1. He plays a real person AND is physically transformed onscreen.
This kind of acting one-two punch has proven to be an almost foolproof way to win an Academy Award. In recent years, the trick has worked for Nicole Kidman in “The Hours,” Charlize Theron in “Monster,” Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose,” Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” and Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln.”
In McConaughey’s case, it’s more about the astonishing weight loss than the use of prosthetic makeup. (Think Adrien Brody in “The Pianist” and Christian Bale in “The Fighter.”) Is there any potential Best Actor contender whose work triggers the same type of wow factor? Last year, McConaughey seemed to flirt with Oscar’s attention by dropping his clothes in “Magic Mike.” This year, he could actually score for shedding the pounds (and showing the acting chops) in “Dallas Buyers Club.”
2. He gives a very dramatic performance.
Unlike the critics, academy voters seem to prefer the showy over the subtle. McConaughey is visible onscreen for most of his film, and seemingly never stops acting. He goes from laughing to yelling to crying to fighting to falling without missing a beat. As his character gets sicker and sicker, his emotions get stronger and stronger.
The range and dynamics are similar to other Best Actor winners from the past few decades, like Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia,” Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas,” Kevin Spacey in “American Beauty,” Sean Penn in both “Mystic River” and “Milk” and Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart.” Fortunately for McConaughey, he doesn’t have to compete with a thespian giant like Day-Lewis in last year’s “Lincoln.” He really sells the role in “Dallas,” and voters just might buy it.
3. He gets bonus points for “Mud” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Though he’s steadily worked since getting noticed in “Dazed and Confused” more than 20 years ago, 2012 and 2013 might have finally brought him respect as a serious actor. After last year’s “Bernie,” “Magic Mike” and “Killer Joe,” he’s topped himself with this year’s with “Mud,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and the new “Wolf of Wall Street.” The Christmas release of “Wolf” couldn’t be better, as academy members will probably see it not long after viewing “Dallas.” In a tight race, the extra credit could give McConaughey an Oscar edge over his award competitors.
4. He could win the Golden Globe and/or SAG Award.
I’ll admit that I’m not sure of how either of these Best Actor races will turn out. I’m personally rooting for Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave” and Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” to take the Globes, and wish that they could tie at SAG. But I don’t think that McConaughey can be discounted.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. loves to reward big stars, especially ones who have never given an acceptance speech . An unexpected victory by McConaughey would be one of the evening’s highlights. And many SAG-AFTRA members might want to reward him for taking on a challenging role in a small independent film. (“Dallas Buyers Club” even earned a surprise Best Cast nomination.) If McConaughey wins either prize, he’ll gain some major momentum just before the Oscar voting begins. Which leads me to my final point …
5. He’s not the current frontrunner.
This year’s Best Actor race appears to be completely wide open. Robert Redford in “All Is Lost” and Dern have won key critics’ prizes and have some pundits backing them. Ejiofor is seen as a strong possibility due to the overall support for “Slave.”
McConaughey has been flying under the radar, which could be a good thing. In a tight race, it’s better to break out into the lead when the actual academy voting begins. Recent Oscar champs like Jean Dujardin in “The Artist,” Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side,” Kate Winslet in “The Reader,” Denzel Washington in “Training Day,” Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball,” Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” and Roberto Benigni in “Life is Beautiful” weren’t seen as favorites in December of their respective years, either.
McConaughey still has time to kill. And with the right timing, the one-time “A Time to Kill” star could indeed make a killing come Oscar night.
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