5 Unexpected Actors Earning Oscar Buzz

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Each year the Toronto Film Festival is the biggest film festival in North America, and movies that show there compete for awards buzz and distribution deals. This year, several films that have been shown at Toronto feature well-known actors in roles different from the type of material they’re typically known for, and some surprising names are earning early Oscar buzz. According to critics, this could result in some very unexpected contenders at the Academy Awards this year.

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Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston’s uglied-up performance as a woman suffering from chronic pain and prescription pill addiction in Cake earned a standing ovation after the film’s premiere in Toronto, Deadline reports. While Aniston has occasionally taken roles in indies, she has never really moved past her Friends reputation or proved herself beyond comedic turns in movies like We’re the Millers or Horrible BossesCake, however, has the critics confidently throwing the Oscar nomination at her already, saying it’s a career-making movie that could be Aniston’s Monster or Dallas Buyers Club. “Sans makeup but for scars and other disfigurements, Aniston proved way beyond cosmetic changes that she is the real thing,” said Deadline.

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Steve Carell

Many critics are saying that Steve Carell will definitely receive his first Oscar nomination for his performance as the disturbed millionaire heir John du Pont in Foxcatcher. The movie tells the true story of former Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schlutz (played by Channing Tatum, who we’ll get to in a second), who engages in a bizarre partnership with a wealthy benefactor who wants to use him to train young wrestlers for the Olympics and to compete again himself.

Carell wore a prosthetic nose and is almost completely unrecognizable as a repulsive, socially maladjusted man whose company is only desirable to anyone due to his wealth and status. This role is the furthest thing from comedic one could imagine. The film is based on the tragic, bizarre true story of what happened as the relationship between du Pont and the Schultz brothers spiraled out of control. Critics are raving about the performance, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it “astonishing and utterly unexpected,” and Indiewire saying it was a “revelation.”

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Channing Tatum

Foxcatcher bravely cast not one but two actors known almost solely for their comedic work in an intensely dramatic film, and the risk has paid off. Critics are saying that Channing Tatum’s performance as the washed-up former Olympic gold medal winner Mark Schultz could land him a best supporting actor nomination at the Oscars. Tatum is best known for his silly comedic roles in movies like Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. In Foxcatcher, Tatum plays an athlete who is psychologically tormented by a man he could easily physically dominate. “Playing a young man who doesn’t have a clue how to articulate his feelings and suffers for it, Tatum is a smoldering, festering piece of emotional raw meat, able to be manipulated this way and that by his benefactor,” said The Hollywood Reporter. That’s a huge departure from his funny, eye-candy roles indeed.

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Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for his roles on the BBC miniseries Sherlock, for which he’s won an Emmy, and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, as well as the CGI dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – all of which have earned him a ton of nerd credit and a big cult following. Cumberbatch’s new film The Imitation Game is getting awards buzz: The actor plays a character who could definitely be classified as nerdy, but it’s a much more serious part in a less genre-y movie than the actor has done in the past.

The Imitation Game is about the British mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing, who worked to help decode German messages during World War II and was eventually chemically castrated for being a homosexual despite being a great war hero. “What Cumberbatch delivers is an impressively rounded character study of someone variously kind, prickly, aggressive, awkward and supremely confident,” said The Guardian. Critics are saying the movie is definite Oscar bait, and Cumberbatch is likely to come away with a best actor nod. They had nice things to say about Keira Knightley’s supporting performance, as well.

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Chris Rock

Chris Rock wrote, directed, and stars in his new meta-movie Top Five, which examines celebrity and comedy through a character named Andre Allen, who’s not-so-loosely based on Rock himself. It’s well known how poorly comedies fare at the Oscars, so this one might be a long shot despite the rave reviews, but critics say that Top Five not only keeps audiences laughing but also is a deep look into modern celebrity and an artist’s attempt to survive a creative crisis.

Rosario Dawson plays a journalist from The New York Times, a publication that has trashed the comedian’s work in the past, who spends the day with Allen to get a well-rounded interview with him. Featuring cameos from an impressive array of comedians, the critics are saying the movie is a definite career high for Rock, whether or not the Academy can loosen up enough to consider a comedy. “It’s like watching a first-rate standup routine transformed into fiction, or in this case auto-fiction, as Rock has more on his mind than just making us laugh, offering up a witty celebrity satire that doubles as a love story set during one long and eventful New York City day,” said The Hollywood Reporter’s review.

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