Oscars: Will the Loudest Actors Win?
If you want an Oscar, it doesn't pay to play it cool. Here are the noisiest contenders -- and likeliest to win on Sunday.
When The Fighter's Mark Wahlberg was ignored and Christian Bale Oscar nominated, critic Carrie Rickey wrote that what wins is "the most acting rather than the best acting." "You can only give a loud performance," Bale admitted at the Globes, "when you have a quiet anchor [like Wahlberg], a stoic character. I've played that one many times, and it never gets any notice." Like when he played Batman and Heath Ledger's noisy Joker copped the Oscar. Rickey says Melissa Leo's performance yells, "Hey, chowdaheads, gimme tha Oscah!"
"People are impressed by aggressive bad acting," snaps critic Charles Taylor. "If Bale wins, [she and Bale] might be the worst pair of supporting winners since Helen Hayes and John Mills chewed their way to victory 40 years ago."
All the frontrunners are louder than their rivals. When a Latvian man was recently shot to death for eating popcorn too loudly watching Black Swan, wasn't Natalie Portman's performance even noisier? There is a rough correlation between loud acting and rank on the Gurus o'Gold Oscar poll:
Best Actor Noms in order of probable winnability:
1. Colin Firth: In his own British way, he's a horror-movie victim facing a microphone resembling a B-52 bomber, or Lady Gaga's brassiere about to erupt in flames. He erupts in R-rated epithets.
2. Jesse Eisenberg: "It's like he's wearing a suit of armor," Eisenberg told THR of his repressed character. That's one reason he can't keep up with bellowing King Bertie.
3. James Franco: Considering his extreme situation, Franco's a stoic character. It's Danny Boyle's frenetic splitscreens and dive-bombing camera work that's noisy.
4. Javier Bardem: He's like Job, only not a kvetch. It's a felt but unheard emotional implosion.
5. Jeff Bridges: The coolest cucumber of the bunch -- and dead last. "A reason Bridges never won best actor before last year," adds Rickey, "is that he tends to be an underplayer. [Crazy Heart], the role that won him the Oscar is...louder."
The other races show a similar shift from loud to soft, probable winner to probable loser. Best actress frontrunner Portman's rafter-rattling shriek drowns out Annette Bening's stifled sob; Nicole Kidman is more stifled still; Jennifer Lawrence keeps her powder dry emotions in check; and Michelle Williams is like a wraith of quivering smoke the slightest breeze might dissipate. (Intensely realistic sex scene, however.)
Supporting actress frontrunner Melissa Leo is a riot; Hailee Steinfeld's role is tough but under strict Presbyterian control. Helena Bonham Carter is unbuttoned for a Queen Mum, but underplays by commoner standards. Amy Adams is second to Leo in overacting, which is why she's even in the running, but can't compete with Leo's train wreck persona. Jacki Weaver is the scariest character of all, but she keeps mum and plays Mom.
Best Actor lock Bale's performance is, as Tricia Romano notes, "The acting equivalent of a Kanye West ALL CAPS LOCK blog entry." (Though no exaggeration of the real guy.) Geoffrey Rush is only slightly less loud, acting like an animated Disney sidekick channeling Jeff Katzenberg's quenchless energy -- it's as if Rush were a driven executive producer on the film with presumable profit participation (which he is). Mark Ruffalo is muted. John Hawkes is muted for a psychopath. Jeremy Renner is reasonably cool, but this race doesn't quite work as a loud-soft continuum. It's just Bale being skillfully louder than the rest.
When Bale won the SAG Award (on his birthday), and his Oscar victory looked increasingly assured, he said, "This was a loud role and I fucking loved it!"
So does Oscar.
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Scott Feinberg, the lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter, is one of the entertainment industry's most experienced and trusted experts about the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys. He started on the awards beat in 2001, writing for independent websites including his own ScottFeinberg.com before joining the Los Angeles Times and then THR, for which he writes “The Race” blog, which won the LA Press Club’s National Entertainment Journalism Award for best entertainment blog of 2012-2013. A voting member of both the Broadcast Film Critics' Association and Broadcast Television Journalists Association, he is also writing a book about film history for young people for which he has interviewed more than 500 high-profile Hollywood figures whose careers span the silent era through the present.
Follow Scott on Twitter at twitter.com/scottfeinberg.