Objectively considered, this is a pretty silly election. Co-workers and competitors with obvious conflicts of interest pick from a slate of five candidates (nine in the case of Best Picture). That means you can walk away with a statuette with a scant 21% of the vote.
And Best often rewards a career, not a performance or leans in favor of serious artiness over exuberant creativity. Making the industry look good may matter more than rewarding actual artistry. All while third-string TV personalities critique dresses.
But who cares what the Academy does? We all know who should win. So, the envelope please!
Best Actress, no contest. Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” blows the competition away, in part because it is a fabulously showy role. But also because she is always pretty wonderful.
Best Supporting Actor is also a no-brainer. Jared Leto delivers an astonishingly skillful and moving performance in “Dallas Buyers Club,” humanizing a part that in lesser hands could have been a caricature.
Best Actor is a closer call for me. Matthew McConaughney is very fine as a Texas rodeo lothario who faces an AIDs diagnosis with rodeo zeal, but I’m not sure I share the common view that it’s a revelation, a real stretch. Rather it seems to me merely a deepening of the territory he usually works. Whereas, Christian Bale has pulled off yet another chameleon act, reinventing himself as a balding, pudgy, Jewish New York con man in “American Hustle.” He’s worn many faces in the past, but this is a new one. He’s a wizard. Give him the prize.
Best Picture also boils down to a pair of nominees. I’ve been a big fan of David O. Russell since the underappreciated “Three Kings” which should have won best picture. Lately he’s on a heck of a roll and “American Hustle” boasts almost as much manic energy as “The Wolf of Wall Street” with a lot more humor, heart and concision. Unfortunately, the Academy almost never rewards comedy, apparently feeling dramatic art must be slow, solemn and lachrymose.
The other contender is “Gravity,” a triumph of technical skill and speed that manages the neat trick of making a roller coaster ride into an examination of the human will to overcome and survive. But wonderful as it is,” Hustle” gets my vote.
Finally, best for last, Supporting Actress. And it can only be the amazing Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle.” She won’t win because she was Best Actress last year and is playing a comic bimbo, but golly does she play the part and make her Rosalyn real and tough and crazy and angry and pitiful and adorable. Anytime she’s on the screen she lights it up.
In this she resembles my favorite actress of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Barbara Stanwyck whose “emotional fire” director Frank Capra praised. He said of her, “when the camera rolled, she became a huge person.” She began as a tough but vulnerable chick from the wrong side of the tracks, exactly the territory Lawrence has been exploring. But in a long career, Stanwyck made 85 pictures, she went on to play everything from a faith healer to a murderess, from Annie Oakley to a stripper. She slept her way to the top in “Baby Face” and was terrified to death in “Sorry, Wrong Number.” She could break your heart in “Stella Dallas” and make you split your sides laughing in “The Lady Eve” and “Ball of Fire.”
Lawrence has made me believe she has the chops to attempt a similar range of parts. Of course in the new Hollywood no one gets as many “at bats” as actors did under the studio system, but I’m rooting for Lawrence to get all the opportunities possible confident she will play the hell out of any part she’s given. Long may she entertain.