Leonardo DiCaprio faces tough competition this year, as usual.

Leonardo DiCaprio faces tough competition this year, as usual.

By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor

Now that we’ve waded through the drier talking points in the past two weeks, let’s move on to the acting. And yes, this means I’m going to be talking about Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. Try to contain your overflowing excitement, because I’m certainly not holding back.

In all seriousness, everyone loves actors. They’re the faces of their films. They’re the ambassadors of their projects.  The men and women seen onscreen quite literally can make or break any given movie.

Imagine “Captain Phillips” with Rob Schneider in the titular role. How would that have gone? Do you think that would’ve been an enjoyable theatrical experience? I mean, if Tom Hanks couldn’t even snag an Oscar nomination for that role, I don’t think any of Adam Sandler’s friends could’ve.

Replace the lead actors of your favorite movie with your best friends. Do you think they would be able to capture the nuances that made these characters stand out? No? Be a good friend and tell them that. Tell them that they would make your favorite movie awful by being horrendous actors.

My point is that actors are integral to films. They’re not the only components, but they’re critical. There’s a reason why a majority of the nominees usually star in the Best Picture candidates.

But that’s enough digressing for now. Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees and see how things correlate with past ceremonies and Best Picture winners.

One important thing to note is that each of the 10 male acting nominees are from one of the Best Picture contenders, something that hasn’t happened in…oh wait, this has never happened before.

Well, at least not for both of the male categories. Only four prior ceremonies saw all of the Best Actor nominees line up with some or all of the Best Picture nominees, but this was way back in 1943, 1944, 1965 and 1967.

What’s the deal with that? Were the most holistically excellent films of 2013 really the only ones that featured spectacular male acting? Or at least the top five leading roles and the top five supporting roles?

In any case, we’ll start off by looking at the Best Actor nominees. Look, there’s Leonardo DiCaprio again. I wonder if the hopes and dreams of his fans will be crushed once again should he lose.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he deserves an Oscar too—–especially for his Golden Globe-winning portrayal of Jordan Belfort, the delightfully contemptible modern-day Jay Gatsby of the “Wolf of Wall Street”—–but come on, there are plenty of other actors who don’t have wins either.

Look at Brad Pitt and Joaquin Phoenix. They’re zero for three, with the latter being snubbed this year. And Richard Gere? Zero for zero.

However, Leo was really, really good this year. So good, in fact, that he probably could’ve easily won in most other years that Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t a contender. But once, again luck evades him. The other four men nominated for Best Actor this year could easily win without anyone batting an eye. The same really couldn’t be said for when he lost to Forest Whitaker or Jamie Foxx.

Interestingly enough, Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles in “Ray” won him the Globe for acting in a musical or comedy while DiCaprio won that year for dramatic acting in “The Aviator.” Applying that formula to this year would mean that Matthew McConaughey, who thoroughly impressed for his turn in “Dallas Buyers Club,” is primed to beat out DiCaprio.

McConaughey actually has an incredible chance to take this one, considering his Screen Actors Guild win last month. In the 20-year history of the SAGs, a whopping 17 of the lead actor winners went on to win the corresponding Oscar, with one instance being a supporting win instead.

But again, really anyone could win this one. Christian Bale? Sure, I guess I can see him winning, despite him also lacking a SAG nod. A lot of people didn’t really expect him to get nominated for his role in “American Hustle,” and I can sort of see why. I really don’t think that his was the strongest performance in that movie, in spite of the amazing physical transformation Bale underwent to slide into character. This dedication to the craft, however, is part of why he won for 2010’s “The Fighter” and assuredly why he earned a nod this year.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is also poised to shake things up in the Oscar race as a result of his compelling performance in the epic “12 Years a Slave.” I don’t think I can imagine putting myself through the physical and psychological turmoil that must’ve went into filming that movie. Good for him.

Finally, Academy Award-nominee Bruce Dern pulled out a deserved nomination for “Nebraska,” in which he plays an elderly man bent on collecting an alleged million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Filmed in black-and-white and directed by Alexander Payne, a man who knows how to get Oscar nods for his actors, Dern could easily pull an “upset.”

Now, I know the field is crowded enough, but I would have really loved to see Joaquin Phoenix. He was absolutely fantastic as the shy Theodore Twombly in “Her.” I can’t think of any other actor that could have played the part of a man in love with his operating system with such delicacy and deftness.

Oscar Isaac of “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Tom Hanks of “Captain Phillips” wouldn’t have hurt the ballot either, considering how much of their respective films they had on their backs the entire time.

Oh well. I guess you really can’t consider these “snubs” since they weren’t really replaced by notably inferior performances. Moving on.

Best Supporting Actor is a little shakier of a category, considering the more apparent surprises this year and the weaker alignment with the SAGs. Just last year saw Tommy Lee Jones winning a supporting SAG for “Lincoln” as opposed to the eventual Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz of “Django Unchained.” Waltz wasn’t even nominated for the SAG that year, a fact that baffles me.

Four of the five Golden Globe nominees were retained, except for Daniel Bruhl of “Rush.” Ron Howard’s Formula One drama got literally no notice from the Academy, and Bruhl’s spot instead went to Jonah Hill for his role as DiCaprio’s sidekick in “Wolf.”

Sorry, Jonah, but you really don’t stand a chance here. Even so, two Oscar nominations is an impressive feat. Even since his first for 2011’s “Moneyball,” I’ll always be amused by the fact that marketing companies can throw “Academy Award Nominee” above his name in whatever movie trailer they want—–even Seth Rogen stuff.

The clear frontrunner this year, Jared Leto, also hails from “Dallas.” His transformative portrayal of a transgender woman caught the Academy’s attention and earned him his first Oscar nod, and his SAG and Golden Globe wins last month surely gave him momentum.

Michael Fassbender, another actor who was long overdue for his first Oscar nomination, received attention for his role as a ruthless slave owner in “12 Years.” But regardless of how fantastic Fassbender is in just about every film he’s in, he appears poorly positioned to beat out Leto.

I’m also glad to see Barkhad Abdi, in his film debut, get a nod for portraying the leader of a fierce Somali pirate crew in “Captain Phillips.” I always like seeing actors gain recognition for breakthrough performances, and I would by no means mind seeing him win.

If I had to pick my favorite supporting actor this year, however, I think I’d have to go with Bradley Cooper. By far my favorite part of “Hustle,” Cooper channels a hyper, crazed energy as an FBI agent determined to build himself a legacy. I loved him in last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” also directed by David O. Russell, and I loved him here.

As far as the ladies’ side of the ceremony goes, there’s much more variation in terms of the films represented. In fact, for Best Actress, “Hustle” is the only film that appears in the Best Actor field.

I’m not sure we can expect anyone else besides Cate Blanchett to win the leading actress Academy Award. She has been absolutely demolishing her competition, garnering massive acclaim for her turn in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and boasting wins at the SAGs and Golden Globes.

Judi Dench, known for her stint as M in the 007 series and for her Oscar-winning role in 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” also landed a nod for the titular role in “Philomena,” the true story of a a woman on a half-century-long search for her son.

And while Meryl Streep was nominated for the eighteenth time, I truly cannot see her pulling this one out of thin air. The lukewarmly received “August: Osage County” is simply not the vehicle to give Streep her fourth Oscar win.

No, the only real threats to Blanchett this year are Sandra Bullock of  “Gravity” and Amy Adams of “Hustle.” Despite being the only woman not nominated for a SAG, Adams impressed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association enough to earn herself a Golden Globe for the “comedic” category.

Bullock, on the other hand, wowed critics with her one-woman tour de force in outer space. She’s the female equivalent of Redford’s character in “All Is Lost,” except she got the nomination. Sorry, Redford.

If I had to vote for any of these lead actresses, I would prefer humiliating myself by asking to write in Emma Thompson. There is no reason why the “Saving Mr. Banks” star should’ve been omitted from the ballot. Was she too delightful or something? Did she charm the Academy too severely? I don’t understand.

Oh well. I guess that I would probably vote for Bullock after that moment of defiance.  She really was incredible. Adams was amazing too, but I wasn’t as absorbed in her character the way I was absorbed with the helplessly stranded Dr. Ryan Stone.

The supporting actress field this year, as I mentioned three weeks ago, perfectly aligns with the Golden Globe field for the first time since the 2002 show.

Additionally, four of these five women were able to secure a spot at the SAGs, with the exception being Sally Hawkins of “Blue Jasmine.” Instead, her spot went to Oprah for her work in “The Butler.”

“The Butler,” entirely absent from the Oscars, also managed to land star Forest Whitaker a SAG nomination. Unfortunately, the heavy sentimentality and forgetful narrative likely blew past voters’ minds. I’m even struggling to remember who could have possibly directed that movie.

Despite this hitch, everyone seems to be pretty comfortable with the candidates this year. But what’s interesting this year is that the SAG supporting actress winner didn’t win a Golden Globe for acting. Uh oh. The last time this happened was in January 2008, and neither the SAG winner nor the Globe winner won Best Actress at the Oscars that year.

Lupita Nyong’o, the SAG winner, portrays a slave abused by Fassbender’s character in “12 Years.” Like Abdi, this is her major film debut, having been cast right out of Yale’s drama school. I’d say she certainly has a shot to win, given her thunderous acclaim.

Lawrence, of course, won the Globe that year for being all-around excellent in “Hustle” as the obnoxious wife of Bale’s character. I’m thoroughly impressed with Russell’s ability to bring out the best in his actors. This is the second straight year that one of his movies earned all four acting nominations.

I doubt the adorable June Squibb, who plays Dern’s character’s wife in “Nebraska,” or Julia Roberts, who plays Streep’s character’s daughter in “August,” will be able to usurp the thrones upon which Nyong’o and Lawrence sit. As far as I can tell, the battle is basically between the latter two actresses.

I wanted to apologize for taking so long discussing the many actors that populated 2013’s best films. Then again, I think we all earned this break from discussing the finer points of sound mixing.

Next week, in the grand finale, I’ll be highlighting the screenwriting, directing and, of course, the Best Picture nominees themselves.

Oh right. Lee Butler directed “The Butler.” How could I forget?


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