Gold Standard: Oscar watch: Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ enters the race

Jack O’Connell stars as Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini in “Unbroken.”
(Universal Studios)

The last of the year's best picture Oscar hopefuls dropped Sunday as Angelina Jolie unveiled "Unbroken," a biopic of Olympic athlete and American war hero Louis Zamperini, at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills.

There were two screenings for various guild members and media. There were ovations. There were a few tears. There was a scrum outside the theater when Jolie made her way to her SUV. And, apparently, there was an accident involving Jolie's car after the second screening because no one, not even the professionals, knows how to drive in L.A. when it rains.

How will "Unbroken" fare with the academy? This week's Oscar Watch, which comes to you every Monday, takes a look at the film.

Jack O'Connell

Chances are that most academy members will be seeing the 24-year-old English actor for the first time and he makes a memorable initial impression. O'Connell pulls off the role's physical demands -- the running, the weight fluctuations, the stamina and energy -- with ease. But he capably handles the internal conflicts and small gestures too, commanding the audience's attention for just about every moment of the movie's 137-minute running time.

The problem, as has been noted endlessly, is that the lead actor race is, once again, ridiculously crowded with worthy candidates. Eddie Redmayne for "The Theory of Everything"; Michael Keaton for "Birdman"; Benedict Cumberbatch for "The Imitation Game"; David Oyelowo for "Selma"; Steve Carell for "Foxcatcher"; Timothy Spall for "Mr. Turner." We could go on, but you get the idea. Voters are going to have to go for "Unbroken" in a big way for the engaging O'Connell to join the final group.


Academy voters don't know Miyavi either ... unless they've spent time in Japan where this dude is a rock star who has a lot of tattoos and, more often than not, doesn't really look like a dude. Cast against type as the sadistic POW camp commandant who makes Zamperini's life a living hell, Miyavi, like O'Connell, brings a magnetic presence to an underwritten role. Guild and academy members spoke highly of the performance after the movie, with one actor calling him a "major discovery."

The supporting actor category, led by a guy playing a sadist of a different sort (J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash"), isn't as crowded and often welcomes newcomers. (Barkhad Abdi can always captain our ship.) Who knows? Maybe if Coldplay wins a nod for the original song that plays over "Unbroken's" end credits, Miyavi can join them on stage and duet with Chris Martin. Or do something with host Neil Patrick Harris. The guy offers endless opportunities to add a little life to the evening.

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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