[WATCH] Michael Keaton in ‘The Founder’: Oscar for playing McDonald’s empire builder?

I recently pondered which Emmy-tipped actress is, perhaps, the very early favourite for this year’s Best Actress Oscar (click here to find out who, although this is hardly an Agatha Christie mystery). The results of such a pondering led me to feel relatively confident, even at this stupidly early stage, in my prediction. But what about Best Actor; is there an early frontrunner there? Is there an actor who could see this year being his? Will I think of a third rhetorical question to ask you before I move onto the next paragraph?

Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Joel Edgerton (“Loving”), Nate Parker (“The Birth of a Nation”), Andrew Garfield (“Silence”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Tom Hanks (“Sully”). All of these are viable names in the discussion of this season’s potential Best Actor contenders. But there is only one man who, at this point in time, I feel is ahead for many reasons and that is Michael Keaton, who plays McDonald’s empire builder Ray Kroc in “The Founder.”

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In 2014, he came within an inch of winning Best Actor for “Birdman,” before Eddie Redmayne snatched it from him. Last year, co-star Mark Ruffalo ousted him for a Best Supporting Actor bid for “Spotlight.” While both of those films won Best Picture, Keaton does not have an Oscar. During the 2014 awards season, we talked extensively about the parallels between the actor and his character in “Birdman,” both of whom were staging a comeback. Sadly, he did not embrace this narrative (perhaps costing him the Oscar?) and that chance has long gone. Now, though, two other narratives are possible.

One: the ‘overdue’ narrative. We have seen plenty of performers rack up a fair few nominations (or, at least, viable performances) before they actually win an Oscar, with Leonardo DiCaprio being the latest to see this work for him. While Keaton may only have one nomination to his name, he has been a key part of the last two Best Picture winners, as well as a whole host of other films in his long career. Perhaps the academy will feel they should reward Keaton while he is still enjoying a renaissance.

Two: the ‘veteran’ narrative. Keaton made his film debut all the way back in 1978 with “Rabbit Test” and has since appeared in a wide variety of films from “Beetlejuice” and “Batman,” to “Jackie Brown” and “Birdman,” from “Toy Story 3” and “Minions” to “Spotlight” and the upcoming “Spider-Man” reboot. He’s built up a wide connection of friends and supporters within the industry thanks to this varied and consistent good work. His campaign could well fall in line with recent successes such as Robert Duvall for “The Judge” or Christopher Plummer for “Beginners.” Indeed, for lack of a better description, Hollywood sure does love a golden oldie.

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His potential narratives are strong then, but what about the film itself? “The Founder” director John Lee Hancock also helmed “Saving Mr Banks” (2013) and “The Blind Side” (2009). Both of those films were very much in the awards discussions, with the latter reaping a Best Picture bid and winning Best Actress for Sandra Bullock while the former showcased Emma Thompson (seriously, how was she not nominated?).

The script is by Robert Siegal (“The Wrestler”) and is said to be in the same vein as “There Will Be Blood” (2007) and “The Social Network” (2010). Both of those Best Picture nominees followed an anti-hero of sorts who will do anything to succeed. Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor for “There Will Be Blood” while Jesse Eisenberg was nominated for “The Social Network.” That’s some good Oscar pedigree to fall in line with as it seems Keaton will be portraying the same sort of character.

Keaton is said to have watched Michael Douglas in “Wall Street,” Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire” and DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The trailer, which evokes those films, showcases Keaton. He embodies Kroc’s can-do nature, mannerisms and accent.

So the role looks right, the film looks right, it’s got a proven director and Keaton has two narratives he could pursue. It all seems quite rosy, doesn’t it? But here’s the really interesting bit. Harvey Weinstein initially moved the film’s release date from November 25 to August 5,  intent on attracting wider audience in the summer. At the time he said, “‘The Founder’ is brilliant and one of the most controversial films I have had the pleasure to be associated with. The story of Ray Kroc should ignite adult audiences (…) and send the incredible team of John Lee Hancock and Michael Keaton back to the Dolby Theater.” He has since bounced it back to a limited release on December 16 before going wide in January. That puts the film smack bang in the middle of awards-season. Stay tuned.

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