Thursday, January 16, 2014

In Character: Oscar Nominees Edition

For a nice change of pace to my weekly In Character column, I thought it’d be fun to look at the careers of this year’s Oscar nominees, so here are my thoughts on the career-best performances given by all the acting nominees. Enjoy!

Christian Bale – American Hustle
Notable Roles: American Psycho, Batman Begins, The New World, The Machinist, The Fighter
Best Role: Damn tough call, but I’ve always thought his fearless and humble work in Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn was Bale’s finest achievement yet.

Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Notable Roles: The Cowboys, Black Sunday, Coming Home, Big Love
Best Role: That would be the one he’s currently nominated for. Never has Dern achieved greatness to the heights of Nebraska. (Click here for my full Dern In Character post.)

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Notable Roles: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Basketball Diaries, The Departed, Django Unchained
Best Role: His Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road is something that continues to haunt me. (More about that here.)

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Notable Roles: Dirty Pretty Things, Kinky Boots, Children of Men, Talk to Me, Redbelt
Best Role: Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave, no question. Give the man an Oscar. (Click here for my full Ejiofor In Character post.)

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Notable RolesDazed and ConfusedThe PaperboyMagic MikeKiller JoeMud
Best Role: McConaughey has been killing it these past few years, making this decision a difficult one. Upon rewatching Dallas Buyers Club, I feel safe calling it his finest work to date. Is it my favorite? Nah, that’ll always be Dazed, but Dallas is a damn fine performance all the same.

Amy Adams – American Hustle
Notable Roles: Catch Me If You CanJunebug, Enchanted, Doubt, The Master, Her
Best Role: She’s so good in everything. Always. But The Fighter takes it for me. Her complex, spiteful, loyal Charlene felt so real.

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Notable Roles: Elizabeth, Veronica Guerin, The Aviator, Babel, I’m Not There.
Best Role: The best Cate Blanchett performance… God, where to begin? Everything the woman does is perfection, but I’ll throw out Notes on a Scandal. Her desperation was so captivating.

Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Notable Roles: Speed, The Net, Miss Congeniality, 28 Days, Murder by Numbers, Crash
Best Role: Gravity. Easy. No contest.

Judi Dench – Philomena
Notable Roles: Mrs. Brown, Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat, Iris, Skyfall
Best Role: Speaking of Notes on a Scandal… I’ve never been more impressed with Dench than in that film. So creepily obsessive.

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
Notable Roles: The Deer Hunter, Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, Adaptation, Doubt
Best Role: Christ, these actresses are making this section tough. The best Meryl Streep performance? I’ll go with her haunting turn as a depressive mother in Kramer vs. Kramer. She just kills me in that film.

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Notable Roles: None
Best Role: Abdi’s work in Captain Phillips was one of the year’s best surprises. I’m so happy his performance has made it this far.

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Notable Roles: Wedding Crashers, The Hangover, The Words, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Role: I thought Cooper’s truly great performance of 2013 (and, I suppose, of his entire career) was as a conflicted cop in The Place Beyond the Pines.

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Notable Roles: Hunger, Eden Lake, Fish Tank, Haywire, Prometheus, The Counselor
Best Role: Shame. A tortured and fearless performance that is as good as acting gets.

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Notable Roles: Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Moneyball, This Is the End
Best Role: The Wolf of Wall Street, easy. It’s where Hill transformed from a comedic schlub to an acting powerhouse. 

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Notable Roles: My So-Called Life, Prefontaine, Fight Club, Requiem for a DreamAmerican Psycho, Panic Room
Best Role: Dallas Buyers Club. I don’t think Leto deserves to beat Fassbender this year, but I can’t argue with the acclaim.

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Notable Roles: X-Men: First Class, The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Role: Yeah, I still think Lawrence’s work in Winter’s Bone is the best performance she’s delivered. By a long shot.

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Notable Roles: All or Nothing, Vera Drake, Cassandra’s Dream, An Education
Best Role: As the impossibly optimistic Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky. Oh how I loved her so.

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Notable Roles: None.
Best Role: Like Barkhad Abdi, Nyong’o came out of nowhere and completely floored me. You could just feel the pain of her Patsey.

Julia Roberts – August: Osage County
Notable Roles: Steel Magnolias, Pretty Woman, Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s 11
Best Role: The central argument she has with Clive Owen in Closer is the best scene either of them have done.

June Squibb – Nebraska
Notable Roles: Meet Joe Black, About Schmidt, The Young and the Restless
Best Role: Her Kate Grant was my favorite part of Nebraska. Such a feisty old bat.


  1. I agree with all but a few of these. For Bale I'd go with The Prestige simply because it's one of the most powerful double acts I've seen put to screen (right up there with Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers). For Fassy I'd say Hunger - intensity heightened to an absolute razor's edge sharpness. His Bobby Sands lives with me to this day. For McConaughey I'd definitely go with Mud. Besides Dazed, no other film has made use of his charm and charisma as well, but Mud revealed that dark underbelly.
    Just a word on Leto, while I agree DBC is his finest work, I'd say a close second is definitely Requiem For A Dream. I don't think I need to elaborate on that one lol.

    1. I definitely spaced when I forget to include Requiem for Leto. That's what I get for writing a post at 5:45am.

      I love all of your picks - can't argue with any of them. Bale is so good in The Prestige... so in tune with what he's doing. McConaughey was such a hard choice. Honestly, DBC, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Dazed, Mud... I could do with any of them.

  2. OK...

    Best Actor Nominees Best Performance:

    Christian Bale-American Psycho
    Bruce Dern-Coming Home
    Leonardo diCaprio-The Wolf of Wall Street (that's fucking right goddamnit)
    Chiwetel Ejiofor-12 years a Slave
    Matthew McConaughey-Killer Joe

    Best Actress

    Amy Adams-Enchanted
    Cate Blanchett-I'm Not There
    Sandra Bullock-Gravity
    Judi Dench-Skyfall
    Meryl Streep-Death Becomes Her

    Best Supporting Actor

    Barkhad Abdi-(he's new so let's just wait and see)
    Bradley Cooper-The Place Beyond the Pines
    Michael Fassbender-Shame
    Jonah Hill-Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
    Jared Leto-Dallas Buyers Club

    Best Supporting Actress

    Jennifer Lawrence-Winter's Bone
    Sally Hawkins-Happy-Go-Lucky
    Lupita Nyong'o-(she's new so we'll just have to wait and see)
    Julia Roberts-Closer
    June Squibb-Nebraska

    I just realized that Blue is the Warmest Color didn't get nominated either. FUCK!!!!

    1. unluckily le vie d'adele wasn't eligibile due to release date

    2. Fucking great picks. Love how many we have in common.

      McConaughey: Killer Joe is a very close second for me. I can't believe he went there.
      Cooper: YES.
      Hill: Love it.
      Roberts: I love that you appreciate this film as well.

    3. Oh, as for Blue... such a shame the criteria for that category is so strict. That film so deserves to be here.

  3. Great post! I agree with a lot of your "bests" especially Notes on a Scandal. I really could watch that movie over and over.

    1. Thanks! I love that damn movie. So short and bitter.

  4. Great post! I agree with you on Amy Adams, and I would probably say that Christian Bale was at his best in The Fighter as well. I liked Cooper in Silver Linings more than anything, but he is good in American Hustle. I didn't think he did anything special in The Place Beyond the Pines, but I REALLY loved that movie. Jonah Hill is just amazing in anything. For Fassbender, I would have to go with 12 Years. I thought it was better than Shame, but I know your love for McQueen and Fassbender knows no bounds! ha

    1. Thanks man! I don't know what struck me so deeply about Cooper's work in Pines. I suppose in SLP and Am Hustle I can still see the actor in him. He's really ACTING his ass off in those movies (to great effect), but in Pines, I believed he was a normal guy. There's a subtly to his work in that film that I'm drawn to. I love the way he stormed that house like a nervous, rookie cop. Or the convo he has with his dad in the pool. That sounds like a conversation all sons have had with their dads.

      The Fassbender/McQueen collab certainly knows no bounds. What an incredible pair they make.

  5. I haven't seen enough of the nominated films yet to have an educated opinion of these, I'm afraid. I'll be rectifying that over the coming month or so.

    Just one note - I'd have included Requiem for a Dream under Leto's notable films. That was the first time that all three of the younger cast members showed me they could do more than be pretty or funny and actually act. I was a little disappointed that Marlon Wayans never really tried drama again after that.

    1. You see, I originally had Requiem as Leto's best, but when I swapped it with DBC at the 11th hour, I forgot to place Requiem in the notable roles section. A 5:45am misstep.

      Hope you dig the films you have to catch up on!

  6. I agree most of your picks. I'm especially glad you went with Winter's Bone for Jennifer Lawrence, though I wouldn't hate it if you had picked Silver Linings Playbook. A couple where I differ on best performance:

    Christian Bale: For me, it's The Machinist with American Psycho a close second.
    Matthew McConaughey: I'm going Killer Joe. He's just plain nasty in that one. Full disclosure, though, I haven't seen DBC, yet.

    1. Nice, love the Winter's Bone appreciation. Rewatching it now, I can't believe that it's her in that film.

      Definitely had Killer Joe listed as MM's best role at first. A hard choice, for sure. But he really does go all in for DBC. I wasn't a huge fan of the film, but he's flawless in it.

  7. Great Idea for a post but only someone like you can do this. There are so many great actors with so many amazing performances, I wouldn't even know where to start.

    Only one I have some opinion on is Amy Adams. Yes, off course I like her in everything I have seen but if I HAVE to pick one, I will go with Junebug. She just kills it for me there.

    1. I LOVE that you pick Junebug for Adams. Despite her nomination, that remains a sadly overlooked performance. I love her in that film.

      Thanks so much for reading man!

  8. Great list! I rewatched Closer yesterday and that scene you mentioned is amazing. I actually think Blanchett skipped to whole new level with Jasmine. Watching what she does with this character was just unreal.

    1. Thanks! So glad you're a Closer fan. That movie is fucking incredible. Funny that Blanchett was originally cast in Roberts' role but had to drop out because she got pregnant. I often wonder how she would've played it.

      Ask me in a few months, and Jasmine might easily be my favorite Blanchett performance.

  9. I adore your choice of Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer. Not many rank her breathtaking role highly when discussing her greatest works (it's usually all about her larger, riskier performances). I'm just so pleased you've given her credit for that.

    1. For sure man. I think she is haunting in that film. And real... so real. She becomes that mother, and I am utterly captivated by it. Choosing a best Streep is really hard, but I think K v. K definitely ranks among her best.

  10. Nice work man. I agree with all but DiCaprio (Wolf), McConaughey (Mud), and Adams (tough choice but probably Junebug).

    1. Thanks man. I love all of those picks as well, McConaughey and Adams were the hardest to call for me. So many excellent performances to choose from.

  11. Great list as always. There were a lot of great actors nominated this year, even if the winners were the most predictable they have been in years. I may be a little late to the part here but this is some of my picks for my favorite performances from some of them:

    Christian Bale - American Psycho (The beginning of what should be many Oscar snubs for this man. An absolutely fantastically insane performance that i bet few other people would be able to pull off.)
    Leonardo DiCaprio - Django Unchained (Very out of character for Leo who usually never do a lot to change his handsome appearance on screen.)
    Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
    Matthew McConaughey - True Detective (I used to really dislike him as an actor, but in the recent years he has knocked it out of the park with one great performance after the other. This show is what really made me a fan of him for life though.)

    Amy Adams - The Master
    Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine (Probably the only winner i agreed with next to Lupita Nyong'o)
    Meryl Streep - Doubt

    Bradley Cooper - The Place Beyond the Pines (This is the movie he should have been nominated for)
    Michael Fassbender - Hunger
    Jared Leto - Lord of War (An underrated movie and and underrated performance)

    Jennifer Lawrence - Winter’s Bone
    Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine (I have not seen Happy Go Lucky yet, but it's on my to watch list)
    Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave (Well, it was either that or Non-Stop. She has not done a lot so far)

    1. Thanks man, really appreciate you commenting on some of these older posts.

      My favorite McConaughey performance would definitely be True Detective now. No question. Not even close.

      Spirited choice for Streep. No argument from me, she killed it in Doubt.

      Cooper: Yes, agree.
      Leto: I dig Lord of War. He did well with the material he was given.

      Lawrence: YES!

    2. Hey, thank you for writing them. They are a great read. Definitely one of the best blogs i have found in a long time.

    3. Thanks man, that really means a lot.

  12. Great list, I have been reading all your stuff lately and I love it! This list was definitely well done, although I think Christian Bale's best performance is American Psycho, but Rescue Dawn is really good too.
    I also have one question, I do not know if you can answer but I think you are the best person to ask. Now having read a lot of your posts, I see you talk about Michael Fassbender in Shame quite a lot. I have heard it is good, and you especially talking about how good it is, I am very interested in watching Shame. Only problem is I cannot find the darn thing! I looked in all the local movie rental stores near me and in many of the big stores. I just cannot find it anywhere. I assume it has something to do with it being rated NC-17. Anyway, so my question is, where were you able to see it, or where did you get it? Do know where I can get my hands on a copy or what stores might sell it or anything? Any help is appreciated, and I completely understand if you cannot help, but I thought I may as well try! Thanks a bunch!

    1. Hey man, thanks so much for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. I really appreciate it. I'm really sorry to hear that you've had some trouble tracking Shame down. I live in America, and here, most major chains (Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy) do not sell NC-17 movies, so buying it in an actual store could be hard. My recommendation is to just buy it off Amazon. It's only $15 right now, and more than worth every penny. You can also stream it via Amazon for $3, or rent it on iTunes. So I think if you check Amazon, you'll be in good shape. It's a great, great film. Hope you can track it down!

  13. How didn't I notice earlier this amazing In Character post? Anyway, your picks are once again fantastic. I think it's really great that so many actors (from Christian Bale to Julia Roberts) managed to score their best performances this year. My picks are the following:


    Christian Bale: American Hustle
    Bruce Dern: Smile
    Leonardo diCaprio: The Wolf Of Wall Street
    Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 years a Slave
    Matthew McConaughey: Dallas Buyers Clab


    Amy Adams: American Hustle
    Cate Blanchett: Blue Jasmine
    Sandra Bullock: Gravity
    Judi Dench: Notes on A Scandal
    Meryl Streep: Sophie's Choice


    Barkhad Abdi: Captain Philips
    Bradley Cooper: The place beyond the pines
    Michael Fassbender: Shame
    Jonah Hill: The Wolf Of Wall Street
    Jared Leto: Dallas Buyers Club


    Jennifer Lawrence: Silver Linings Playbook
    Sally Hawkins: Happy-Go-Lucky
    Lupita Nyong'o: 12 years a slave
    Julia Roberts: August: Osage County
    June Squibb: Nebraska

    Now, my favorite performance among all these is definitely the one delivered by the incomparable Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine". Her breathtaking tour de force in Woody Allen's latest is an acting masterclass of the highest order. It's definitely in my Top 3 female performances of all time, from the first time I saw the film in August 2013 ( I know that in your post "Top 10 Female Performances of All Time" I've put her performance in "Elizabeth", but it was published September 27, 2012, it was my first comment on your blog and I didn't want to include a performance you couldn't possibly include back then). I adore her in everything of course and it would be so amazing if you ever decided to do an "In Character" post for her. My God, this seems too much work, of course. Everything she's ever done is irrationally impeccable. I mean, "I'm not there"? "The Aviator"? "Little fish"? Her "Here, I am" scene in "Notes of a scandal" gives me the chills. I must have watched that scene over 50 times (I'm serious). Your pick that impressed me the most by the way in this post is "Rescue Dawn" for Christian Bale. I think he did an extraordinary job there, but I still think he made his best work last year (and I don't mean only "American Hustle", my second favorite performance of him is in "Out of the furnace"). And I don't feel there's any need to analyze my pick for Michael Fassbender in "Shame". It's just the best male performance of the last decade (it even tops Michael Shannon's in "Iceman" and that says a lot).

    1. LOVE your picks. You know, Leo’s performance in WoWS might be my favorite of his. It’s a tough call, but the more time that passes, the more I appreciate what he did there.

      So great to see we agree on Cooper in Pines. What a performance.

      Blanchett is one of the finest actresses who has ever lived. No question. I hadn’t thought of doing an In Character piece on her, but you’re right, I totally should. Would be damn difficult, but if there was ever a worthy challenge, that is it. Man, I just love Bale in everything, but Rescue Dawn would still be tops for me. A close call though. I thought he was so powerful in Out of the Furnace as well.

    2. Yeah, man, love Cooper in "Pines" as well. It's such a shame the Academy picked his turn in "American Hustle" instead (even if I love every frame and every performance of this film).

    3. I wish the Academy would've given at least SOME love to Pines in any way.

  14. Yeah, man, there's no denying that Cooper gave his heart and soul in "Pines". It's a shame they preferred him in "Hustle" for a nomination instead (even if I think he was hilarious there and I love every frame and performance of this movie). I'd just like to say a few things about Jennifer Lawrence. I strongly believe that she is the best actress of her generation and possibly one of the best actresses of all time. And yes, someone can make this statement despite her incredibly short film work . And that's because throughout her undeniably short but extremely memorable, awe-inspiring career, she has shown a range that is totally unbelievable. She tried so many different gernes and excelled in all of them. She's a terrific dramatic actress, a terrific comedic actress, a terrific action actress, quite simply a terrific actress. She's a phenomenal talent and her performance in "Winter's bone" is a triumph of raw acting, but I think that her work in "Silver linings playbook" is by far the best thing she's ever done. And also the rawest. Do you remember the scene where Tiffany leaves at the end of the dance competition? Well, that's powerhouse acting. I could believe her every gesture, every feeling, every moment as Tiffany Maxwell. It was an extremely demanding role and she absolutely killed it. It is definitely one of the most multi-layered female performances I've seen in the last decade and one of the most deserving Oscars ever. And also there's a point I want to make about her performance last year in "American hustle". There are many people who loved and many people who hated her there (something that hadn't been done before in her career), simply by dismissing her work as Rosalyn Rosenfeld as very similar to her work as Tiffany Maxwell in "Playbook". Well, in my mind, those two roles of her could not be more opposite. Tiffany is lonely, fractured, aggressive, yet sexually charged, quirky and sharp in her humor. As Rosalyn, she manages to create an unpredictable, wild, loud-mouthed character and imbues it with an enormous amount of energy. She's "the Picasso of passive-aggressive karate", as Bale's Irving calls her. Giving another legendary performance in the delicious black comedy that "American Hustle" was, she reminds us that comedy is so much more difficult than drama (and her role in "Playbook" was 100% dramatic, don't let the sassy spirit trick you). There is a rhythm to comedy, a specific timing required, a sense of knowledge for your audience that seems so difficult to achieve, it has to be played just right. And damn, if you play it "Jennifer Lawrence" right. Masterful in an almost scene-stealing turn, Lawrence delivers another acting triumph, there, totally worthy of the numerous accolades she got again. enters the movie and walks with it. With limited screen time, she owns every scene she's in. With an apparent age difference with her co-star Christian Bale, she makes us sure her Rosalyn has some very serious father issues. With lines that could lead to a flat, one-note, caricaturesque performance, she gives an one woman show, injecting raw honesty and genuine sympathy. With everything that could work against her performance, she uses it to put just another layer in an unforgettable tour de force. She's manipulative and then needy and then vulnerable and then broken. She's a human mess and makes it perfectly clear in an unstoppable acting masterclass. You struggle to get over the emotion in her eyes during the restaurant, "hating for change" scene with Jack Huston. To me, it was an Oscar-worthy performance in every possible sense of the way and I was glad that the Academy recognized her tremendous work, through her last nomination. I'm totally awe-struck by her talent and the ease she displays while making each character she portrays her own.

    1. Yeah man, for me, there’s really nothing not to love about Jennifer Lawrence. She knows how to have fun, how to kick ass, how to act deranged, how to be funny, and how to make us cry. She’s hip, young, and not at all interested in playing the Hollywood game, which is remarkable. Winter’s Bone still takes it for me, but I genuinely loved her in everything, even the Hunger Games films, which are NOT my kind of movies. And me personally, I didn’t think her characters from SLP and AH were the same at all.

  15. That's right, man. This girl is fuckin' amazing. She’s a superstar and an acting genius at the same time. That's just unbelievable. Just try to think of similar examples. There are really so few, man. Like you said, there's really nothing not to love about her. And indeed not at all interested in playing the Hollywood game. How rare that is! Down to earth, quirky and simply adorable, she has raised the bar so high for any actress with hopes on stepping into her shoes. Isn't it funny that the first film I watched with her was actually her first film? I watched "The Poker House" in 2009 and was like "My God, who's this amazing actress?" and look at her right now. She should have won her first Oscar In A Leading Role for her first film. Fuckin' incredible. I mean, cinephiles worshiped this girl before the whole world started to when she decided to play Katniss Everdeen. You know, Alex, I've watched every film she's done since her unforgettable debut as Agnes in "The Poker House" and she never disappointed me. Not once. She's also far from the overnight successes many actors, both male and female, turn out to be. "Hunger Games" films aren't my kind of movies either, but I still think they're pretty well done and with an actress as brilliant as Jennifer Lawrence in the lead, they're extremely entertaining.

    1. I was rather stunned by The Poker House. I had no idea it was going to push it that far. But yeah, from the very beginning, she really did have that thing. I'm very curious to see what she does next.

    2. Yeah, buddy, me too. Really curious, especially for "Serena", where her character is a wildly unsympathetic one.

    3. Oh yeah, I'm very excited for that one as well.

  16. Christian Bale: The Dark Knight or American Psycho
    Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street
    Matthew McConaughey: The Lincoln Lawyer
    Amy Adams: The Master
    Sandra Bullock: Speed or Crash
    Judi Dench: Casino Royale and the James Bond franchise
    Meryl Streep: Sophie's Choice
    Bradley Cooper: Wedding Crashers
    Jonah Hill: 21 & 22 Jump Street
    Julia Roberts: Pretty Woman

    1. Oh wow, very interesting choice for McConaughey. I really dig The Lincoln Lawyer.