REEL BRIEF’s Oscar Watch: Best Actor

With the Academy Award nominations just over one month away (January 15th), it’s time to start narrowing down the list of potential nominees to the ones I hope actually earn a nomination.  Oscar Night is February 22nd.

I’ve already posted the REEL BRIEF prediction on Oscar nominees in the Best Picture category.  You can see those choices “here“.  Now, for my picks deserving of a Best Actor nomination:

REEF BRIEF Oscar Watch for Best Actor


David Oyelowo (“Selma“) – Portrays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his performance will showcase the strength and determination of the civil rights leader.  The film depicts the voting rights marches between the cities of Selma and Montgomery in 1965 Alabama. Oyelowo’s role of a lifetime will advocate King’s strong belief that the power of words and nonviolent acts remained the best ways to achieve freedom and equality for African-Americans.  The movie debuts in theaters on December 25th.  And with strong backing from Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, expect to see a massive PR campaign for this film as its premiere gets closer. “Selma“–and David Oyelowo–will become the Oscar favorites to beat come mid-January when audiences have had a chance to see it and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announce their Oscar nominations.

Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game“) – The British actor plays famous codebreaker in true story from World War II.  A Cumberbatch Best Actor nomination is helped with a very interesting plot-line for the movie and a supporting cast that includes an exceptional performance from Keira Knightley.  The fact that the Brits and Allies are able to come out on top, defeating Nazi Germany, is a narrative that Academy Award voters will get behind.   This nomination for Cumberbatch is a lock.


Michael Keaton (“Birdman“) – Keaton’s enthralling performance completely dominates this film from start to finish.  As the character Riggan Thomson, Keaton plays a once famous actor still revered by his fans for his superhero movie persona Birdman from years ago. Keaton and Edward Norton give audiences a volatile mix of personalities so convincingly testy that viewers left theaters cringing and shaking their heads. Keaton’s return to Hollywood’s A-list makes him and his performance in “Birdman” an Oscar feel-good story.  Keaton is also a lock for a Best Actor Oscar nomination.


Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything“) – Portrays the brainiac Stephen Hawking and gives the strongest lead acting performance I’ve seen in years. Redmayne’s physical transformation and slowed speech as Hawking easily dwarfs Dustin Hoffman’s autistic, Academy Award-winning gem in 1988’s Rain Man.  If Oscar Night was in right now, Redmayne would be giving us his acceptance speech.  Theory1Unfortunately for Redmayne, several movies coming out later this month will have exceptional performances which may push his epic work as Hawking down a couple spots when the Oscars are handed out.  However, its still a 100% certainty that Redmayne makes the Best Actor nomination list.

Brendan Gleeson (“The Calvary“) – Plays Father James, a priest in a small Irish town having to face parishioners who display little, if any, moral fortitude or reverence for the man of the cloth and the Catholic church. The stakes are high for Father James, personally and professionally, as he must continue to stay true to his faith while answering difficult questions about past Catholic priests’ misbehavior.calvary-fr

Gleeson’s exceptional performance captivates audiences with his earnestness and likeability in what is easily his best role to date. It was due to Gleeson’s endearing role of Father James that viewers not only see right from wrong, but more importantly, are left asking how and why our world has become so mean, nasty and void of religion?  Gleeson deserves a Best Actor nomination.  However, due to the film’s lukewarm reception and talented field of opposing actors, Gleeson’s name may not make the Oscar nom list.

St. Vincent 2

Bill Murray (“St. Vincent“) – Thirty-seven years after he debuted on the second season of “Saturday Night Live” we find Bill Murray in “St. Vincent“. During his nearly four decades of entertaining us–the smirking and wise-cracking comic has repeatedly provided audiences with laughs over and over again, like he did in the mega-hit “Groundhog Day” in 1993. That’s the Bill Murray we’ve grown to love and expect since his days of chasing paranormal activity and busting ghosts as Doctor Peter Venkman. What I didn’t expect in “St. Vincent“, though, was the phenomenal, and touching performance given by Murray. Yes, we’ve seen notable glimpses of Murray’s dramatic side before in movies like 2003’s “Lost in Translation“, where he earned an Academy Award nomination in the Best Actor category. His ability to not only grasp, but truly master, serious roles is just as impressive today as his comedic skills were back in his old “SNL” days. Bill Murray was sensational in “St. Vincent” as the angry, old neighbor with a kind heart. In the end, he may not win an Academy Award.  But he deserves to be included on the list for consideration.

American Sniper

Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper“) – We already know that Cooper gained 40 pounds to play “The Legend”–U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.  We also know that Cooper had one–only one–conversation with Kyle prior to making the film and before Chris was murdered at a Texas shooting range in February of last year…”Thank God I got to talk to him once on the phone,” says Cooper, who is a producer and plays Kyle in the film. “It was a very quick conversation. But I did tell him how serious I was about making this movie. And he should just know that whatever fears he had about Hollywood, to just put them aside and trust me. That I was going to do everything I could to tell this story.”  Anyone concerned about Hollywood tainting the real-life story of Chris Kyle or our U.S. military should rest assured knowing that Cooper and director Clint Eastwood will get it right in “American Sniper“.  The movie comes out on Christmas Day, so it’s uncertain how to ascertain Cooper’s performance fully.  However, due to Cooper’s commitment to Kyle, Bradley’s previous Academy Award nominations (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle“), and Eastwood’s involvement in a military production, I’m placing Cooper on Best Actor nomination ‘Watch List’.

2014, MR. TURNER

Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner“) – This movie was a big winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the “Best Actor” (Timothy Spall) and “Cinematography” categories. “Mr. Turner” tells the true story of British watercolor landscape artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, known as “the painter of light” back in the 19th Century. Although the movie hasn’t come out (December 19th), it was generated much Oscar buzz for Spall’s performance.  We’ll know more about Spall’s chances for a Best Actor nomination in a week or two.  Like Bradley Cooper’s in “American Sniper“–all the Oscar talk can’t be evaluated against the leading contenders under we have more information.  Watercolor painting from an angry soul may not be a box office hit, but Oscar voters may be intrigued for the arts aspect enough to put Spall’s name forward.  If Bill Murray’s name doesn’t make the Best Actor nomination list, look for Spall’s to fill that spot.

The REEL BRIEF Oscar nomination predictions so far:

Best Actor

1.  David Oyelowo – “Selma”

2.  Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything”

3.  Michael Keaton – “Birdman”

4.  Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Imitation Game”

5.  Bill Murray – “St. Vincent”

Outside shots

6.  Brendan Gleeson – “The Calvary”

7.  Timothy Spall – “Mr. Turner”

8.  Bradley Cooper – “American Sniper”

Best Picture

1.  “Selma”

2.  “Birdman”

3.  “The Imitation Game”

4.  “Boyhood”

5.  “The Theory of Everything”

6.  “Gone Girl”

7.  “Still Alice”

8.  “American Sniper”

9. “Unbroken”

10.  “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Outside shot

11.  “Interstellar”

Next:  REEL BRIEF’s Oscar Watch: Best Actress.

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