2014 Oscar Power Rankings: Best Actor (Oct. 21)
With all due respect to ‘The Fifth Estate,’ the only real Oscar contender to open in theaters last weekend (in limited release) was Steve McQueen’s uncompromising, emotional '12 Years a Slave.’ Now that audiences are starting to gain access to this visceral commentary on American slavery, you can begin to understand why it is carving out a place on the top of several of our charts.
Over the past few weeks, though, more contenders have reached theaters, from ‘Captain Phillips’ to ‘Gravity’ and ‘All Is Lost.’ Have the charts changed? Are the shifts drastic? Let’s catch up on the latest frontrunners in our major Oscar categories.
You’ve heard this story before. Handsome A-lister drastically changes his or her appearance, catching Oscar’s eye and earning a trophy for the mantle piece. But McConaughey pulls no punches in portraying Ron Woodroof, a hard-drinking, blue-collar Texan disagnosed with HIV in the mid-1980s. The affable McConaughey has been knocking at the Academy’s door for years now, shedding his Golden Boy image and getting dirty for roles in movies like ‘Magic Mike,’ ‘Mud,’ ‘Killer Joe’ and ‘Bernie.’ This is the year Oscar opens the door and let’s McConaughey in.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ twice now, and I can honestly say that Ejiofor’s performance as a free man stripped of everything gains such nuance and heartbreak repeat viewing. Not that you should be shocked. The actor has been turning in fascinating performances ever since Stephen Frears’ 2002 thriller ‘Dirty Pretty Things.’ In McQueen’s masterful film, Ejifor is compassionate, resilient, steadfast and true in his portrayal of a man tested by fate. He seems like a lock for a Best Actor nomination.
Paul Greengrass’ true-life account of the heroic Captain Phillips (Hanks) and his fight to survive against Somali pirates is experiencing a bit of Oscar blowback. Sailors from Phillips’ actual crew are suing Maersk, claiming the on-screen hero actually put their lives in danger with his real-life decisions. Mild smear, or significant bump in Hanks’ Oscar campaign? Time will tell, but I predict he’ll weather the storm and ride critical raves to another nomination.
‘All Is Lost’ is like Robert Redford’s ‘Cast Away.’ The veteran actor plays an unnamed sailor embarking on a voyage in the Indian Ocean whose ship is damaged. Instead of turning back, the man sails straight on into a pending storm, staring down his own mortality. The methodical (and quietly brilliant) movie boils down to Redford vs. Mother Nature, with very little for us to look at beyond the Oscar winner’s endless expressions. But it works, and Redford likely will sail into the Best Actor race for only the second time in his career … and the first since 1973’s ‘The Sting.’
Does Forest Whitaker give an awards-worthy performance as the title character in ‘The Butler’? Yes. Has the movie earned the required box office to stay in the Oscar discussion? Yes. (It crossed the $100-million mark this past weekend.) So why does Whitaker feel like the most vulnerable of my five picks at the moment? Because his movie came out so early, taking advantage of what’s currently known as the end-of-summer ‘The Help’ slot. The Weinstein Company will have to work very hard to keep Whitaker in the discussion for the next few months, as several other performances clamor for Oscar’s attention. The good news is that few are better at campaigning than the Weinsteins. But there’s a lot of race left to run, and we’ll see if Whitaker’s still there when the dust settles.