By Andrea Walker
The Academy Awards are just a few days away (on Feb. 22), and many of us need a refresher on who, and which films, have been nominated. We’ve already looked at Best Picture and Best Actress nominees, and even examined the snubs; today it’s time to recap the leading men in the Best Actor category.
Four of the five actors in this year’s lineup earned nominations for portraying real-life people, but truth be told, it’s not actually a five-way fight. Rather, it’s lining up to be a two-way race between Michael Keaton’s ego-vs.-id break with reality in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne’s physically stunning transformation into Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. But there’s also a sniper in the shadows who could take them both out, and his name is Bradley Cooper.
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But we’re not there yet. While the nominees practice their most gracious loser faces, we at home should celebrate their achievements one last time before the big event this Sunday.
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
If Carell was a woman, there would be more emphasis on how he ‘got ugly’ to get an Oscar nomination. That of course is just a pat minimization of any acting professional’s transformation into a difficult character (male or female), and so would it be for Carell. Known much more broadly for his excellent comedic chops, Carell submerges into the dark recesses of a messy, disturbed man, with all of the added pressure of knowing he’s not simply grasping at fiction. He offers a gripping, nuanced performance that’s rich with detail—even the way he exhales tells us something about his character.
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
American Sniper is based on the book of the same name by Chris Kyle, the “most lethal sniper” in American history. Putting aside the controversy that has surrounded the picture since before it opened, Cooper’s performance is rooted in gravity, danger and unbearable tension. And so much is happening in his face—every muscle twitch, eye flicker, bead of sweat and tear conveys a tangled and complicated web of emotion, intellect, gut instinct, bravado and fear. It’s more than we’ve ever seen from Cooper before, and if there’s any wild card who can wrench the statue from Keaton or Redmayne, it’s this one.