We’re just days away from the 2015 Academy Awards. Before host Neil Patrick Harris does a little soft-shoe, belts out an opening number, and trophies are handed out to contenders from films including American Sniper, Boyhood, and Birdman, The Daily Beast’s resident film nerds Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon debate who they think will win and should win in the major categories.
In the first installment of the series, they take on the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor races. Check back throughout the week for more.
Marlow: So here we are. The 2015 Academy Awards. While I’m not very bullish on this year’s ceremony when it comes to ratings—none of the nominated films besides American Sniper made any money, and do people in the flyover states know who host Neil Patrick Harris is?—it’s still a cultural obligation of sorts (for the cineastes and starfuckers among us) to tune in. Let’s dig into the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories. For Best Actor, we’ve got Bradley Cooper for his body-modifying, understated turn as American Sniper’s Chris Kyle; the bromantic British duo of Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) as geniuses Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing; Michael Keaton’s tour de force as a washed-up ex-movie superhero trying to mount a comeback in Birdman; and Steve Carell for his haunting, make-up heavy turn as schizo aristocrat John du Pont in Foxcatcher. Whatcha thinkin’?
Kevin: Well, I presume that those flyover state people you speak of are more aware of NPH than you might think. I mean, someone had to be watching How I Met Your Mother in order to keep that show on the air for 47 years. Plus, Harris is the esteemed star of such cinematic marvels as The Smurfs and Beastly. It was only a matter of time before Oscar called. And as much as ratings are tied to the popularity of nominees—and Sniper aside, this is a very bland, un-mainstream group—it’s the razzle-dazzle of the show that appeals to viewers: the Oscar selfies, the Adele Dazeems, the speeches, musical numbers, and ritualistic bitching about how the telecast isn’t as entertaining as it used to be. That’s what I’m tuning into see.
Marlow: Oh, Adele Dazeem. John Travolta should present every year… although he will (oddly) be the star guest on Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscars show, so at least there’s something weird to look forward to.
Kevin: I’m also tuning in to see that tea-swilling beanpole Adonis Eddie Redmayne win Best Actor for his transformative work in Theory of Everything. Holy moly was Redmayne amazing in that movie. It was the most physically-taxing, intricate, emotional work done by any actor this year. Was it glaringly Oscar-baity and in a movie that falls prey to biopic cliché? Sure! But who cares? It’s still a stunning performance that lingers with you long after the credits roll. And I’m terrified that nostalgia and cronyism or the swell of support for Sniper will boost Keaton or Cooper to victory instead.
Marlow: As far as Sir Redmayne’s Adonis chops, may I direct you to this fabulous promo still for Jupiter Ascending? While Eddie Redmayne definitely has my vote for best head of hair—that untamed, sky-reaching coif holds more magical sprites than Ferngully—I’m afraid I belong to the camp that felt The Theory of Everything was a banal biopic propped up by Redmayne’s performance, and I’d already seen nearly the exact same work before in My Left Foot. While my two favorite male leading performances failed to be recognized this year—Jack O’Connell’s feral turn as an imprisoned violent young offender in Starred Up and Joaquin Phoenix’s gonzo private eye in Inherent Vice—my vote goes to the man who will always be known (to me) as Batman, Michael Keaton. He poured his entire being into the character of Riggan Thomson, crafting a highly complex portrait of an artist besieged by his own ego and the celebrity-industrial complex at large (and probably exorcised a few personal demons in the process).
Kevin: If we’re going to talk about favorites who weren’t even nominated, let’s pour one out for John Lithgow’s straightforwardly devastating work in Love Is Strange, Jack Gyllenhaal’s rabid, fully realized performance in Nightcrawler, and David Oyelowo’s stately, profound, rousing, and surprising Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. I’d venture to say that if Oyelowo had made it in, we might be having a different conversation—I think he would’ve been the biggest Redmayne spoiler, not Keaton.
Marlow: Love Is Strange was one of the most criminally overlooked movies of the year. Such a lovely film. And Oyelowo would’ve probably had my vote if the Academy got their geriatric heads out of their Casper-white asses. But, like the courageous “comeback” turns by Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), and Peter O’Toole (Venus) before him, I’m afraid Mr. Keaton will be left trophy-less on Oscar night—a bizarre twist, considering Birdman is picking up serious momentum in virtually every other category and he carries the film. I think Redmayne has this thing wrapped up in a delightfully British bow.
Kevin: From your mouth to god’s/Oprah’s ears. Though Redmayne is the one I’m rooting for, I actually think it’s Keaton who will end up winning. If I was truly bold though, I’d listen to this little voice whispering in my gut that’s saying Cooper might be the biggest surprise of Oscar night. I think the Redmayne vs. Keaton battle is more of a toss-up than we think (and one that I predict will end in Keaton’s favor). But there’s a chance that they could cancel each other out. People really, really like American Sniper. Three-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (!!!) could benefit if that’s the case.
Marlow: Cooper, odd though it may sound, probably has the most cachet within the Academy given his three nominations versus the rest of the pack, which are all first-time nominees. Plus, he’s very likable. What about Best Supporting Actor?
Kevin: Best Supporting Actor is a return to the Oscars we know and loathe: where the eventual winner was set in stone months ahead of time. This is J.K. Simmons’s award, hands down. And rightfully so! He is terrifying and captivating in Whiplash, alternating between monstrous and sympathetic and then even more monstrous with unsettling ease. Pundits keep saying, “Plus, this will be a lifetime achievement award for a beloved journeyman actor,” to bolster their certainty that Simmons will win. But I think that’s an insult to his performance. He delivers, hands down, the best work in the category. He doesn’t need traditional awards-friendly narratives to help his chances. He’s earned it on his own.
Beyond him, though, I think this category is kind of bullshit.
Marlow: I think J.K. has this one in the bag as well, and it is, like you said, a total bullshit category this year. Look, Robert Duvall is a screen legend, but The Judge was a flaming, sappy turd of a movie, and didn’t deserve any awards recognition. My favorite supporting turns are always the gonzo, go-for-broke, movie-stealing ones—James Franco’s demented rapper/drug kingpin in Spring Breakers; Samuel L. Jackson’s wise-cracking, Jheri-curled assassin in Pulp Fiction; the list goes on. Unfortunately, those ones, with the notable exception of Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for the Joker, never take home the hardware. This year, my favorite supporting turns came courtesy of Michael Fassbender for his charmingly oddball turn as the masked, muted singer in Frank, and Josh Brolin for his hilarious, marijuana-gobbling cop in Inherent Vice.
Kevin: Exactly. The nominees in this category veer from infuriating (Robert Duvall) to predictably bland performances—simply “nice” work in good films (Mark Ruffalo). Wouldn’t it be great if voters actually had fun with this category? Maybe Tyler Perry for Gone Girl. Chris Pine in Into the Woods. Or, yes, Brolin for Vice. I mean these are ridiculous pipe dreams. But dreaming is fun, and these guys all gave go-for-broke, wildly entertaining performances, just like Simmons did.
Marlow: But hey, it could go to a worse guy than J.K. Simmons, who's been busting his ass for years in this racket and will hopefully graduate from slumming it in State Farm commercials.