Oscar Beat TIFF 2014: Benedict Cumberbatch Launches Into the Best Actor Race with THE IMITATION GAME

     September 8, 2014

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The awards season is certainly prone to recognizing biopics, and luckily there are two high-profile films based on the lives of historical figures screening at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  I’ll have a full Oscar Beat report up on The Theory of Everything soon (for now read Phil’s review), but for now it’s time to focus on the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch might very well end up with a Best Actor nomination for his fantastic performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.  Moreover, the film itself has been receiving high praise, and I left the theater this afternoon thinking, “this feels like the kind of movie that wins Best Picture.”  More after the jump.

the-imitation-game-benedict-cumberbatchFor those unfamiliar, The Imitation Game tells the story of genius mathematician Alan Turing, who was responsible for inventing and using the machine that cracked the Nazi Enigma code, bringing about the end of World War II.  Turing also happened to be a closeted homosexual, and was prosecuted by the British government for his sexuality.  Director Morten Tyldum’s biopic is remarkably entertaining, mixing one-part spy movie, one part biopic, and one part dramatic character study to craft a rather pleasing film that should appeal to a wide range of audiences.

The film mostly gets Turing’s story right by not making his sexuality define him, but also not ignoring his inner turmoil either.  The crux to the film’s success is Cumberbatch, who turns in a career-best performance as the socially uncomfortable Turing.  He’s not simply playing a tortured genius, as he layers the role with an innocent sweetness that resides under his off-putting exterior.  Cumberbatch could have easily veered into Asperger’s territory or taken on an affected manner, but instead he shines with a performance that’s wonderfully subtle, layered, and ultimately moving.  It’s truly tremendous work, and he’s absolutely a serious figure in the Best Actor race at the moment.

Keira Knightley also does excellent work in the film as Turing’s colleague and friend, and I would not be surprised to see her land in the Best Supporting Actress race—especially if the Academy takes a liking to the film as a whole.  The Imitation Game isn’t particularly dark or overly complex, which makes it a serious possibility that the movie could become an Academy favorite.  I’d liken it to The King’s Speech.  It’s dramatic and emotional, but not too heavy that it turns off voters.  Moreover, with The Weinstein Company backing the campaign, you can bet they’ll be putting all of their weight behind the film as their horse in this year’s race.

the-imitation-game-keira-knightley-benedict-cumberbatchWhether The Imitation Game hits big with voters or not, it absolutely features one of the year’s best scores by composer Alexandre Desplat.  It’s somewhat playful and non-traditional, but perfectly in keeping with the demeanor of Turing himself, and I expect it will land Desplat a seventh Oscar nomination.  Another strong possibility is Graham Moore’s script for Best Adapted Screenplay, especially since Moore has been wanting to make a movie about Alan Turing since he was 14; a strong narrative goes a long way with regards to the Oscars.  Also of notice is Argo editor William Goldenberg’s strong work in piecing together the multiple timelines of the film.

I enjoyed but wasn’t completely blown away by The Imitation Game, but I really can’t shake the feeling that it seems like the kind of movie that wins Best Picture awards.  It’s deep enough that it’s impactful and resonant, but still upbeat enough to be a crowd pleaser; it also doesn’t hurt that it sports a positively phenomenal lead performance by Cumberbatch.  If I were a betting man, I’d say the odds are pretty good that Imitation Game picks up a few nominations in this year’s race.

If you missed my previous Oscar Beat articles from the TIFF 2014 trenches, peruse the links below:

Oscars Benedict Cumberbatch The Imitation Game

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