Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton. But it was also said to be the major category with the most credible competition, boasting three other worthy nominees who could have easily won in a less competitive year. There were also a number of other performances that didn't even get nominated in a year of such excellence.
One of those performances was given by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. In it, Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a young man who whizzes around Los Angeles every night, hoping to film horrible crimes, accidents, and tragedies. Choice gruesome footage can be sold to the local news for a morally alarming price, and Louis finds the right buyer in a callous news producer looking to juice her broadcast's ratings. It's a dark, bleak film -- both in look and content.
Gyllenhaal's performance is certainly award worthy. His character is a sociopath that stands out even among fictional sociopaths, less charming and "functional" than most. Yes, Louis is another character who comes across like a robot incapable of truly understanding or feeling human emotion. He's also a character who has read and studied enough to pick up catch phrases, buzzwords, and other jargon. But Louis isn't good at parroting this material in a natural way. And he doesn't really want to "pass" in society anyway; he just wants other people to do his bidding. Gyllenhaal's performance thus lacks the polish of, say, a Dexter Morgan -- and very intentionally so. He creeps you out, on a deep animal level, in every single scene of the film.
Rene Russo is also good, as news producer Nina Romina. Her success is linked to Louis', but her personal level of control runs absolutely opposite to his; as such, Russo gets to play a fun range of scenes. Riz Ahmed does well as Louis' out-of-his-depth assistant, while Bill Paxton is all oily fun as a rival "nightcrawler" who first sets Louis on this grisly line of work.
But the performances -- Gyllenhaal's in particular -- are individually better than the movie is as a whole. The plot doesn't really resolve, ending in a minor narrative cliffhanger and a handful of emotional ones. I suppose it's all in keeping with the unsettled feeling the movie is meant to invoke, but it does leave you wondering why the story stops being told at this particular moment. (It can't be for some vague plan of a Nightcrawler 2.)
Still, this movie comes in the proud Taxi Driver tradition of presenting a disturbed protagonist, and does a credible job of that. I give it a B+.