I’ve been covering this year’s Oscar race pretty extensively over the past few months, running down the ebbs and flows of the various categories as 2014’s awards contenders came into focus. With under a month to go before the nominations are announced, we’ve got a pretty good idea of who the major players are, and even which films and performers could act as dark horse candidates. At this time, however, I’d like to highlight a number of films, filmmakers, and performers that seem to have gone overlooked in terms of awards consideration despite the fact that they’re just as deserving—if not moreso—than some of the candidates that are currently considered “frontrunners”.
After the jump, I offer up a series of For Your Consideration Oscar candidates in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay in this special edition of Oscar Beat.
Best Actress – Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
The entirety of Obvious Child is a high-wire act in that it’s a romantic comedy about a woman who gets an abortion, and the lynchpin to the film’s success is Jenny Slate’s hilarious, honest lead performance. It’s truly one of the most fully realized characters of the year, and Slate pulls it off with ease, announcing herself as not only an adept comedian, but also an immensely talented actress period.
Best Actress – Rose Byrne, Neighbors
The Academy has never been crazy about recognizing comedies, let alone female actresses in the genre, which is a shame because there’s just as much skill involved in pulling off a memorable comedic performance as there is a dramatic performance. Nowhere is this more clear than in Rose Byrne’s hilarious work in Neighbors. The actress more than holds her own in the “boys’ club” cast opposite Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, and instead of relegating herself to playing the nagging wife, Byrne plays an integral and meaningful role in the plot with a stereotype-breaking turn. To say Byrne is a scene-stealer in the film is a massive understatement, and in a movie filled with hilarious sequences, it’s refreshing to find that a woman is key to a great deal of them.
Best Actor – Tom Hardy, Locke
A guy driving a car, talking on the phone for 84 minutes should not be a movie, but it is—and it’s a great one. Locke is more compelling than most blockbuster tentpoles released this year, and that’s thanks to Tom Hardy’s phenomenal one-man-show performance. Holding the screen for the entirety of a film’s runtime is no easy task, especially when you’re confined to the driver’s seat of a car, but Hardy offers up not only one of the year’s best performances, but also one of the most dynamic.
Best Actor – Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
Director Bennett Miller’s slow-burn, quietly intense drama Foxcatcher has been drawing considerable attention for its stellar performances from Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, and while the two are indeed great in the film, this is Channing Tatum’s movie. The guy has already shown his versatility and talent over the past couple of years, but this is truly his best performance to date and one of the best of the year. It’s a difficult role as Tatum’s Mark Schultz is the heart of the film yet has so few lines; it’s a performance that hinges on body language and facial cues, and Tatum knocks it clear out of the park. I’m happy Carell and Ruffalo are getting deserved attention for their work in the film, but man, Tatum deserves to be a major part of the conversation as well.
Best Supporting Actress – Jillian Bell, 22 Jump Street
As I said before, the Academy is somehow blind to the comedy genre, but in an alternate universe where that isn’t the case, I think we’d all be talking about Jillian Bell’s chances in the Best Supporting Actress category for 22 Jump Street. This is one of the great scene-stealing performances of all time, as Bell’s deadpan delivery and unassuming nature make it hard to hear any other lines after hers on account of laughing so loudly. Seriously, Bell is genuinely great in this movie, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing much more of her very soon.
Best Supporting Actress – Carrie Coon/Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
David Fincher has many talents as a director, but possibly one of his greatest strengths is casting. Name any Fincher movie and you’ll come up with a handful of actors and actresses that were absolutely perfect for their parts. This is certainly the case with this year’s Gone Girl, a film overflowing with standout performances. While the central couple of Nick and Amy are the driving force of the plot, Carrie Coon’s Margo “Go” Dunne and Kim Dickens’ Detective Rhonda Boney are the film’s secret weapons. Go is the film’s voice of reason as Coon nails both the dramatic beats and wicked sense of humor, while Dickens serves as the movie’s true hero with an assured, confident performance. It’s tough to pull the spotlight away from the transfixing turns of Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, but Coon and Dickens do so consistently throughout the film.
Best Supporting Actress – Rene Russo – Nightcrawler
The thriller Nightcrawler is a movie about two psychopaths. Yes, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is clearly the film’s principal twisted protagonist, but Rene Russo’s news producer Nina is just as despicable and it’s a testament to Russo’s fantastic performance that the character’s nature kind of sneaks up on you. It would have been easy for Russo to play the character as obviously smarmy up front, but Russo brings a dimensionality to the role that captures the audience to a point of understanding if not also a bit of sympathy. It’s not like she’s hiding the fact that the character’s ethics are as low as Lou’s; it’s just that the performance is so damn good that you talk yourself into making excuses for her actions.