A stronger field than the Best Actor category this year, this is where the real talent is. Yes, even Sylvester Stallone deserves his place, just. Predictions for the ceremony tonight, are at the end and I’m bound to get every one of them wrong. This isn’t Eurovision, I’m not that good.
CHRISTIAN BALE – “The Big Short”
Loved this film, and Bale is great, very funny, very intense (as usual) and perfectly cast. I did think Steve Carrell was better, though, and should have got the nod ahead of Bale, but I’m just being picky. Bale plays the fictionalised version of Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager who, in 2005, realises that the US housing market is a bit screwed, and predicts a collapse a few years hence. In the meantime, he begins betting against the market in preparation for a meltdown which nobody else seems aware of. A few others get wind of this and start doing the same (called “shorting”) until, eventually, financial armageddon arrives. It’s a complicated subject made very watchable by a fabulous script, hilarious performances and a style all of its own. Bale has a very good chance of winning, but I think Mark Rylance will shade it.
9/10 – Essential viewing
SYLVESTER STALLONE – “Creed”
The seventh instalment of the Rocky series, Creed follows a familiar story of up and coming boxer joining forces with older mentor to take a shot at a world boxing crown. Michael B Jordan (Friday Night Lights, The Wire) is Donnie Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, enduring a rough life on the street before Creed’s widow takes him in to save him from a life of crime. But to her horror, Donnie wants to be a boxer, and he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, obviously) to help mentor him. Balboa is reluctant to get back into the game and also discovers he has cancer, just like his late wife, so he has his own demons to face. It’s cliche-101, but satisfyingly so. All performances are great, but I’m not sure if Stallone’s nod for Best Supporting Actor wasn’t due in part to nostalgia and sentiment on the part of the Academy. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this, but it did sweep me along and you can’t beat Stallone just being Stallone.
7.5/10 – Heavyweight entertainment
MARK RUFFALO – “Spotlight”
I’m a big Ruffalo fan, and he was easily the best thing in Spotlight. Being an ensemble piece, this is why he was probably only given a supporting nod, not the main one, as there wasn’t really a main character in this film, not even Michael Keaton as the editor. Ruffalo is always watchable, even when he’s not saying anything, but the main reason he deserves this nomination is because he’s the only actor in the film who really gets emotional about anything that’s happening. I think a voice was raised one time during the film, despite the disturbing subject matter, and that voice was Ruffalo’s when his investigative journalist character gets a tad frustrated at all the covering up going on in the Catholic Church. I thought the film itself a little dour, but Ruffalo was a highlight. He’ll definitely get an Academy Award one day, but if he does, I hope it’s for a better film than this.
8/10 – Worth his own spotlight
TOM HARDY – “The Revenant”
Well there’s no point rehashing why The Revenant didn’t float my boat, but Tom Hardy was one of the brighter lights as nasty old Fitzgerald, who tries to kill the injured Hugo Glass, then abandons him to the elements anyway. It’s impossible to decipher all of Fitzgerald’s dialogue – whether this was Hardy’s poor execution of the particular dialect he was attempting, or a completely accurate, Method-style triumph, I’ve no idea – but phonetics aside, he still manages to convey evil and general bastard-ness a million times better than Leonardo DiCaprio does anything. Hardy was definitely the more watchable of the two, even though they’re not on screen together for much of the film. If The Revenant does as well as everyone reckons it’s going to, then Hardy winning could be the surprise of the night.
7/10 – It might be a bear necessity for him to win
MARK RYLANCE – “Bridge Of Spies”
The British know that Mark Rylance has been around for centuries, but the Americans are only just recognising his face. That’s because he’s primarily a stage actor, mostly Shakespeare (he was Artistic Director of The Globe for ten years, for goodness’ sake…) with only a handful of films on his CV, including the very controversial “Intimacy” in 2001. Thanks to his silent, and literally statuesque, performance in Wolf Hall, however, he’s now hot property in Hollywood.
In Bridge Of Spies he plays Rudolf Abel, the English-born Soviet spy defended in court by James Donovan (Tom Hanks). Convicted and jailed, Abel is then used by Donovan, years later, as a bargaining chip to secure the release of US pilot Gary Powers, who has been shot down over the Soviet Union and captured.
We mostly see Abel at the beginning and end of the film as suits his character’s purpose but, just as in Wolf Hall, Rylance is incredibly watchable, even if he is just “being Mark Rylance”. That is, he doesn’t say a lot, he stares into the distance with disturbing regularity and, when he does speak, it’s with an understated theatricality which betrays his stage roots but nevertheless leaves us wanting more.
His accent veers from Scottish, to English, back to Scottish again, and I still can’t decide if this is deliberate, to hammer home the fact that Abel is a chameleon (he used several aliases during his life – his real name was Fisher), or it’s a genuine mess-up which slipped through filming because Americans just can’t tell the difference anyway.
That aside, his scenes with Hanks, during which their characters develop what could almost be described as a friendship, are truly touching, and it would have been nice to see a bit more of that (in retrospect, I’m thinking that this relationship was the better story?). If you like a bet, Rylance is a decent shout to win. The only thing counting against him is that most Academy voters still won’t know who he is, and they don’t like voting for people they’ve never had lunch with.
9/10 – Doesn’t put a foot wrong
What “Should” Win
Best Picture: The Big Short
Best Actor: Bryan Cranston
Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara
What Will “Probably” Win:
Best Picture: The Revenant
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio
Best Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara