AND THE WINNER IS…
Inside the Tightest Oscar Races: The Fighter, the Artist, and the Killer
In honor of the 88th Academy Awards, airing Feb. 28, The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon and Marlow Stern break down the two closest races for the gold. There will be tears.
Kevin: Now that we’ve finished revisiting the ghosts of Oscars past—the best and worst moments in Academy Awards history—let’s talk the ghost-white of Oscar present. (Twenty acting nominees. Twenty white people. Utter nonsense.) For the first time there’s actually something to talk about when it comes to the acting races, particularly in the supporting categories where there’s a modicum of excitement as to who will win and we aren’t sitting there filing our nails waiting for Patricia Arquette to accept her 200th award of the season. But before we debate the frontrunner status of Alicia Vikander or Sylvester Stallone, should we pour one out for the performances that got snubbed?
Marlow: Yes, please! Although, lack of anticipatory excitement aside, I’m glad Alabama—I mean, Patricia Arquette—took home the Oscar for Boyhood. It was well-deserved, and gave us not only a badass acceptance speech tackling the gender gap in Hollywood, but also this glorious reaction shot:
In the Best Supporting Actor category, I would’ve liked to see several actors get nominated. The best performance in any category in 2015, in my opinion, was Paul Dano’s as Brian Wilson in the innovative biopic Love & Mercy. Dano brilliantly articulated the artistic process, capturing the mania and flashes of genius that go into creating a towering work of art like Pet Sounds. And speaking of mad geniuses, Jason Segel’s turn as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour was worthy of more consideration, too. From his cheeky monologue about his appreciation for Alanis Morissette to his perpetual wariness of his profiler, Segel fully transformed into Wallace, embodying his rebellious spirit and searing wit.
Kevin: Jason Segel was so good in The End of the Tour. He was the one I was holding my rosary beads for when they announced the nominations at that godforsaken morning hour last month. I was also up to see if the reigning World’s Most Adorable Child Star, Room’s preternaturally talented Jacob Tremblay, was going to get in for his performance, a turn so riveting from a performer so young that I’ve spent every waking moment since seeing it in a cloud of depression that I will never be as skilled at anything as this little buddy already is at acting.
Marlow: Tremblay was a revelation. And as for the awards’ overwhelming whiteness, Idris Elba was terrifying as Beasts of No Nation’s Commandant, a West African warlord molding innocent children into killing machines. How this performance was overlooked is beyond me, though part of it may be the Academy’s reluctance to embrace a disruptive force like Netflix. Meanwhile, newcomer Jason Mitchell’s tender portrayal of Eazy-E served as the heart and soul of the overlooked N.W.A flick Straight Outta Compton. The scene depicting Eazy succumbing to AIDS is absolutely devastating.
Kevin: Idris Elba should be winning this category. The Academy just signed itself up for an eternity of finger-wagging for this mistake. As for the ladies, even though I know it was never going to happen because the Academy is made up of a battalion of fools with no imagination, Rose Byrne gave the best supporting performance of the year in my opinion with her fabulously crude work in Spy. I’d give a toast to it but I’m afraid she’d call it “stupid fucking retarded.” (Just kidding. In my nicest dreams Rose Byrne says those words to me.) On the opposite side of the spectrum, no performance gutted me in quite the way Cynthia Nixon’s did in James White, a film that was too small for even a performance that powerful to sneak through.
Marlow: Agreed on both counts. Byrne’s campy turn as the accented villainess Rayna Boyanov was delicious, and cracked me up more than any other supporting performance this year, while Nixon imbued her cancer-stricken character with grace and fortitude. For me, Kristen Stewart cemented her status as one of our finest young actors in Clouds of Sils Maria. There’s a reason why she became the first American actress to win the Cesar—France’s Oscar. It’s an engrossing cinematic tête-à-tête between Juliette Binoche’s fading actress and Stewart’s manic assistant, with KStew blowing Binoche off the screen (words rarely spoken), all loose nerve endings and raw emotion.
Kevin: I would have loved nothing more than the middle finger to the blogosphere that would’ve been the words “Oscar nominee Kristen Stewart”—especially since she so richly deserves it.
Marlow: She’s an excellent actor. It’s amazing how one franchise has so negatively colored her career given the massive body of work she’s amassed before and after, from Panic Room and Into the Wild to Adventureland and Still Alice. Also, I couldn’t take my eyes off Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Again, it’s rare to see an actor prove more magnetic than the force of nature that is The Cruise onscreen, but Ferguson did just that. If we’re talking nominees, Alicia Vikander’s android Ava in Ex Machina is a far more memorable character—and performance—than that in The Danish Girl, and in service of a film we’ll actually be discussing five years from now, too.
Kevin: That’s the reason Vikander will *probably* win on Sunday night. It’s one of those “you were good in two movies this year, good on you!” trophies. To her credit, she was also superb in The Danish Girl, giving a performance just magnetic and surprising enough to buoy an otherwise ghastly, tone-deaf attempt to make the tragic, essential story of a transgender trailblazer into a whimsical, feel-good biopic. To her discredit: The film is unforgivably bad and offensively Oscar-bait-y. She’s also so very clearly a lead in the film—something that traditionally helps supporting nominees, but with so much groaning over the ridiculous practice this year, could actually backfire. To my money, that makes Kate Winslet the dark horse spoiler for doing miraculous things with Aaron Sorkin’s tricky dialogue and, for the first time, making me understand what the overblown Kate Winslet hype is actually all about.
Marlow: Whoa there! While Winslet has been prone to groan-worthy bouts of overacting (see: Titanic, The Reader, Revolutionary Road), she’s been revelatory in lesser-seen roles like Heavenly Creatures, Sense and Sensibility, and of course, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I’d argue that her live-wire turn as Clementine is one of the best female performances of the aughts. But I think Vikander has this in the bag for the twofer reason you mentioned. The nominee I’d personally like to see win the most is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who’s wowed us for years and is a ferocious beast in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. She makes the boys, which include a couple of badasses by the names of Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell, seem positively tame by comparison. How about the fellas? It seems the steroidal Sly has this one locked up, no?
Kevin: Ah, Sylvester Stallone was this hulking teddy bear of greatness in Creed, and the safe bet is that he’ll win on Sunday night. But the fact that he didn’t receive a SAG nod for the performance suggests that the actors—the branch with the most voters in the Academy—weren’t as keen on his performance as anyone with a heart and taste was. I think Christian Bale could make a run for the trophy for his performance in the The Big Short. It’s one of those very character-y turns that voters seem to love—as stylized, showy, and, ultimately, controlled by intelligence as the film was. There are mumblings that Mark Rylance has a shot, too, for Bridge of Spies. But as much as I found him adorable in the spy flick, a) how bizarre to use the words “adorable” and “spy flick” in the same sentence and b) does anyone even remember that Bridge of Spies is a movie?
Marlow: Bridge of Spies was a handsome snooze, in my opinion; a film you catch on a transcontinental flight when all other options have been exhausted. And while Bale is absolutely electric in The Big Short—glass eye, drum solos, and all—he goes completely MIA for the final 45 minutes of the picture, and it suffers for it. Like the characters he portrays onscreen, the public has underestimated Sly for years. If you took a random poll of people, most wouldn’t know that he wrote the original Rocky, or caught his against-type portrait of a dumpy sheriff in Cop Land. He’ll win for his numerous contributions to cinema over the course of his 40-plus-year career, but if it were my choice, I’d give it to Tom Hardy for his cold, mercenary killer in The Revenant. Yes, I’m annoyed by all the attention The Revenant is getting this year—it does not deserve Best Picture or Best Director by any stretch of the imagination—but here, Hardy shows us the black, beating heart of capitalist greed and colonialist corruption. And boy, is it ugly.