Who has Oscar aura?
And the Oscar goes to. . .
Ballots for the movie industry’s annual pageant are due back for tallying Saturday. The nominees will be revealed Jan. 25 and the winners feted at the 77th annual Academy Awards show Feb. 27.
As usual, Hollywood’s publicity machine has been drumming up support for potential winners. And the 5,808 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ó as usual ó will overlook some great performances.
“Often, the academy isn’t voting for the best performance. It’s the industry declaring who’s in the club and who’s a worthy successor,” says Oscar prognosticator and Movie Awards author Tom O’Neil of goldderby.com.
The potential pool of 2005 nominees may be even more jumbled than in past years. “It’s not one of the greatest for big quality movies, so small pictures are going to dominate thoroughly, and the odds-on candidates will come from these films,” says Peter Herbst, editor in chief of Premiere magazine.
Second-tier industry and regional film society kudos have concentrated on a select batch of movies and actors, including critic favorites Ray, Sideways, Million Dollar Baby, Hotel Rwanda and The Aviator. Yet except for Baby, Aviator and Ray, most are relatively low-budget films seen by few moviegoers.
Muddling the selection process: Some acting categories appear overstocked with Oscar-worthy performances. “I wouldn’t want to come up with five nominees for best actor this year,” says People magazine film critic Leah Rozen. “This year, you could come up with 20 names. They’re all that good. You can overdose on all the good male performances.”
Surefire nominees are less certain for best actress and best supporting actress. “It wasn’t a terribly strong year,” says National Public Radio film critic Peter Rainer. “In general, better roles are written for men, so there are few standout roles for actresses and fewer standout performances.”
So which actors and actresses are worthy of attention but long shots to be nominated? We asked several film critics and industry watchers for their favorite acting performances of the year that they hope won’t be forgotten on nomination day.
For actor, don’t forget
Kevin Bacon – The Woodsman, now in theaters
As an ex-con pedophile struggling to get on with life, Bacon pulls off a “finely tuned, bold performance,” says Mark Harris, Entertainment Weekly editor at large. The film’s late December rollout will hurt Bacon’s chances.
“You have to wonder if (distributor Newmarket Films) made a mistake opening it in such a crowded season,” he says.
Gael GarcÌa Bernal – Bad Education, in limited release, on DVD
Convincing in multiple roles, Bernal “was brilliant; one of the great acting performances of the year,” says Premiere’s Peter Herbst, who also cites Bernal’s performance in 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries.
Bernal probably will be overshadowed by Spanish-speaking rival Javier Bardem. “It’s a double tragedy because (Bernal) gave two showcase turns,” Oscar watcher Tom O’Neil says. “But if any Spanish heartthrob is going to get it, it will be Javier, because he has the cool factor.”
Jeff Bridges – The Door in the Floor, on DVD
Bridges’ portrayal of a boozing, philandering children’s book author “is one of the smart comedic performances of the year,” People’s Leah Rozen says. “He’s a very long shot. The movie came out too early and didn’t do well, so it’s going to get lost.”
Billy Crudup – Stage Beauty, on DVD March 8
His turn as Shakespearean-era actor Ned Kynaston was largely unnoticed and the film quickly forgotten. “He did an astonishing job in a very multi-dimensional role,” says Stephen Farber, film critic for Movieline’s Hollywood Life. “It’s a shame he’ll be overlooked.”
Mark Wahlberg – I Heart Huckabees, on DVD Feb. 22
The oddball David O. Russell comedy was hurt by poor reviews and a paltry $12.6 million box office. But Wahlberg, cast as firefighter Tommy Corn, gives “the most unexpectedly terrific performance this year,” GQ film critic Tom Carson says. “He’s absolutely sharp and seems to know exactly what he’s doing, which makes him the exception in this movie.”
Actresses who are deserving
Lynn Collins – The Merchant of Venice, in theaters
In the latest adaptation of the Shakespeare play, Collins’ portrayal of Portia “was striking and commanding,” Farber says. “When she impersonates a male lawyer, she seemed to become a completely different character. You’re seeing two performances by the same actress.”
Julie Delpy – Before Sunset, on DVD
Although Delpy received a screenwriting credit, it’s unclear how much of her monologues with Ethan Hawke were improvised and what was based on the script. “A pretty amazing performance that will likely be penalized because she made it look too easy,” Harris says.
Catalina Sandino Moreno – Maria Full of Grace, on DVD
Playing a desperate Colombian drug runner, Moreno delivers “a beautiful, radiant, heartbreaking performance,” People’s Rozen says. Says Us Weekly movie editor B.J. Sigesmund; “She’s so good, you can’t believe it’s acting. She made you feel like you were watching a documentary.”
Julia Roberts – Closer, in theaters
The Mike Nichols ensemble film about relationships and adultery showcased Roberts in “as strong a performance as she has ever given,” Harris says. But he says Roberts will be overlooked: “There’s a tendency on the part of voters to punish women who play cool-headed and own their sexuality.”
Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, on DVD
Charlie Kaufman’s comedy-drama showcased an underrated effort after her equally standout performance in Finding Neverland.
In Sunshine, “Winslet gives Jim Carrey so much stuff to react to,” Carson says.
Worthy supporting actresses
Julie Christie – Finding Neverland, in theaters
Christie’s appearance as Kate Winslet’s mother may be too brief to muster Oscar consideration. But she’s “awfully good,” NPR’s Peter Rainer says. “In a few deft strokes, she really brings a character to life ó it’s a marvelous piece of acting.”
Regina King – Ray, in theaters, on DVD Feb. 1
As Ray Charles’ girlfriend Margie Hendricks, King, perhaps best known for 1996’s Jerry Maguire, “brought fired hurt to her role,” Rozen says. “Any movie she’s in, she just lights up the screen.”
Sophie Okonedo – Hotel Rwanda, in theaters
Building upon 2003’s Dirty Pretty Things, Okonedo shines as Cheadle’s beleaguered wife, Tatiana. Okonedo showed “grace, courage and quiet determination,” Puig says. “A great performance,” Herbst says.
Lynn Redgrave – Kinsey, in theaters
Her appearance as a lesbian grateful for sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s research lasts only about five minutes. Still, “It’s a goose-bump scene that hits like a thunderbolt,” O’Neil says.
Sharon Warren – Ray, in theaters, on DVD Feb. 1
Warren’s turn as Ray Charles’ mother “was awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching,” says Larsuel of 3blackchicks.com. EW’s Harris agrees but says Warren, in her first film, will be hurt because she’s a Hollywood unknown: “To vote for her, academy members have to make the effort to find out who she is.”
Supporting actors worth notice
Eric Bana – Troy, on DVD
Brad Pitt had a far higher profile, but Bana, perhaps best known as The Hulk, gave a moving performance as Hector. “He’s been waiting to break out for about five years,” Us Weekly movie editor B.J. Sigesmund says. “Pitt was ham-fisted, but Bana was fantastic.”
David Carradine – Kill Bill: Vol. 2, on DVD
As Bill the Snake Charmer, Carradine, best known for ’70s cult TV show Kung Fu, is perfectly cast by Quentin Tarantino. “This is a Tarantino specialty ó find someone who hasn’t done anything (big) in years,” GQ’s Carson says. “The problem is the idea that giving anyone from a Kill Bill movie a nomination is impossible.”
Freddie Highmore – Finding Neverland, in theaters
As Johnny Depp’s foil, the dimple-faced 12-year-old gives a charming, heartfelt performance, O’Neil says. Depp was so impressed that he asked director Tim Burton to cast Highmore in his next film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
John Lithgow – Kinsey, in theaters
As Alfred Kinsey’s fanatical minister/father, Lithgow’s revelations about his own sex life are powerful and revealing, but his appearance may be too brief for recognition. Says USA TODAY senior film critic Mike Clark: “There have been supporting performers who have won Oscars with amazingly small roles. But brevity can hurt, and I think that’s the case here. If Lithgow had had just one or two more major scenes, it might have made the difference because he really humanizes the kind of rigid personality it’s easy to caricature.”
Tony Leung Chiu Wai – Hero, on DVD
As the protector of a warlord facing assassins in ninth-century China, Wai, a former TV comedy star in Hong Kong, is “absolutely amazing in a film completely underrated by American audiences,” Kamal Larsuel of 3blackchicks.com says.
Who has Oscar aura?