Stirring an Oscar pot that isn’t even on the burner anymore, see Timothy Spall play the title role in “Mr. Turner.” In the subjective realm of Academy Awards nominations, a fair amount of criticism wagged at the Best Actor category. The claim: David Oyelowo playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma” was sorely overlooked.
It’s thin to suggest that winner Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) and Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), and Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) were undeserving of nominations. Even Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”) arguably – OK, not compellingly -- deserved Oscar attention.
Let’s say that one of the precious five Best Actor slots coughed up room for a different nominee. Timothy Spall, as 19th Century British painter J.M.W. Turner, marks a fresher, riskier, more challenging performance than most you’ll experience on movie night.
David Oyelowo, yes, he was excellent, and it can be daunting to do justice to someone as iconic as Dr. King. Still, it’s fair to suggest that the acting challenge was too familiar. The importance of the story told in “Selma” can act like a nomination booster but could be considered as less special.
Although Turner might be labelled the most accomplished British painter ever, he’s hardly an iconic or familiar figure. Amidst various class levels in the first half of the 1800s, Timothy Spall treats us to Turner’s gruff version of genius. His questionable manners sustained something that, if not mistaken for charm, surely kept his celebrity well fed. That Turner was considered a character by his peers and benefactors gives Spall half of what makes this role juicy. On the private side of the man Spall plays, his way with three women opens Turner to disdain. For the acting challenge, Spall manages to evoke a complicated set of human traits.
Timothy Spall is a busy, recognizable if not star-like actor, whether or not you’ve seen him throughout the Harry Potter series of films. As Mr. Turner, he’s the Best Actor of 2014. So declares numerous award wins, even if he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.