Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Oscar Favourites, For Now

You know that Oscar season has officially begun when TIFF starts taking over the city of Toronto, so since we're *just* on the cusp of the big Academy Award contenders being unleashed upon the world, here's who has the lead in my personal standings.  

Best Actor: Michael B. Jordan, "Fruitvale Station"
Michael B. Jordan is the Michael Jordan of The Wire's child actors.  Much is made of the Wire's fourth season (when the show made the incredibly bold decision to base its narrative around four untested adolescent actors) as the peak of that program's incredible use of young actors, and yet it all began with Wallace in the very first season.  People forget that Jordan didn't have that much screentime in that season but he's remembered to this day as a huge part of Wire mythology due to his performance…..and, to be fair, because "Where's the boy at, String?  Where's Wallace at?" was one of the most incredible moments in Wire history.

So Jordan could act then, but can he act now?  The answer is absolutely yes.  From good roles in Friday Night Lights and Chronicle to GREAT roles like this one in "Fruitvale Station," Jordan looks like the next big thing.  Oscar Grant could've easily just been played as a martyr but Jordan turns him into an actual person.  Jordan's Oscar isn't a perfect man by any stretch but that makes him a better man, if that makes sense.  He's always trying, striving.  It's a tragedy that Grant is taken at all, but especially so because he was a man who hadn't yet reached his peak.  It's a great performance that Jordan absolutely nails.  It's looking like this year's Best Actor race is shaping up as one of the most accomplished in recent memory, so if Jordan ends up NOT making the final cut for an Oscar nomination, it might not be surprising but it'l be a snub nonetheless.  And if there are five performances better than his this year, I'll eat my hat.

Honourable mention: Matthew McConaughey, "Mud"

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"
I've written before about how Blanchett is seemingly incapable of just an average performance.  She's either blow-away amazing (i.e. Notes On A Scandal, the Elizabeth movies, The Gift) or she gives the most godawful over-the-top performance you've ever seen (i.e. Benjamin Button, Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Aviator, Hanna).  Thankfully this is one of her good ones and it's necessary, since Blanchett carries what is overall a shaky premise and script from Woody Allen.  You're never quite sure if this is supposed to be comedy, drama, dramedy, whatever, and so many actresses would've gone down one road or the other with the role, while Blanchett exists in all worlds.  Whereas Oscar Grant's flaws help you see the bigger picture of the man, Jasmine is a walking flaw with glimmers of genuine humanity that make you sympathetic to her.  Blanchett doesn't take the easy route and make her a caricature.

Blanchett, of course, has an Oscar already for her dinner theatre impression of Katherine Hepburn in "The Aviator," one of the most inexplicable Academy decisions in recent years.  That just shouldn't be.  It would be fitting with Blanchett's persona that she have two Oscars --- one for a bad performance and one for a great one.  She's like the Harvey Dent of acting.  I think she's the favourite to beat at this point, though a number of well-known actresses are coming up in big roles throughout the fall.

Honourable mention: Greta Gerwig, "Frances Ha"

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"
While Blanchett spun a number of plates as Jasmine, it's actually Hawkins who might have the even more thankless role as (on paper) the 'good sister' who is seemingly just as much of a screwup.  If you can't quite relate to Jasmine's issues as the wife of a white collar criminal, Ginger's more everyday problems are perhaps easier to digest, yet it also makes it easier for an audience to theoretically just write her off as a flaky twit.  Hawkins somewhat specializes in humanizing "flaky twits," as we saw in Happy-Go-Lucky a few years ago, a performance that should've led to an Oscar already sitting on her mantlepiece.  She is totally overdue for Academy recognition and would be a great addition to list of Best Supporting Actresses in Woody Allen films.

(I will say this was a very tough call between Hawkins and Spencer, and my decision was based on which was the trickier role to pull off.  If Spencer were to be nominated and win, I would have no objections at all, it's a stomach punch of a performance.)

Honourable mention: Olivia Spencer, "Fruitvale Station"

Best Supporting Actor: Danny McBride, "This Is The End"
I'll be honest, this is one that probably won't be here on my final, end-of-the-year Oscar ballot.  That said, damn, McBride just shows up like a bolt of lightning, does Danny McBride things for the middle portion of the movie and then is out, bitches.  It's a very funny performance that I'm sure was at least 50 percent improvised and was about 65 percent what it's like being around McBride in real life.

Honourable mention: Christopher Walken, "Stand Up Guys"

Best Picture: "Mud"
This just barely gets the nod over "Fruitvale Station" and it may be unfair given what both movies are trying to do.  Obviously the point of FS is that most audiences already know Oscar Grant's story going into it, whereas the reason I enjoyed "Mud" so much is that I had no idea what direction the story would take.  I'm just a sucker for a southern gothic crime story, I guess, though calling it a "crime story" seems reductive.  Jeff Nichols' previous film, "Take Shelter," got a little too caught up in its own mythology to really work (outside of a great Michael Shannon performance) but with "Mud" firmly planted in the real world, it's a much more effective character study. 

There seems to be a real Matthew McConaughey renaissance going on, as ol' Wooderson is getting a lot of mileage out of twisted variations on his "handsome, stoned but intense southern guy" persona.  "Mud" is maybe the best example of this phenomenon though man, it's hard to tell given McConaughey's flood of solid performances.  He had three acclaimed roles in 2012 alone (in Bernie, Killer Joe and Magic Mike), he has the awesome-looking True Detective series coming up on HBO and he has two potential pieces of Oscar-bait coming up this year in "Dallas Buyers Club" (lead) and "The Wolf of Wall Street" (supporting).  McConaughey's persona is so cemented in people's minds that acknowledging him as a tremendous actor may cause a few confused blinks, but hey, it's hard to argue against this recent body of work.

Honourable Mention: Frances Ha, Fruitvale Station, The Heat, This Is The End

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