The Oscar Boys of 2013

Cate Blanchett is a strong choice for Best Actress, but the Best Actor category is full of strong contenders who all deserve to win. But one stands out.
Bruce Dern: very solid as the cranky old man in Nebraska. He captures the idiosyncracies of someone who never was the brightest light in the room or the life of the party but still commands the love of his son and a mix of emotions from others. His quirkiness and selective memory keeps the picture from going off the rails into the nostalgic or maudlin but the picture leans heavily that way. Not one of Payne’s best efforts. The ironies are far less rich than in Election, Citizen Ruth or Sideways. Dern deserves praise but probably not an Oscar.
Christian Bale: a terrific job as the off-balance scamster in American Hustler. As we might expect, it’s hard to know when he’s scamming himself as well as others and his shrewd playing of others against each other is brilliant. Still, it’s probably not quite as brilliant as the actor I’m leaning toward.
Chiwetel Ejiofor: great role, great performance in a fine, wrenching film. Ejiofor does not play the over the top Avenger or the simmering-inside Rebel, but a dignified man who finds himself in a world where dignity is denied, relentlessly. His expressions of suppressed astonishment and frustrated yearnings makes the movie a true stand out. Would that it were on the global sex traffic in women, teens mainly, that is with us now, but long ago is a bit safer and more nobel as a statement about injustice and abuse. That slight edge of safety may be enough to tilt the Oscar into other hands.
Leonardo diCaprio: here we go again. Marty Scorsese on a delerious whirlwind tour of male misogyny, depravity and greed. DiCaprio captures it brilliantly but he also lights up, like a giant billboard, the repetitious nature of Scorsese’s obsessions. Goodfellas and Casino covered this perfectly and now we have a selfish, heedless huckster who takes Wall Street by storm, makes his millions and learns nothing. A film more about addiction than greed, though that is clearly one addiction, DiCaprio is caught in a paint by numnbers tale that demands little growth or change in his character. In fact, he seems like an addict who never hits bottom and that one-note quality will probably be enough to send the Oscar elsewhere.
Matthew McConaughey: An amazing job as the womnanizing, drug-addled rodeo hanger-on who sees the light and becomes a beacon for HIV infected others, like himself. Like Bale, McConaughey sacrifices his body for the role, losing a huge amount of weight but, more than Bale, pulls out all the stops on a ride to heaven, and hell. His range is breath-taking and we are not hampered by the need to scam the viewer as well as other characters that leaves key parts of the Bale character shrouded in mystery. Like Jared Leto, my choice for Best Supporting Actor, McConaughey takes huge risks and they all pay off. He demonstrates what great acting in a powerful film is all about.
He’s my choice for Oscar, but not necessarily the Academy’s. On that: Ejiofor is strong choice for liberal sentiment, DeCaprio for career sentiment, Dern for hanging in there sentiment, and Bale, for playing the guy everyone in Hollywood’s seen over and over–the scam artist. McConaughey is then a bit of long shot for sheer brilliance in acting. My guess is the Academy will go for Ejiofor and it’s clear all five of these guys deserve it. How about an arm or a leg each?
Final Note: Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey show what great actors can do in terms of adapting themselves to challenging roles. They have become what many thought, including me, Johnny Depp would become: an actor of amazing range and depth willing to do whatever it takes to bring a role alive. Depp has drifted into playing parodies of that idea but Bale and McConaughey show us what risk and reward are all about and on a grand scale. This point is not uniquely mine: the Huff Post had an article contrasting Depp’s descent with McConaughey’s rise on 1/3/14 but I just found it today. That, though, makes two of us wishing McConaughey further success and hoping Depp can pull himself out of the dreck.