So, last night, and moving on into today, I got into a Twitter conversation with regards to the Lead Actor Oscar race, and I made the comment that Keaton was going to win. Now, I've made this statement before, and for a while now, and with each passing critics award win, I'm further cemented in my belief that he has that Oscar sealed up. But it isn't just the critics wins. Those come and go, and quite frankly they don't win you an Oscar. They can help you get a nomination, but sometimes not even that pans out. No, those wins are just a small part of the whole equation. So, I thought I'd break down that equation and why I 'think' this is Michael Keaton's year.
And I'm going to prefix this whole article with these two facts:
1) I have not seen Birdman, so this is not some sort of performance bias where I just really want this amazing performance to win and so I'm going to predict it no matter what, and...
2) I am not a fan of Michael Keaton. Like, he's ok, but he's not an actor I really care for much, so this isn't some sort of "I love him, he's so due" moment, because quite frankly, I couldn't care less if he ever even gets Oscar nominated.
That said, let's break this down.
1) Reviews: They matter. They won't win you an Oscar, but they matter. "Tour-de-force" and "role of a lifetime" are two phrases you'll read a lot when you scan through reviews of Birdman, both of which are in reference to Keaton's work here. These are easily the best reviews of his career, and the way that the character has been likened in a very personal and deliberate way to Keaton's own life and career only make this feel all the more inevitable. Not since Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler has a role seemed so tailor made for an actor and his lot in life. It doesn't hurt Keaton that he's not the only aspect of the film getting great ink. Nope, he's actually in a really good film (according to the reviews). With a Metacritic score of 89, it's clear that Birdman is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. This helps Keaton because voters are going to want to reward the film, and this could be a place where they'd have a chance to reward it.
2) Critics Wins: They matter. They won't win you an Oscar, but they matter. We've gone over this a bit already, but so far Keaton has one 17 awards. His closes competitor, with regards to actual wins, is Gyllenhaal, who has won...5. He's dominating, and while he hasn't won NYFCC (Spall) or LAFCA (Hardy), neither of them has a shot at winning, so who cares. Now, let's talk his film too. It's won 14 awards for BP or Ensemble. Boyhood is obviously dominating in that field, but Birdman is i that #2 spot, and next in line is The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Fiennes will be lucky to get a nomination. Now, this isn't the end all, because The Imitation Game in particular doesn't need to win a single critics award to be in the running for BP, it's just so Oscary, but this shows passion for Keaton's film, which bodes well for Keaton's chances.
3) His Career: It matters. It won't win him an Oscar, but it matters. Michael Keaton is a household name. He's been working in the industry since the 70's and finally broke out in a big way back in 1982, and has built a resume that many admire ever since. He's worked with many, many actors and directors including Oscar winners like Geena Davis, Morgan Freeman, Kim Basinger, Jack Nicholson, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and many others. He's well, well liked and respected and many feel as though this was a long time coming. Keaton, for me this year, feels similar to Plummer or McConaghey or Bale or Whitaker or Hoffman; actors who waited a long time to get invited to the Oscar party, but once they got the invite, they went all the way.
4) His Competition: They matter. They won't win him the Oscar, but they matter. We can just exclude Spall, Isaac, Fiennes, Carell and Gyllenhaal right now, because even if they're nominated, they won't win. That leaves Oyelowo, Redmayne and Cumberbatch as his primary competition in the event of their nominations. All three of these actors, despite being in the game for a few years now, share two things in common. First, they are all in biopics about very important and baity figures in history. That's a major plus that Keaton does not share. Second, they are really new to this whole game and haven't paid their dues. That's a con that Keaton does not share. Their relative youth in the industry (yes, I know they have fans and some have massive cults dedicated to their fandom, but they are relatively new, especially compared to Keaton) can play against them, especially in a group. The other thing that fights against them is that there is really no consensus as to which of them is the better, or closer to Oscar. Cumberbatch has Harvey in his corner, but his film is underperforming massively, winning nothing, missing out a lot, and Cumberbatch himself has only won once, at the Hollywood Film Awards. Oyelowo's film is a late bloomer, which is going to massively work against him for momentum for the win. He's missed SAG and has only one win to his name, African American Film Critics Circle. He's only snagged 9 mentions in total, which is abysmal when compared to the 25 mentions Keaton has. That leaves Redmayne. His film is climbing in the ranks, and he's tends to get mentioned a lot. He's still only got 3 wins. He's being compared to Daniel-Day Lewis in My Left Foot, but Lewis had won 7 awards leading up to the Oscar win, including NYFCC, and was considered a revelation. Redmayne has great notices, but not that great.
5) His Attitude: This matters. It won't win him the Oscar, but it matters. There is a reason why I called Keaton the winner after he accepted the Career Award at the Hollywood Film Awards; he's humble as fuck!
This also goes back to point #3. but let's just talk about his humility. It seeps out of every word. Such a beautifully composed speech that felt earnest, honest, heartfelt and deeply personal in all the right ways. I'm telling you, this just feels so right. Did you hear the room? Did you feel the adoration, the respect? Listening to him talk, this feeling came over me, this very strong feeling, that he was going to go all the way. And then the critics awards started to get doled out...and he won nearly all of them. It just makes sense.
While each one of these points, on their own, don't win you an Oscar, all five stacked on top of one another make a strong case for any actor. Keaton seems like a really easy pick for SAG, which is going to mean a lot. Someone questioned his SAG inevitability, stating that Bill Murray lost to Depp. I don't see any other Depps in the race. In fact, Keaton would be a better comparison to Depp than anyone else in this race. Cumberbatch may be a big name now, but he's a recent big name. Depp was a big name for YEARS, over a decade, and was seen as due. Cumberbatch's closest comparison in any Oscar race in recent years would be, like, Michael Fassbender...and he didn't win anything last year. This isn't an Adrian Brody type year either. In fact, this is like the complete opposite, with a veteran actor in a sea of complete newbies (industry-wise), as opposed to a complete newbie in a sea of Oscar winners.
No, Michael Keaton is not a lock for the Oscar win, but rave reviews/career best notices + critically acclaimed movie in the Top Two for Oscar's BP + beloved industry status + a humble attitude + a sea of young boys as your only competition + near complete domination of the critics awards and clear consensus forming around your name = a damn near obstacle clear path towards Oscar glory.
Now watch him lose.