Our tenth entry in the Six Spot series is a perfect ten!

The 2011 Best Actor race was filled with a lot of interesting narratives. The war of two A-list movie-stars dominated the headlines at the time. However, Jean Dujardin, star of the Best Picture winner “The Artist,” bested both Clooney and Pitt to win. All throughout the season, the other two slots were very much up for grabs. This week on Six Spot, we’re trying to figure out who came closest to getting into this lineup.

THE NOMINEES WERE:

  • Damian Bichir: “A Better Life”
  • George Clooney: “The Descendants”
  • Jean Dujardin: “The Artist” – WINNER
  • Gary Oldman: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
  • Brad Pitt: “Moneyball”

OVERALL SUMMARY

The 2011 Best Actor race was billed as the war of the movie stars. George Clooney, who won the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards, was the early favorite for Oscar #2. “The Descendants” was a big hit and made it into multiple categories, including Best Picture. The same could be said of Brad Pitt in “Moneyball,” also in the lineup. The star, who has never won an acting Oscar, headlined a Best Picture nominee and was winning critics prizes in conjunction with his role in “The Tree of Life,” another Best Picture nominee. The career narrative, a la Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich,” could’ve lined up perfectly. However, Jean Dujardin sauntered up to the SAG and Golden Globe stages for his leading performance in “The Artist,” the Best Picture winner of the year. The fervor was too strong for the movie and the French star rode its coattails.

For the purposes of Six Spot, the last two slots are very interesting, as neither were sure things. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” was a well-reviewed thriller that saw Gary Oldman in the classic role of George Smiley. However, the performance was incredibly understated, which some thought could lead to a snub. However, Oldman had never had an Oscar nomination in his long career. Thus, the career narrative resulted in his nomination. Meanwhile, Demián Bichir came seemingly out of nowhere with his nomination for “A Better Life,” a small indie that did mild box office in the summer. What telegraphed his nomination was the surprise SAG nomination. Bichir ran a strong campaign and those who saw the film were passionate in their support. It goes to show, when SAG is passionate, they can propel someone to an Oscar nomination.

THE SIX SPOT CONTENDERS ARE:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio: “J. Edgar” – SAG Nominee, Golden Globes Nominee, Critics Choice Nominee
  • Michael Fassbender: “Shame” – Golden Globes Nominee, Critics Choice Nominee, BAFTA Nominee, LAFCA Winner, Online Film Critics Winner
  • Brendan Gleeson: “The Guard” – Golden Globes Nominee
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt: “50/50” – Golden Globes Nominee
  • Ryan Gosling: “Drive” – Critics Choice Nominee, Indie Spirits Nominee
  • Ryan Gosling: “Crazy, Stupid, Love” – Golden Globes Nominee
  • Ryan Gosling: “The Ides of March” – Golden Globes Nominee
  • Michael Shannon: “Take Shelter” – LAFCA Runner Up, Online Film Critics Nominee, New York Film Critics Online Winner, Indie Spirits Nominee
  • Owen Wilson: “Midnight in Paris” – Golden Globes Nominee, Best Picture Nominee

GOLDEN GLOBE LONGSHOTS

Especially in the lead categories, the Golden Globes love to go their own path. A lone Golden Globe nomination rarely translates into an Oscar nomination in lead, but it can. Particularly in the musical/comedy field, the lead races give some performances their moment in the sun. Brendan Gleeson got this moment to shine for his performance in “The Guard,” a dark Irish comedy. However, if McDonagh wasn’t going to get him in for “In Bruges” a few years earlier, this nomination wasn’t likely to go past the Globes.

Unfortunately, the same fate befell Joseph Gordon-Levitt for his work in “50/50.” That dramedy casts him as a young radio producer who gets a serious cancer diagnosis. The performance expertly blends stoner comedy with the emotions of going through a serious illness. With a stronger campaign, it could’ve contended in many categories. However, if it wasn’t able to break into the screenplay race, it was highly unlikely Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to break into Actor.

Of the lone Globe nominees, perhaps Owen Wilson had the best shot. Wilson stars as a nostalgic screenwriter vacationing in Paris in “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen’s hit comedy. The film won the Best Original Screenplay category at the Oscars this year, on top of nabbing Picture and Director nominations. While Wilson’s performance only got Golden Globe-nominated, it’s possible that Best Picture heat could have inflated his chances. That said, Woody Allen typically gets actors nominated in the Supporting Actress category. Few actors have reaped nominations for playing the male “Woody-Allen-stand-in” in his films.

PRECURSOR LEADERS

Awards precursor season divides between the televised awards and the critics’ awards. Two very different performances ran the gauntlet with each group. With the televised awards, Leonardo DiCaprio cleaned house for his performance in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” as the titular role. DiCaprio received nominations from the Critics Choice, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. At the beginning of the year, almost everyone thought this would be the vehicle that would finally get DiCaprio his Oscar. That all changed once people saw the movie. It received terrible reviews and performed horribly at the box office. That DiCaprio, behind pounds of bad makeup, snuck into three different awards lineups speaks to how huge of a star he is. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to get him into the Oscars.

On the critics front, everyone rallied around Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter.” The indie film chronicled a man who upends his family life with his doomsday planning. Shannon won the New York Film Critics Online Best Actor prize, was the runner up at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and received nominations from the Indie Spirits and Online Film Critics. That’s not even getting into the smaller regional critics prizes. The film’s profile also rose because it was one of seven films starring Jessica Chastain, who was the breakout actress of the year. Unfortunately, the film was too small to crack any of the major lineups. When it came to small independent films, the Oscars went with “A Better Life” and Demián Bichir.

THE UBIQUITOUS MOVIE STARS

Two male stars had very busy years in 2011. The hottest new actor on the block was Michael Fassbender. The German-Irish star had a breakout hit in “X-Men: First Class” in the role of Erik Lensherr (aka Young Magneto). On top of that, critics praised his performances in “Jane Eyre” as Rochester and “A Dangerous Method” as Carl Jung. Yet, neither of those were his big Oscar play. Steve McQueen’s “Shame” earned raves and headlines for Fassbender’s performance as a sex addict struggling to control his addiction. The performance was nominated for the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and BAFTA Awards. On top of the critical praise (including wins from Online Film Critics and LAFCA), much of the talk around the performance was around Fassbender’s full frontal intro. Unfortunately, this may have steered the conversation away from the performance and focused older voters on the film’s NC-17 rating.

Movie star heartthrob Ryan Gosling took on three very different roles, all of which received some awards attention. His summer entry, “Crazy Stupid Love,” cast him as a lothario who mentors a sad divorcee (Steve Carrell). The film landed him in the Best Actor Musical or Comedy category at the Golden Globes. In addition, Gosling also was nominated for Best Actor Drama at the Globes for “The Ides of March,” a political thriller by George Clooney. Initially, many thought this was his ticket to Oscar. However, the film underperformed critically and commercially. Instead, Nicholas Winding-Refn’s noir-ish thriller “Drive” became his most likely awards contender. The film developed a passionate cult following and got him nominations at the Critics Choice and Indie Spirit awards. However, the nearly silent role didn’t catch on with voters the same way winner Jean Dujardin’s actual silent film role did.

THE SIX SPOT FOR 2011 BEST ACTOR WAS:

MICHAEL FASSBENDER – “SHAME”

Who do you think came in 6th place in the 2011 Best Actor race? Share with us in the comments below.

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