We thought it, and now we know it for sure: This was one of the most remarkable years ever for lead male performances, and some of the best went unrecognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They include:
Onetime “lock” (ha-ha) Robert Redford in All is Lost; Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station; Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips; Forrest Whitaker in Lee Daniels’s The Butler; Oscar Isaac — criminally, as part of Inside Llewyn Davis’s anti-sweep; the best performance of the year, Joaquin Phoenix in Her.
Any of those actors — any of them — could have taken the top prize from Jean DuJardin in The Artist. And they’re not even nominated.
If there’s any better reason for discounting acting prizes, I can’t think of one.
Who shouldn’t be there? No one! Christian Bale isn’t convincing for a second in American Hustle, but he’s a treat anyway, and there’s something delightful about all four members of that choice ensemble being recognized together. I wouldn’t have picked DiCaprio, but he’s all in, and the Academy evidently digs The Wolf more than many people predicted. (Why else nominate that shameless overactor Jonah Hill and his fake choppers?) My hunch is Dern will take it, though McConaughey has the advantage of having once been (unfairly) regarded as a joke. Comeback stories are hard to resist.
More surprises: Amy Adams sneaks in ahead of Emma Thompson! Well, well. Thompson is a bright and talented actress, but her performance didn’t have a single surprising note. Still, it was such Oscar bait. I guessed the Academy would finally snub Meryl for her honking, drug-addled, fright-bewigged gargoyle, but acting that flamboyantly bad can’t be ignored. My heartthrob Brie Larson didn’t have a chance, I guess. The movie was too small and she didn’t look like she was acting.
Cate Blanchett will win anyway, alas, for playing Blanche DuBois Madoff. Of course, Tennessee Williams adored and identified with Blanche; Woody Allen loathes Jasmine and humiliates her at every turn. Which Academy voters love. Give it to Amy!
I didn’t expect Sally Hawkins — who wasn’t nominated for one of my favorite performances of the last ten years, Happy Go Lucky — to get a nod, but what’s good for Sally is great for anyone who loves acting. Funny about Julia Roberts, the straight-up lead in August: Osage County, with probably more screen time than the other four nominees combined. She was good, though. If she’d done the part onstage you wouldn’t have heard her past the second row, but she killed it onscreen. Lupita N’yongo will probably win it, but my heart belongs to Jennifer Lawrence swinging her ringlets to Live and Let Die.
I share the Academy’s evident lack of enthusiasm for Inside Llewyn Davis, but given all the critics’ prizes and a nod from the Big Dog, A.O. Scott, I thought it would be a lock for picture, director, and screenwriting nods. But Alexander Payne overtakes!
So the Coens are shut out. Enough Said wasn’t recognized, sadly. Saving Mr. Banks got dissed, happily.
The biggest question: Gravity and American Hustle received the most nominations, but will that two-film race even be a factor? If 12 Years a Slave stirs the hearts of Academy voters (remember, they don’t pick the film they think is best, they pick the film they think will best represent them) and Lupita N’yongo wins for Best Supporting Actress, it’s conceivable that neither of those movies will win a prize in a major category. And then 2013 will end up one of the weirder-ass years for Oscar.