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

Quiet on the set! for ‘All Is Lost’

One-man and one-woman shows are at home on Broadway and other stages. They’re easy to produce, if not so easy on the actors wielding those 90-minute monologues. But in the movies? One cast member? That’s crazy minimalist for such a dilatant art form.

I won’t officially review All Is Lost — who can top this New York Times treatment, anyway. What he said.

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Thar she blows, just one lonely credit drifting by …

The J.C. Chandor-directed movie is not quite The Old Man and the Sea nor Life of Pi — it’s Robert Redford in a boat hell-bent on self-destruction, proving that he who ends up with the most toys does not necessarily win. Still, amid the deep thematic undertow of this telescopic tale, I had to laugh at the end when the single cast credit rolled. Not often does one see that.

It got me thinking: What other movies dare deal in lone-wolf casting?

Certainly not 1958’s The Old Man and the Sea, which starred Spencer Tracy, a feisty marlin and about 12 bit players including Ernest Hemingway himself (cameo as a tourist ) and his fourth wife (and widow), Mary. Tracy did get an Oscar nomination for his sea crusade, which is more than I can say for Our Man Redford, at age 77 snubbed even worse than Tom Hanks was this year. How many more commanding roles dooyaspose Redford has left in him? He even has to sit idly by while Leo’s The Great Gatsby gets … oh, never mind. That remake nabbed only two nominations, for costume design and production design (the original won for costume design). So as Gatsby the Great, Leo got snubbed just as badly as Redford 40 years ago.

Old man indeed. Tracy’s Old Man was also nominated for best color cinematography (in those days the Academy once broke it down into color and black-and-white — so sorry, Nebraska). It clinched a lone Oscar for score, because in a movie with few other frills, music helps provide much of the thrills.

I never would have dialed up the fatalist feature All Is Lost On Demand if it weren’t for its solo Oscar nomination, for sound editing. I’m soooo glad I did, though. If you want to truly understand what sound editing is all about, plunge into this film.

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Redford had five able-bodied stuntmen standing in for him, but he proved he’s still a pretty able body at 77.

There’s hardly any dialogue. What Redford elicits with his sage, rugged face is a thrumming inner monologue.The lapping waves against the boat’s hull. His fidgeting with ropes and jibs. The rustling of plastic bags, sloshing of water, flapping of the sails, grunts and sighs, probably all of it overlaid in post-production to mask Chandor’s direction. Save for the opening voice-over narration, Redford’s voice isn’t heard until 20 minutes in — an SOS call. And then not again until 1:10, a one-word line beginning with “F.” It’s a wordless wonder, masterfully mixed.

The soundtrack, though, is nothing to write home about —a morose Jaws-tinged theme. But that mix. As shipshape as Redford.

What an achievement. A movie dare that defies formula. The Academy is just getting it all wrong lately.

I asked my friend and movie animal Jon Briggs, another man of few words (spoken, anyway), what other movies have featured just one cast member. I hesitate to say it — because he faithfully reads my blog (when I nudge him) — but the man is a genius. How it went down:

Me: “Hey, Jon, can you think of any movies with just one cast member in them besides Robert Redford’s All Is Lost?”

Jon: “You gonna credit me again in your blog?”

Me: “Mebbe.”

Jon (looking ceiling-ward to activate data sensors, eyes flashing, 20 seconds later): “I think there’s Secret Honor, with that one guy I always get mixed up with Philip Seymour Hoffman [because he goes by three names, starts with Philip, has a face]. … Yeah, I think it was just the one guy. But I never saw it.”

Who does that? Remembers details of a film they’ve never seen? But he’s right, it was Philip Baker Hall, doing a “fictional meditation” of Richard Nixon in a 1984 Robert Altman film. How’d I miss that!? It did win one award: the FIPRESCI Prize from the Forum of New Cinema. Hey, isn’t the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences supposed to represent the arts? Where’s the art? Where’s the science?

Jon’s answer for everything: “I vote for The Counselor.” Not nominated.

But now, in the midst of my Oscar-nominated marathon, I am sidetracked to see Secret Honor. The whole 90-minute shebang is on Hulu, courtesy of The Criterion Collection (part of Jon’s bucket list, and why he hasn’t gotten to it yet — it’s down in the S’s).

Or, SPOILER ALERT, if you’d rather just watch the final scene:

(For other posts featuring Jon Briggs, see:)

Oscar’s snub of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ resurrected (mommytongue.com)

Moonlighting at the movies (mommytongue.com)

Goodbye, Mr. Chipmunk: Pick the best rodent flick (mommytongue.com)