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Oscars 2015: Predicting 'Best Actor'

Jeremy Fuster |
February 20, 2015 | 3:37 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Michael Keaton is the frontrunner for Best Actor, but a strong field makes him far from a lock. (Fox Searchlight)
Michael Keaton is the frontrunner for Best Actor, but a strong field makes him far from a lock. (Fox Searchlight)
If there's one Oscar category that has been more hotly contested than any other this year, it's Best Actor. The list of contenders was so long that you could throw out the nominee list, replace it with five leading actors from other top films, and still have a tough time picking out a winner. For example, imagine if this was the nominee list:

David Oyelowo, "Selma"

Jake Gyllenhaal, "Nightcrawler"

Ralph Fiennes, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Joaquin Phoenix, "The Immigrant"

Ellar Coltrane, "Boyhood'"

That would have been quite a batch of nominees, wouldn't it? A fine mix of veterans and rising stars with a wide range of performances. Biopics, child stars, creepy sociopaths, comedic heroes and period piece antiheroes would have been the selection to choose from… yet none of these fine actors made it past the short list.

READ MORE: Oscars 2015: Predicting 'Best Director'

Instead, we have a nominee list that, while not as varied in their roles, is no less talented. Also, unlike the other acting categories, this one doesn't feel like a lock. There is a favorite, a longshot, and three other contenders that have taken turns in the dark horse role, but no one has been anointed as the destined winner the way Moore, Arquette, and Simmons have. So who's going to be called onstage Sunday for an extended acceptance speech? Here's our pick:

The Nominees

Michael Keaton, "Birdman"

Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"

Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"

Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"

Who Will Win: Michael Keaton

Who Should Win: David Oyelowo/Michael Keaton

Oyelowo getting snubbed for "Selma" is beyond baffling. He deserved the Oscar from the very first scene in which he portrayed Martin Luther King, Jr. rehearsing his Nobel Prize acceptance speech and playfully bickering with his wife over neckwear. He achieved the ultimate goal of a biopic: to see beneath the iconography of the subject and reveal the human, something that Cumberbatch failed to do when portraying Alan Turing as an insensitive, antisocial genius, basically a slightly modified Sherlock. Oyelowo's MLK, on the other hand, gave a better idea of who the civil rights leader was when he wasn't making rousing speeches, striking a balance between courageous leadership and painful vulnerability.

Still, Michael Keaton's performance as Riggan Thompson was just as excellent. He's been the front runner since "Birdman" came out last fall, and while Redmayne, Cumberbatch, and Cooper have all appeared at times to take the crown, it just keeps coming back to Keaton, the only contender who wasn't nominated for a biopic. Instead, he plays a down-on-his-luck actor wrapped in desperation and anguish, a role designed to capture the hearts and minds of the SAG members and Hollywood execs that vote for this award. But beyond that, Riggan's self-doubt over his talent and choices in life make him a character that people not involved in showbiz can relate to. What's more, that self-doubt takes shape on screen, as we hear and later see Birdman mock Riggan in his mind, trying to tear down Riggan's attempts to move on from his comic book star past. The hallucination scenes are the most surreal moments of the film, but also provide the best scenes in Keaton's career as we hear his deep Birdman voice offer sweet temptation while he flails around on screen as Riggan demanding that the voices in his head shut up.

Because of this magnificent portrayal of an original character, we believe that the Dark Knight rises again on Sunday. Again, though, the chances of an upset are strong here. Don't be too surprised if you see Eddie Redmayne come away with the win for a strong physical performance as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything."

Jeremy Fuster can be reached here or on Twitter



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