My Oscar thoughts continue. Now for…
This is Matthew McConaughey’s to lose, and he’s not going to lose it. His work in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is sensational and the male performance of the year, without a doubt. He’s got the Globe and the Screen Actor’s Guild Award on his shelf already. He’s a lock.
The only other horse in this race is Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave but he’s not going to win and nor should he. Ejiofor, as the extremely unfortunate Solomon Northup, suffers from being in the strange position (just like Forest Whitaker in The Butler, not nominated for Best Actor here) of playing the least dynamic character in his own movie. Although 12 Years a Slave is Northup’s story through and through, and he’s in every scene, it is the performances of Lupita Nyong’o (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) and Michael Fassbender (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), along with a gallery of excellent actors in smaller roles scattered throughout the twelve years such as Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard and Paul Dano, that really grip as performances. Ejiofor is fine, perhaps excellent, and he certainly holds the movie together, but it’s a passive role, limited to bearing a burden (admittedly a very heavy one) and reacting to the horrors around him. As the title suggests and the movie makes very clear, all Northup has to do for twelve years is survive. He makes very few major choices and does not undergo any major transformation. His arc is very limited, and, therefore, so are Ejiofor’s options as an actor. Given his screentime, he also has limited dialogue to perform.
McConaughey’s role in Dallas Buyers Club could not contrast more. Playing the also-real Ron Woodroof, a Texan electrician, rodeo rider and homophobe in 80s Dallas who contracts HIV through hetrosexual unprotected intercourse with an intravenous drug user, McConaughey has to attack every challenge not available to Ejiofor, and he hits every single one of them out of the park. Every thing he does in the film is a major choice (from the very first one – letting himself believe he actually has the “faggot disease”); he undergoes an absolutely, positively staggering transformation, from real, grade-A homophobe dick to compassionate caregiver and fighter for the rights of the neglected and marginalised, and therefore has a huge, and extremely clear, character arc. As befits McConaughey, who has one of the best mouths for dialogue in Hollywood, his character never shuts up – he has pages and pages of brilliantly written dialogue with which to etch his indelible character. He displays humour, rage, intense grief, sensitivity, total lack of sensitivity, and, above all and most importantly, real change. He also manipulates his body weight throughout the movie to portray the physical ravages of the disease but that, while impressive on a technical level, is not why he should, and will, win. McConaughey’s Woodroof is a true, real-life hero, and he doesn’t start that way: he earns his heroic status every step of the way, every minute of the movie. The actor has been having a stellar last few years – the kind of run very few actors get but all the serious ones dream about – and this tops it off. But even if he’d been a total unknown in his debut feature lead, like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry and Geoffrey Rush in Shine, he would still – like Swank and Rush did – walk away with the Oscar. He deserves it. A lock.