With the Oscar nominations announced this morning, the Lead Actor and Actress categories seem to have stirred up the most surprises, both delightful and frustrating. We’re psyched to see that deserving folks like Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill have been recognized, but for me, there was a glaring omission: Ezra Miller, who embodied the creepy calculation of teen killer Kevin Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Judging from the nominees, this year the Academy was swayed by truly transformative performances. Who can blame them? It’s astonishing to see Glenn Close play a woman trapped for decades in her lifelong disguise of a beloved male servant. Part of what made Melissa McCarthy’s performance in Bridesmaids a “breakout” after fifteen years in the biz was that the very feminine actress played up her character’s uncouth and butch mannerisms for humor.
And of course, since Rooney Mara was cast in David Fincher‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we’ve learned every detail of the sweet young actress’ transformation into Lisbeth Salander: Chopping off her hair, bleaching her eyebrows, piercing her nipple, auditioning hungover, learning to drive a motorcycle, etc. etc.
Ezra’s transformation was much subtler: He didn’t add tattoos or piercings to play the psychopath teenager who deceives his father (John C. Reilly) and tortures his mother (Tilda Swinton). The most distinguishable “costume” he has is Kevin’s penchant for wearing T-shirts and jeans three sizes too small. But Ezra is Kevin incarnate; he’s internalized and put back out every mocking compliment, every shudder of revulsion at his parents’ obliviousness and his peers’ foolish passions.
The destruction and bodily harm he wreaks on his family is all the more chilling for how calculated he is; as they struggle to keep accepting and encouraging him, he catalogs the people and objects they hold most dear and then rips them away. Take, for instance, this scene after his little sister suffers a trauma that leads to doctors removing her eye, and his mother is certain that he did it:
And it’s sorta NSFW, but I have to point to the very disturbing masturbation scene from the movie:
Even more evidence in his favor is that the real Ezra is charming and quirky, bereft of the cruel smirks that warp Kevin’s face. And yet, like any of the actors nominated for their performances this year, he won’t soon forget the character he embodied for the years it took to make this movie. “To my horror, I do feel a little connected to Kevin,” he confesses. “Always did. Always will.”
With the exception of Viola Davis‘ role in The Help, the Best Lead Actress nominations highlighted performances where the actress was almost unrecognizable: The ladies I mentioned above, as well as Meryl Streep in her latest complicated costume (and fake teeth). By contrast, the Best Lead Actor nominees are a lot more recognizable; you think to yourself, “Now this is Christopher Plummer playing a sweet and awakened old man.”
Jonah Hill is the only young’un in the bunch; so both age and type of performance could have made a win wholly unattainable for Ezra. But we would have at least liked for him to have the chance.