I’m disappointed Michael Keaton didn’t win Best Actor, even from fellow actors in the Screen Actors’ Guild awards, and I’ve been puzzling as to why. It’s not that Eddie Redmayne didn’t give a wonderful performance in The Theory of Everything, because he absolutely did. But Keating in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman was nothing short of astonishing. He took us on an incredible ride, reaching into the marrow of his bones to extract every ounce he had to give. And I think this partially explains the vote.
Every person who is voting on these awards either fancies him/herself doing that same thing, or secretly wishes he could but feels inadequate to the task. (N.B. I’m going to stick with “his” here because as you probably noticed if you watched the awards, the industry is still dominated by men.) Every single one wants to be relevant and, if he’s honest, famous and successful; and nearly every one is scared silly not so much of failure and being outshone by someone younger and more talented, but of losing everything—possibly including his mind—in the effort to fulfill his dreams. In other words, the members of the Academy, and even of SAG, look at Riggan Thomson and see their worst fears manifested. It’s just too scary.
In general, Hollywood is more interested in pragmatism than magical realism in any event: Recent Best Picture winners such as 12 Years a Slave, Argo, Dallas Buyers Club are all good films with excellent performances, but more grit than magic. And they are about important, meaningful, worthy subjects. But most people in the film business have the sense on some level that they’re getting away with something. Our country was built on a kind of spartan work ethic and here they are, possibly working their butts off but also having fun and feeling great about what they do. As we used to say years ago when I was still an actor, “It beats selling shoes.”
Scientists, on the other hand, now there’s a respectable profession, and Stephen Hawking is a genius! So when you pair filmmaking with someone you think walks on water despite being unable to walk, combined with boy meets girl and they overcome adversity together, you’ve got a winner. A vote for Eddie Redmayne is also a vote for Stephen Hawking.
And can you imagine the blowback if the Academy gave Best Picture to a movie that is all about the work they do?
Maybe I’m projecting with all this. What do you think?