Eye on the Oscar: The Talent

 

Javier Bardem
‘Skyfall’
It figures Oscar-winning sociopath Anton Chigurh (“No Country for Old Men”) would morph into one of James Bond’s foremost nemeses. In conception, Silva is indebted to Sean Bean’s renegade agent in “GoldenEye,” but this time payback carries with it a distinctly personal dimension, and even a weirdly sexual one. Other franchise baddies have been just as ruthless, but have any been so amusingly, increasingly exasperated each time 007 returned from the dead?

 

Albert Brooks
‘This Is 40′
Brooks lost out on a nomination for his change-of-pace crime boss in “Drive” last year. Maybe he’ll have better luck with this return to needling-kvetch form. As Paul Rudd’s mooching, layabout dad he’s the essence of passive aggression, blissfully eager to tell others their faults while heedless of his own. His confrontation with the family at sonny’s birthday party, especially when taking on opposite-number grandpa John Lithgow, is something to savor.

 

Jason Clarke
‘Zero Dark Thirty’
Torture scenes are meant to make auds uncomfortable, and Clarke’s firm grasp of the gravity of those moments are what makes the film feel so authentic. By both playing friend and tormentor of those captured, and hoping to vie information out of them by any means necessary, Clarke’s American operative realizes that when national security is at stake, those who are too easily queasy have no place in war.

 

James Gandolfini
‘Killing Them Softly’
Hitman Mickey would not, one feels, rise very far in the Soprano organization. In town to whack a moke, the guy spends his days criticizing hookers on their technique and wallowing in self-pity over the dames that done him wrong. That this drunken loser is portrayed by the great Tony Soprano himself deepens the joke while not diminishing the threat. Even a sodden slob can be a dangerous slob; Gandolfini can kill you with a glance. Softly.

 

Hal Holbrook
‘Promised Land’
In only a few scenes, the grand old man eloquently establishes himself as both his small town’s conscience and the story’s moral baseline. As presented, the battle isn’t really between greedy corporate interests and environmentalism, but within the contemporary American soul: How much natural beauty and authenticity are we willing to give up in the name of prosperity? Holbrook’s Frank Yates doesn’t just take a stand. He defines one of the central challenges of our time.

 

Matthew McConaughey
‘Magic Mike’
He always had the drawl. But throughout McConaughey’s game-changing year (six releases in 2012 alone), he kept merging it with a swagger, easy physicality and sense of danger, never more effectively than here. With sly innuendo, exotic male dance entrepreneur Dallas hawks his hunky wares to Tampa’s co-eds and cougars without apology, and without letting pleasure ever get in the way of business. Character and thesp alike emerge as stars in the triumphant farewell routine.

 

Michael Pena
‘End of Watch’
“Sidekick to” is far from a thankless role when it’s played with Pena’s brand of commitment. On the street, his Mike and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Brian wordlessly execute their tasks with practiced precision. In the squad car, Mike’s sensitivity to his partner’s psychic pain is always evident, even during their jivey, gleeful and profane give-and-take. Perf is reminiscent of Roy Scheider in “The French Connection,” whose Oscar nom jump-started his stardom. History could repeat.

 

Eddie Redmayne
‘Les Miserables’
Who knew Redmayne had such glorious pipes, playing the love-smitten Marius. His voice is as good as anyone here, and though he might not have the scenes that resonate as much as others — think Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” as the likely remembrance of the film’s supporters — he is as worthy as any supporting thesp. While Hugh Jackman is the straw that stirs this drink, all the others here are wonderful ingredients.

 

Christopher Walken
‘A Late Quartet’
Years of flamboyant cameo appearances have not prepared us for the depth Oscar winner Walken (“The Deer Hunter”) brings to Peter, a veteran cellist whose incipient Parkinson’s sounds a requiem for his beloved string quartet. Not only does the script assign him wonderful speeches (the Casals anecdote alone is to die for), but thesp fills in the spaces between them with demonstrable thought and varied feeling. To paraphrase Francis Bacon, Walken maketh a full man.

 

Christoph Waltz
‘Django Unchained’
Waltz has found his partner in crime in director extraordinaire Quentin Tarantino, and the alliance has made for immensely evocative results. A former dentist, Dr. King Schultz is more than happy to go on a killing spree, as long as the U.S. government is willing to pay his bounty. Whenever Waltz starts twirling his mustache, as he often does in “Django,” his character is planning the next three moves, and we’re just grateful to see how it will all end up.

Eye on the Oscars: Talent
When a performance feels within reach
IN THE MIX
Lead actor | Lead actress | Supporting actor | Supporting actress

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