Editor’s Note: We turn to the Best Actors of 2015 (according to AMPAS) as our journey towards Oscar completion continues.
Bryan Cranston Trumbo
Matt Damon The Martian
Leonard DiCaprio The Revenant
Michael Fassbender Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne The Danish Girl
Trivia: Four of the five nominees are playing characters inspired by real people, the three preceding winners for the category were also playing real persons.
A word first on snubs. The issue of diversity has again raised its head, with a grand total of zero black actors nominated for the second year in a row. That means no nominations for Idris Elba for his role in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B Jordan for Creed or Will Smith for Concussion – three performances all worthy of the top award.
Elsewhere, Johnny Depp was also an early favourite for his role in the gangster epic Black Mass, however his notorious reluctance to campaign ultimately made it difficult for Oscar voters to care come nomination time.
Another notable snub is Jacob Tremblay for his performance in Room. Given that the film is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (for Lenny Abrahamson) and actress (Brie Larson), it’s surprising that the Academy didn’t also recognize the film’s central performance. Had he been nominated, he would have been the youngest ever actor in the category at 9 years old.
So disappointments aside, who actually is nominated?
Top of the pile is Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Nominated three times before (and once for best supporting actor), this really does seem like it could be his year. Dicaprio plays 19th century explorer Hugh Glass, left for dead after a bear attack only to pull through and trek across the wilderness to exact revenge.
In the run up to the Oscars he has won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA and the SAG. That last award is a notoriously good predictor for the Oscars – with the SAG and the Oscar going to the same person for the last eleven consecutive years. Leo won it this year, so it’s looking promising.
So why is he such a strong contender? Well, it is a pretty outstanding performance – portraying a character who barely speaks is not easy. Plus, the academy loves it when an actor suffers for their art – and no other actor put themselves through quite as much this year than Leo. Shoving himself inside a horse carcass, shooting in freezing conditions for months on end and even eating raw bison heart.
If this were any other year, the front runner would most certainly be Eddie Redmayne, who put in fantastic work as Einar Wegener, one of the first patients to undergo gender reassignment surgery, in The Danish Girl.
In the last couple of years Redmayne has positioned himself as the go-to guy when it comes to throwing himself headlong into difficult characters. His performance last year as Stephen Hawking located the charm of the physicist without pantomiming the disability. This time out, Redmayne again occupies his character not through superficial tics, but through her female heart.
However, Redmaybe is unlikely to win this year purely on the grounds that Dicaprio has beaten him to the punch at all the other awards. Redmayne also won the Oscar last year, and win two years in a row seems unlikely – Indeed this has only happened twice before in this category, with Tom Hanks in 1994 and Spencer Tracy in 1938.
First timer Bryan Cranston is nominated for his role as Dalton Trumbo, in Trumbo, the screenwriter who refused to testify about Communists in 1950’s Hollywood. The Academy loves films about films, and Trumbo seems tailor made for the awards treatment, however the film itself is a little bit wishy-washy, with Cranston’s performance being the best thing about it. An awards magnet for his work on Breaking Bad, Cranston’s nomination here marks his successful transition to the big screen, with the charismatic actor ably filtering the nuances of a Hollywood legend through his own gruff twinkling exterior. He won’t win this year, but it isn’t likely to be his last nomination.
Michael Fassbender earns his second nomination (previously nominated for supporting work in 12 Years A Slave) is up for his role as Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. The film follows the magnate as he bickers with family and friends through three key product launches.
Although Fassbender may not look like Jobs, he more than ably captures the soul of the man who was Apple. The Academy loves a good biopic, and although it flopped on release, the film itself is an excellent example of the genre and deserves the recognition. Fassbender, who is known for his off the cuff performances notably rehearsed to excess prior to shooting and it shows on screen. The performance has won him several critics honors and, although he is unlikely to win the final award, he certainly deserves the nomination.
Finally we come to Matt Damon as Mark Watney, the astronaut who is stranded on Mars and must survive for two years with little more than a few potatoes and his own gumption.
This is Damon’s second nomination in the Best Actor category (the first being almost two decades ago for Good Will Hunting), and it’s about time. His performance in The Martian is outstanding – carrying the film for long stretches as the only person on screen is a tough job – yet Damon makes it seem effortless. Indeed, his work won him the Golden Globe for Best Actor (in a comedy), which strangely probably rules out a win here (the academy rarely awards comedy) but after Redmayne, he’s the strongest outsider.