Let’s look at the typical archetypes of Oscar nominees. Why is this an important lense? Primarily because of the undeniable human instinct to take shortcuts. This is the kind of mental expediency that will take place when Oscar ballots are cast, therefore a strong narrative will assist voters in making up their mind. It’s one of the most infamous cases of personal branding on the world stage that there is. It’s nuanced and kind of ethereal, not really quantifiable and kind of bewildering – but it works and it means that beyond a good performance there are other things simply out of an actors control that feed into their story. This year we have 5 nominations for Best Actor, and based on prior analysis I see the nominees broadly falling under one of three nominee archetypes; the noble stalwart, the young bucks and the redemptions kids.
1) The Noble Stalwart
The Noble Stalwart crops up most years, and in many ways its purpose is to put manners on a category and retain that class, history and legacy that the Oscars are renowned for. There generally tends to be an elderly actor, one who stands for a different time and commands a degree of old fashioned reverence, having survived decades in the Hollywood machine. Sometimes this archetype can have a wrecking ball effect by dictating the entire category, negating the need for the other nominees to even show up (ahem, Meryl).
This year Bill Nighy is our stalwart, nominated for his role in Living. By no means a regular on the Oscar stage, this is a huge industry nod for Nighy who has found fame later on in his career. Despite a strong performance he’s been largely absent or perhaps quiet on the Awards circuit, with guild awards few and far between. If an Anthony Hopkins type had been here it may be a different story, but unfortunately Nighy just does not have that gravitas to come in and clean up in this category.
2) The Young Bucks
Now we move onto the Millennials. The lovely Paul Mescal, who shone brightly as a single Dad in Aftersun, has a thoroughly deserved Best Actor nomination. His contemporary Austin Butler is also nominated, thanks to the extensive marketing campaign for Elvis. Butler has been a regular feature on red carpets across awards season, and the nod was inevitable. Butler’s dedication has seen him taken method acting to a new level by continuing to talk in Mr Presley’s Memphis twang even a year after the cameras have wrapped.
Both deserving nominees, but it’s likely that neither will win. The Academy will never admit to it, but they do like to award those who “earn” their Oscar, and that prerequisite typically rules out first time nominees who tend to be on the younger side of the spectrum. As always there are of course exceptions, such as Emma Stone or Rami Malek, two relatively young actors that were singled out early by the Academy. If anything, Butler resembles the latter exception, playing a real life person and going to great lengths to do it – so I wouldn’t rule him out altogether. If neither win, it’s absolutely not a kick in the teeth for these two, in fact it’s a feather in their caps for what will likely be two long and fruitful careers with the prospect of an Academy win in the future – when they’ve paid their dues, and spent more time in the business.
3) The Redemption Kids
Ah yes, the redemption story. A tale as old as time and a tale that Hollywood has been rehashing for decades. This archetype creates an interesting dynamic which sees an actor carry their fabric of narratives, generally intertwining their acting chops with their career, personality and how they handle themselves in public. This year we have two worthy nominees in Colin Farrell and Brendan Fraser whose personal stories feed into their overall nominee narrative.
The first is Brendan Fraser, most well known for his roles in George of the Jungle and The Mummy franchise. In the 2000’s he made a smart segue into TV, with only a handful of movie roles in the last few years. The other redemption kid is our very own Colin Farrell. In comparison to Fraser, he’s been much more diligent in his choice of roles, starting our with decent Indie films and never totally “selling out” by experimenting with rogue-ish directors like the late Joel Schumacher in Phonebooth. A notable blip of course was the globally-panned monstrosity that was Alexander, which served as a chip on his shoulder for years.
Unlike Farrell, Fraser’s redemptive element comes from his atypical movie CV, filled with B movies and straight to TV films. It’s not the traditional arc for the Oscar-worthy actors, and the Academy loves to reward a step change they didn’t see coming. Indeed, his nominated film The Whale, came largely out of nowhere. At Venice it received an outstanding reception, with photos of Fraser at the premiere wiping away tears in appreciation. Since then he’s done some personal appearances at Mummy screenings in LA, so he’s very much on the awards circuit.
Farrell tick tacked his way through the 2000’s moving to more interesting roles like In Bruges, which really put him on a path towards a true character actor. Sensational alternative turns in Lanthimos’s The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, really cemented his status as true craftsman willing to take risks, while family-friendly turns in the likes of Dumbo and Saving Mr Banks showed he was just as reliable for tent pole films. His trajectory therefore has been a thoughtful winding road that would warrant an Oscar worthy win.
While Fraser’s redemption is found in the jarring jumps in his repertoire, perhaps Farrells’ were seen most prominently outside of the cinema complex. Around the time of Alexander, he was Hollywood’s resident bad boy, causing a furore in the tabloids and media with Britney Spears hanging on his arm every other night of the week. His vices at this time got the better of him and he has spoke eloquently of the progress he’s made since this time and his public persona has has been elevated, with audiences warming to him more and more. In fact, his Golden Globes speech left the audience glowing, filled with gratitude, low-ego, self deprecation and Irish charm. All things considered, Colin has the makings of a redemption story that a lot of people can relate to and get behind.
It’s a tough call here and it’s of course necessary to remember that anything can happen on the night, but the Oscars have a unique dynamic of being built on narratives – that’s the business of the movie business, thats how their voting base think. I’m personally backing Colin as a fellow Irish person, but one wonders if the largely US academy base will be as cognisant of an Irish story over a Canadian’s. To me me it seems like it’s between Farrell and Fraser, but I’m hoping the Irish underdog story will be enough to clinch that Best Actor trophy and bring it back to Dublin.