. I guess his Road to Perdition (2002), in which he plays a hitman whose son witnesses what he does for a living, is maybe the closest thing to Bruce Dern’s delusional dad on a road trip with his son in Nebraska. Or maybe Toy Story — they were both named “Woody.”

That Thing You Do! — which Hanks wrote, directed and starred in — has the retro vibe of American Hustle, although he’s pretty much one of the suits. As for hairpieces to compete with Christian Bale’s, pick any one of his looks from his six roles in 2012’s Cloud Atlas. All bad hair days.

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Hanks plays a karmic, cosmic chameleon in “Cloud Atlas.” And his savage, fake language seems trickier than his New England accent as Captain Phillips, or any of his faux Southern twangs.

And the 12 Years a Slave guy? Well, Hanks can’t compete, but he had some tender moments in 1999’s The Green Mile with his prisoner, that mountain of a man Michael Clarke Duncan. Together, they helped us believe in miracles.

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A glimpse of salvation in “The Green Mile.”

So it’s been there, done that for Hanks. Do you think he CARES whether the Academy no longer loves him?

Poor Hanks. So omnipresent yet so underrated.

Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter recently noted that, with this year’s Captain Phillips, Hanks has starred in seven films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar over the years:

Forrest Gump (1994)

Apollo 13 (1995)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

The Green Mile (1999)

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Of those, only Forrest Gump nabbed the Best Picture Oscar. Gump. Forrest Gump. And for only two was he singled out by the Academy for his performance with an acting nomination (Saving Private Ryan, Gump).

It’s not as if Hanks hasn’t been duly recognized by the Academy — he remains one of the few actors to win back-to-back acting Oscars, for 1993’s Philadelphia and 1994’s Gump (beating John Travolta in Pulp Fiction?!?) — but maybe the golden boy has lost some of his golden touch.

0_61_hanks_tomIt could be age-ism — the hefty role of Captain Phillips shows the realistic heft (shirtless) of a nearly 60-year-old middle-of-the-road Everyman. And now that he has joined the ranks of the nearly 26 millions diabetic Americans (7 million of whom don’t know it), you can’t say he doesn’t stay relevant.

In 1998’s You’ve Got Mail (the digital upgrade of 1993’s treacly Sleepless in Seattle), he first opened the can of worms on obsessive hours spent at the computer and online affairs, a precursor to Joaquin Phoenix’s Her fixation.

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The warm-and-fuzzy “You’ve Got Mail.”

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When it comes to roles, you never know what you’re gonna get with Hanks. But it’s likely to feel good.

As gooey love stories go, chocolate lover Forrest Gump was Hanks’ most iconic figure of all. That square of very little brain but big heart stood up for everything American: the plinth of motherhood, battle-scarred vets, persecuted dolts, AIDS victims so callously mowed down, and such fads-turned-fabric of our lives as fitness running (New Balance, made in America), smiley-face memes and the Apple computer. How could he top that marquee role with his fingers in everything? Perhaps only by playing Walt Disney, the magic king himself, in Saving Mr. Banks.

We all love Tom Hanks. Screenwriters, moviegoers, his acting peers, marriage advocates — he has one of the longest Hollywood marriages going, and to the same, original person. True story: While out promoting Saving Mr. Banks on Ellen last year he talked about wife Rita Wilson, saying: “I’m not one to suck up to an audience, but the only thing we really argue about is who loves each other more.”

Awwwwwwwww, darling. He’s still just a little boy in a big person’s body.

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BREATHE, Tom. Breathe.

In Captain Phillips, he takes on real-world piracy — terrorism, again — but he pays wondrous homage not only to the by-the-book union workers but (again) those brave men in uniform. His greatest acting moment — another Oscar-worthy meltdown, I’d say — comes when he demonstrates a type of post-traumatic stress in present tense (emphasis on TENSE). And it’s his interplay with his nurse caretaker that finally has me, anyway, looking for my hankie.

That’s when you realize that Hanks has been nothing but wingman all these years to the people he plays.

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Woody meets … Walt Disney?

Hollywood reporters have it all wrong, confusing the message with the messenger. Hanks would be the first to say it’s about story. But it’s never been about him.

The Navy SEALs, in fact, seem to have slipped into the position of Hollywood darlings lately, what with all of these salutes based on memoirs from these formerly shadowy figures: 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty and Act of Valor, and this year’s Oscar contender Lone Survivor dramatizing a debacle of a mission in Afghanistan (up for Sound Mixing).

Flaws and failures are fertile fodder for films and those who create them. So by passing over Hanks … well, I’d like to thank the Academy.

You probably did the guy a favor.