While it may seem like there's a madness in his method, there is certainly a method to his madness. Take his Oscar-winning portrayal of Dicky Eklund in "The Fighter." So completely does he inhabit the twitchy small-time boxer who swings between smoking crack and staying clean, that when we see the real Dicky in the credits, he seems like a paler, pretend version of Bale.
Though Bale dropped weight to reflect the ravages of Dicky's addiction, it wasn't close to the now legendary 63 pounds he lost to embody an anxiety-riddled and guilt-ridden factory worker in 2004's "The Machinist." His limp a few years later in "3:10 to Yuma" looked so authentic, it made you wonder whether it was the price of that particular part or penance for going so skeletal before. Bale has played an American so convincingly for so many years, it's easy to forget that he's Welsh.
He always leans toward the dark and tortured — serious, brooding, character-driven roles — and his embodiment of them has won praise almost from the beginning. At just 13, he handled the lead in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" like a pro; that portrayal of a young English boy trying to survive World War II in Japanese-occupied China remains among his best.
Now 37 and with a substantial critically acclaimed body of work already, it is a mystery that Bale has been overlooked until now. While his literal transformations are striking, it is the metaphysical that marks his greatness. That he won Sunday night felt long overdue. And it was good to see him smile.