Christian Bale gets under the skin of Dick Cheney at the 1st screening of ‘Vice’ and slithers up in the Experts Oscar rankings for Best Actor

Talk about an overnight sensation in the Oscar race. I woke up Sunday to find that Christian Bale, as if taking some cues from the Machiavellian Dick Cheney he plays in “Vice,” has begun to snake his way up the Best Actor list among Gold Derby’s Expert prognosticators.

Bale was bubbling under this season’s multi-hyphenate darling Bradley Cooper in “A Star Is Born” and his rival in the chub club, Viggo Mortensen, in “Green Book” a week ago, with only Erik Davis (Fandango), Scott Mantz (Collider) and Jack Mathews (Gold Derby) among the the 29 Experts picking  him to win. But now Anne Thompson (Indiewire) and Michael Musto (NewNowNext), Thelma Adams (Gold Derby) and, me, Susan Wloszczyna (Gold Derby), have made the switch.

The reason is no secret. “Vice,” director Adam McKay’s follow-up to his 2015 semi-humorous dissection of last decade’s financial crisis, “The Big Short,” finally screened for the guilds and  press on Saturday. Apparently, the crowd was duly blown away by Bale’s performance as the cold-blooded, pot-bellied power-mongerer of a 46th Vice President of the United States under President George W. Bush (in this case, Sam Rockwell, working that fake nose).

While no actual reviews have been posted yet due to an embargo, several Oscar know-it-alls aired their thoughts about Annapurna’s Christmas Day release. Most focused on the film’s 44-year-old Welsh-born star, known for his transformational acting, as he sports liver-spotted old-man hands and wispy strands of gray hair. Bale won a supporting Academy Award  by dropping 30 pounds for his rail-thin crack-addict boxer Dicky Eklund in 2010’s “The Fighter. ”

But he is the main event in “Vice.” Kris Tapley of Variety’s In Contention had this to say about whether movie-goers will have the stomach to see the roots of what is going on today in the political sphere: “It would be a hell of a time to hand someone an Oscar for portraying this particular man, and that takes nothing from Bale’s brilliant work. By the same token, ‘Vice could be argued as the most urgent and important film in the race this year.”

Indiewire’s Thompson, who just placed Bale as No. 1 among actors on the Gold Derby site, compares his transformation to the current title holder of Best Actor: “Much like this year’s Oscar-winner Gary Oldman and “Darkest Hour,” this is a case of a marriage between a great character actor channeling a real person as well as the makeup and prosthetics team that enabled him to change his appearance.”  She also is positive about the response to Amy Adams’ portrayal of Cheney’s devoted wife, Lynne.  The actress, who is among the most overdue for a statuette after five nominations and no wins, told the crowd that the marital relationship  portrayed on screen is “very moving in a Shakespearean way.”

Thompson tempers her reaction somewhat:“Of course, the fate of “Vice” depends on how it fares with critics and moviegoers. But no matter what happens in that arena (and the fate of Annapurna may hang in the balance, as this smart, angry liberal movie cost some $60 million), screen actors will give Bale and Adams the love, from SAG to the Oscars.”

Expert Sasha Stone of Awards Daily was also in attendance and was duly impressed as well: “The blackest of black comedies ran for roughly two hours and did seem to hold its audience in its thrall throughout. Christian Bale is, as the trailers promised, astonishing as Dick Cheney. So good you really do forget you’re watching an actor.”

Stone currently has Mortensen on top of her Best Actor picks, Cooper in second and Willem Dafoe in third for “At Eternity’s Gate.” But she probably didn’t have time to update her picks yet, judging from this graph: “The Best Actor race has no frontrunner currently, but it could be Bradley Cooper. It could be Viggo Mortensen. I think you have to put Christian Bale above both of them, at least for now, as I don’t know that there is a better male performance this year than Bale’s.”

While the films competing this year have their fans, I think this is a season when the performances will ultimately outshine their movies somewhat. But sometimes great acting is the emotional engine that truly elevates an awards season. Right now, Oscars 2019 is close to touching the sky.

PREDICT the Oscar nominations now; change them until January 22

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.

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