“Foxcatcher” star Steve Carell started this year’s Oscars derby in first place for Best Actor but has now taken a back seat to Michael Keaton for his performance in “Birdman.” According to the latest predictions by our experts, Keaton has leading odds of 14/5 with Carell sharing second place with Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything“) at 4/1. (See who each of our Experts is backing here.)
Reason One: He plays a real person.
Carell plays John Eleuthère du Pont who murdered Dave Schultz (played by Mark Ruffalo) in 1996 after training both Dave and his brother Mark (played by Channing Tatum) to compete in Olympic wrestling.
Winning an Oscar for playing a real person used to happen only a couple of times every decade but all that has changed. In the past two decades, there has only been one year (1997) when none of the four winning performances was for portraying a real person. We know that current academy members embrace these roles.
Reason Two: He plays someone who has issues with mental health.
Du Pont’s defense was that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. While the jury did not completely accept this (they found him “guilty but mentally ill”), it’s clear that du Pont had serious mental health issues and Carell portrays this in the movie.
Over the past half century, 22 performers won Oscars for playing people with some sort of mental health issue, including 10 Best Actor champs. They ranged from murderous killers like Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” (Best Actor, 1991), to autistic savants like Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” (Best Actor, 1988), to the depressed like Timothy Hutton in “Ordinary People” (Best Supporting Actor, 1980) and descents into madness like Peter Finch in “Network” (Best Actor, 1976) and Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” (Best Actress, 2010). Carell’s portrayal is a perfect fit in this ongoing pattern.
Reason Three: His character is villainous and sinister.
Oscar does have a soft spot for these twisted characters with two dozen of them prevailing over the past 50 years. Eight of those were in the Best Actor category: Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” (1972), F. Murray Abraham in “Amadeus” (1984), Michael Douglas in “Wall Street” (1987), Jeremy Irons in “Reversal of Fortune” (1990), Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), Denzel Washington in “Training Day” (2001), Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” (2006) and Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood” (2007). Carell’s performance is ripe to accompany these other winners.
Reason Four: He changed his appearance dramatically to play this part.
A lot of the praise for Carell in this performance makes mention of the fact that he’s practically unrecognizable in this role. One of the main reasons for that is a prosthetic nose that he wears and let us not forget that Nicole Kidman was able win the Best Actress prize in 2002 when she donned a fake nose to play Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.”
Oscar voters really likes it when people dramatically change their appearance to play certain roles as did Robert DeNiro in “Raging Bull” (Best Actor, 1980). More recently, this has helped these nine performers prevail: Martin Landau in “Ed Wood” (Best Supporting Actor, 1994), Hilary Swank in “Boys Don’t Cry” (Best Actress, 1999), Chris Cooper in “Adaptation” (Best Supporting Actor, 2002), Charlize Theron in “Monster” (Best Actress, 2003), George Clooney in “Syriana” (Best Supporting Actor, 2003), Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose” (Best Actress, 2007), Christian Bale in “The Fighter” (Best Supporting Actor, 2010) and Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, 2013).
Reason Five: He is comedic performer who is playing a very serious role in a very serious film.
The Oscars may have a tough time giving comedies recognition but they do really like to shower praise on comedians who step outside the box of comedy to perform in a dramatic capacity. Six people who have hailed from the world of stand-up have won Oscars for serious performances: Red Buttons for “Sayonara” (Best Supporting Actor, 1957), George Burns for “The Sunshine Boys” (Best Supporting Actor, 1975), Whoopi Goldberg for “Ghost” (Best Supporting Actress, 1990), Robin Williams for “Good Will Hunting” (Best Supporting Actor, 1997), Jamie Foxx for “Ray” (Best Actor, 2004) and Mo’Nique for “Precious” (Best Supporting Actress, 2009). Carell’s background as a performer with several sketch comedy teams including Chicago’s The Second City and as a correspondent with “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” have him fitting pretty well the company listed above.
When all of these factors are combined, there’s not a doubt in my mind that Carell is the frontrunner. Who do you think will win Best Actor? Make your predictions using our easy drag-and-drop menu.