Editor’s note: This is part of a 37-part series dissecting the 86th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Nearly every day leading up to the Oscars, at least one new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. Also, every Best Picture and Best Director nominee gets its own post. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
BY MATT OF SIMPLISTIC REVIEWS
Simply put, 2013 was a banner year for actors getting out of their comfort zones. From the brilliance of Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” to the re-emergence of Bruce Dern, there hasn’t been a Best Actor list that, in my opinion, has ever been closer.
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bale has become a stalwart in the Best Actor category in recent years, and his recent work with David O. Russell has elevated his career to unseen heights. His performance in “American Hustle” as New Jersey hustler Irving Rosenfeld showcases his comedic timing, while still creating a character that is extremely complex and flawed. His scenes with both Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams also show how well he can simply play off of his fellow actors. His reactionary performance makes the film so much more. Bale also goes through another body modification playing, arguably, one of his most out of shape and homely characters, once again showing his commitment to any role he takes on. In a film full of strong performances, Bale’s stands apart from the rest as a man who, while spineless, has enough gumption and street smarts to come out a winner come the end of his “hustle.” I like Bale as a dark horse in this category.
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
This has been a year for strong performances delivered in extremely understated fashions. (Um…except for you Leo.) Bruce Dern’s performance in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” could possibly be one of the best. His character Woody Harris is such a perfect snapshot of the soft spoken, strong willed, emotionally closed off fathers that form a large portion of the spine of this country. The subtlety Dern uses to play this character is a testament to Payne’s direction, but also to Dern’s patience and control. How easy would it have been to make Woody over the top quirky and insufferable? This is an Alexander Payne film after all. Quirky kind of has a home in his films. Dern, however, does not push the envelope here. He is not a wild man or a cold man. He is just a man. A man, who has lived a long life, made some good choices, some bad mistakes, and sees the needle nearing the end of the record. His motivations, no matter how crazy they may seem, are still understandable once you meet the character. Will Forte has a great line in the film, “He just believes what people tell him;” that comment could be taken as a description of Woody’s gullibility. However, I think it may be more of a compliment to how honest of a person Woody is and how much he reflects a similar era of simple sincerity. Woody is Americana personified; a role that Dern disappears into. He may be an unlikely pick for best actor, but we may still look back and see his performance as the most real of the bunch.
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Excess has never felt so good as it did in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and with DiCaprio leading the way with his drug and orgy fueled take on Long Island broker, Jordan Belfort, it might be the performance that defines his career. DiCaprio embodies Belfort, who some consider one of the worst human beings to walk the Earth. However, Leo is able to make you love him while you should be disgusted at his social atrocities. We saw glimpses of DiCaprio’s darker side with 2012’s “Django Unchained” with his role as slave owner Calvin Candie, but his performance as Belfort in “Wolf” is the complete package. When an actor is able to portray a character that you should hate, yet you root for for nearly three hours, that is a special talent. DiCaprio likely won’t win again this year, but “Wolf” is almost a retrospective for his entire career. We’ve seen him go from likeable Jack Dawson in “Titanic” to a morally deviant Wall Street criminal in “Wolf.”
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)
Before “12 Years a Slave,” Chiwetel Ejiofor was still an actor whose name no one could pronounce. Now, he’s the talk of the town. Ejiofor delivers a stunning performance as New York musician, Solomon Northup, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery, leaving behind his wife and two children. With the help of Steve McQueen’s direction, and a strong supporting cast, Ejiofor shines in a role that could have easily been miscast by a lesser performer. The plight of Northup seems unreal as he relies on both his wits, will, while hoping that one day he will be free, and see his family again. His scenes with Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o show a man who is struggling to accept his new life while still clinging on to his old one. The fact that “Slave” is a true story makes his performance all the more heartbreaking, especially after Ejiofor’s brilliantly delivered final moment. Comparing “Slave” to “Django Unchained” would be an easy comparison considering they both point a stark light at the horrors of slavery. However, “Slave” features an uncompromising vision of the pre-antebellum South with a star-making performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Talk about a career resurgence. 2013 was the year of Mr. Rom-Com himself, Matthew McConaughey. Despite the fact that there were glimpses of greatness early in McConaughey’s career namely in “A Time To Kill” and “Frailty”, he tended to be pigeon-holed as the guy in “How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Sahara.” But he’s always has the charisma and chops to carry a film by himself. Mark his performance as Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club,” another notch in his career Renaissance belt. Woodroof, much like Jordan Belfort, is a repellent character. However, while DiCaprio played Belfort with grotesque glee, McConaughey goes the distance with emotional highs and lows that are far more nuanced. His relationship with Jared Leto’s Rayon, from the beginning to the end, is one of redemption and heartbreak. One minute you’ll hate Woodroof, the next moment he’ll be pulling on your heartstrings upon his AIDS diagnosis. What makes his performance work is, again, the fact that this is McConaughey acting to his potential. He fleshes ever inch of his character and delivers a genuine swagger tailor made for the Texas-born McConaughey.
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