When the Oscar nominations were announced last week, I was as surprised as anyone to see that Robert Redford was left off the list of names in the best-actor category.
If you’ve seen “All Is Lost,” you know what an extraordinary performance he delivers.
Much has been written about what a physical performance it is, and how well Redford pulls it off at age 77. Heck, it would be difficult to pull off if he was 27.
Going in to see the film when it opened back in October, I admit to feeling some trepidation. After all, this was going to be an hour and 45 minutes of watching one guy being batted about by wind and water.
A one-man show for the big screen is tough to make and too often tough to watch. In the wrong hands it can be as dull as your neighbors’ vacation slides. (Or these days maybe that should be your neighbors’ PowerPoint.)
So, yes, Redford was shut out. But also shut out was the writer-director, J.C. Chandor, whose accomplishment in making the movie not only watchable but engrossing, gripping and compelling from start to finish should not have been ignored.
In fact, except for one technical nomination, for sound editing, the entire film was shut out.
Sound editing? Really?
Did Academy Award voters even watch it?
One more thing about Redford’s performance: He’s been an underrated actor for his entire career, receiving much more respect from the industry and from critics for his directing efforts than his acting. Not that I mean to take anything away from that; some of the films he’s directed are wonderful.
But he’s also done great work as an actor in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men,” “The Candidate” and too many others to name. Yet he’s received just one Oscar nomination as an actor, for “The Sting.” And he certainly earned that one, but it’s strange that he’s been passed over so often.
The truth is it’s hard to be recognized by the Academy for low-key, subtle performances in films, despite the fact that it’s precisely the kind of performance that is called for on a movie screen where everything is larger than life and ridiculously exaggerated simply by the physical proportions of theater projection.
Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule. Sometimes actors are indeed recognized for such work but it’s rare. Think Gregory Peck, who earned his Oscar for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or Dustin Hoffman, whose first Oscar was for “Kramer vs. Kramer.”
Both are excellent performances, but they are not at all flamboyant, and they’re not all that dissimilar to what Redford does in “All Is Lost.”
Or, for that matter, what Tom Hanks does in “Captain Phillips,” as the captain of a cargo freighter hijacked by Somali pirates. Hanks was another surprise shutout.
True, he already has two best-actor Oscars, for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,” both of which were roles that required a bit more stunt work. Not that Hanks didn’t deserve the awards; those were both great, and very different, performances.
But one could argue that “Captain Phillips” required more subtle nuance as Hanks was required to convey to the audience something different than he was conveying to his captors, using only his eyes and facial expressions. It’s a complex acting job, and Hanks was fabulous.
But the work by Redford and Hanks in these films is much less obvious than, say, Christian Bale’s in “American Hustle,” for which he gained weight and wore a horrid comb-over, or Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he lost weight and appeared sickly throughout much of the film. Both actors were good and obviously put aside any vanity about their respective images — but those are also attention-getting techniques of the kind that Oscar voters love to acknowledge.
Another best-actor nominee is Bruce Dern for “Nebraska,” whose performance ranks in the same league as Redford and Hanks’ — human, realistic, subtle, gets under your skin without any tricks. (The other two nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave.”)
And it’s significant to note that “Nebraska” opened in November, so it was bound to be better remembered by Oscar voters than “Captain Phillips” and “All Is Lost,” both of which opened in October.
If you think that’s merely a finite difference, hey, it happens every year. Movies that open before November are often overlooked.
Consider this: All of the best-actor nominees’ movies opened in November or December. Every one.
And several films that were talked up earlier in the year as featuring Oscar-bait performances were completely shut out — “Rush,” which opened in September; “Lee Daniels’ the Butler,” August; “Fruitvale Station,” July; “Mud,” April you get the idea.
One could make a case for actors in those films being snubbed, too. But in the case of Redford and Hanks, they weren’t just snubbed, they were robbed.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com