The Academy has a bastardized love affair with actors portraying real individuals. A love affair to the point of announcing to the world they are going steady and aren’t open to dating other people. Simply look at this year’s nominations. Four of the five nominated actors portrayed an actual person. In fact, over the last five years, four of the five winners have all been based on a real individual (Stephen Hawking, Ron Woodroof, Abraham Lincoln, Prince Albert).
Which One of These is Not Like the Other
In grade school, I remember a test prep coming in to help my class ready for a state exam. She told us to consider the old Sesame Street song “Which one of these is not like the other” when selecting the best multiple-choice answer. Following that logic, the award should have gone to Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman. It also makes sense why Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t receive a nomination, as the Academy already had its allotment of one fictional representation. To this, I ask, if every actor is seemingly able to simply copy that of another human, why is it the best performance? Is it simply because the Academy likes art replicating real life? Or is it because they have something to compare it to, to judge, in order to make their call easier? I’ve always thought this a bit of a comp out. To me, it is easier to replicate something than to create an original. I think just about every artist in the world would say it is easier to look at something and recreate it over taking something completely from the imagination. There is a reason why an original painting is worth so much more than a reproduction. One is new, unique and by a master, while the other is simply a copy. Does it take incredible skill to replicate the painting? Of course it does. But does it take as much originality? Not even close.
Running Out of Space
Now, to me, this is why someone like Michael Keaton or even Jake Gyllenhaal should have received the award. However, beyond this, how does Hollywood decide which reproduction of a historical figure is deserved over the rest? Of course, acting as someone with a health or mental issue makes the reproduction that much juicer (of the four Oscar winners of the past five years, one couldn’t talk or move from a wheelchair, another had AIDS, a third had a speech impediment and Lincoln was shot in the head). Landing the role of a somewhat disabled historical being is the proverbial “X” on an actor’s treasure map. Maybe that is why David Oyelowo did not receive a nod. Perhaps if MLK used a rascal to scoot down the Edmund Pettus Bridge he would have been nominated. If he slurred his speech with an impediment while standing on the steps of Alabama’s state capital the Academy probably would have gift wrapped the Oscar for him. But Martin Luther King, Jr. was an elegant speaker, and Hollywood does not like elegant. Nor does it like original.
Blink Yourself to Victory
While Eddie Redmayne did a fine job as Stephen Hawking, he basically won the award because he blinked better than his competition. He demonstrated his emotion through widening eyes and raising eyebrows. For anyone truly mesmerized by these actions, they should meet my dog (or most dogs, for that matter). She is very expression based with her eyes and ears. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about Mr. Hawking before going into the movie, but learning that his two major books are about first proving a theory, then later disproving his own theory is like doing your math homework, getting a zero on it, then being accepted into Harvard because nobody understood how you carried the 1 (alright, not exactly, but that is kind of how I felt while watching the movie). Beyond this though, I guess I don’t understand how his expressive eyes were better than a booming voice against oppression or the mental and physical struggles of a soldier returning from war.
Hollywood has always loved giving awards to those playing historical figures, and if a health condition is incorporated even better, but it is something I wish they would start to turn away from. Over the last 10 years, seven of the winners for Best Actor have been for portraying historical figures (not including Jeff Bridge’s in Crazy Hearts, which is indirectly based on a country singer of a different name). While mimicking the movements and sound of the past is truly difficult and takes a very specific kind of talent, I believe Hollywood is missing out on some of the most original and soul-searching performances out there. But apparently Hollywood is not familiar with “which one of these is not like the other.”
I do know of a test prep who can help though, if they are ever interested.