Too Many Actors, Too Little Spaces – A Look at Best Actor


Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master”

Oscar Predictions, how I love thee yet how I hate thee.  As I revealed the newest set of predictions this time around and took a look at the next five months, I haven’t dived into serious awards analysis in a while.  A lot of the reason was I felt it was too early and we didn’t know enough.  I had an epiphany recently however; we never know what the Oscars are thinking.  Even after critics’ awards drop, Golden Globes, SAG, Critics Choice Awards are televised; all mean nothing at the end of the day.  Oscar will always do what she wants to do, even when everyone is telling her the obvious choices.

Granted, I am one of the few that thinks they can actually pick some great choices among their winners.  I was and still am in the camp that Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist was the best film of last year.  I couldn’t have chosen a better film.  Does that mean everything that accompanied The Artist was the best?  Absolutely not.  What Oscar often lacks are edgy, loud, or mainstream choices.  Could they have found room for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive or for its leading man Ryan Gosling?  How about Steve McQueen’s Shame with the best leading male performance of the year, Michael Fassbender?  Like I said, they’re not perfect.  And here’s a look into the future…they never will be.

I am a firm believer that in ten, fifteen years time, we may have an Academy that embraces films like The Dark Knight or performances like Tang Wei in Lust, Caution.  It’s not THAT time yet.

The reason I bring all this up is the upcoming Best Actor race looks to be one of the more dynamic lineup of leading men in a long time.  This could be one of those years we wish we had ten spots to nominate some compelling performances.  2004 comes to mind when speaking of this notion.  This is the year Jamie Foxx took home the Oscar for Taylor Hackford’s Ray.  Leonardo DiCaprio seemed his only competition as the eccentric Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator.  Don Cheadle was fighting for a spot as the heartbreaking hotel owner in Hotel Rwanda.  Johnny Depp was still riding the wave of popularity in his uninspired work in Finding Neverland.  Liam Neeson was still trying for nomination #2 in Bill Condon’s Kinsey.  Javier Bardem was showing the depth of how great he could actually be in the Foreign Language film winner, The Sea Inside.  Clint Eastwood was showing all directors starring in their own films, how to act in Million Dollar Baby.  Kevin Spacey even attempted the same Clint-method in his own, Beyond the Sea.  Paul Giamatti was the head of what seemed at the time, the unsinkable ship in Alexander Payne’s Sideways.  And then there’s Jim Carrey with the finest work of his career in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  And these listed were just Golden Globe nominees.  There were great works that got no attention all year.

Kevin Bacon, criminally ignored in 2004’s “The Woodsman”

Before Jackie Earle Haley charmed our pants off uncomfortably in Little Children (2006), Kevin Bacon gave the tortured sex-offending performance of the decade in Nicole Cassell’s The Woodsman.  Jeff Bridges was chasing Oscar in the quietly brilliant, The Door in the Floor.  Tom Cruise was in Jamie Foxx’s shadow in the wrong category for his wrongfully campaigned performance as the gray-haired hit-man Vincent, in Michael Mann’s Collateral.  Sean Penn was going on back-to-back career best works in The Assassination of Richard Nixon.  Gael Garcia Bernal was one-half of the year’s most remarkable pair in The Motorcycle Diaries.  Gerard Butler, though not a fan, had his followers in the pivotal role in Joel Schumacher’s The Phantom of the Opera.  Bill Murray has always been at this best when his quirky, creative, and his charming funny self.  His work in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is right up his alley.

Then there are always the performances that don’t have any chance in a million years with the Academy.  Jon Heder created a cultural phenomenon in Napeloen Dynamite.  Zach Braff was right up with Clint Eastwood as one of the finest directing/acting performances of the year in the beautiful, Garden State.  Perhaps not in the Lead Category, but Mark Wahlberg had his finest acting moments in David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees along with Jude Law and Jason Schwartzman that was worthy of citation.  Adam Sandler also showed a little diversity in James L. Brooks’ ignored, Spanglish.  And don’t forget the power of the chick-flicks as Ryan Gosling busted onto the scene in a big way with Rachel McAdams in The Notebook.

What a lineup that was, eh?  And we could only pick five.

I’m seeing a glimpse of a strong actor lineup this year.

It’s looking like a lead campaign in store for Joaquin Phoenix opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.  As the film gears for a September opening and an early screening in California suggests, Phoenix could be holding his first Oscar in 2013.  There’s also word that Hoffman could be campaigned as a co-lead.  Not since Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham in Milos Forman’s Amadeus, have two co-leads been nominated together.  The latter won that year so perhaps that’s a good sign for one of them.

John Hawkes has been in serious position to become the critical darling of the year for his work in Ben Lewin’s The Sessions.  It’s got all types of baity prestige attached; true story, disability, and heartwarming story headed by a talented cast.  That can only help Hawkes when looking at the performance on paper.  There might be some that think he was snubbed for last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene.

We’re still waiting on a trailer, poster, or an acknowledgment of existence for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.  On paper, it looks as though Daniel Day-Lewis is the undisputed frontrunner playing Abraham Lincoln with a sure-fire chance of winning his third Oscar.  Let’s keep in mind, there is no actor living or dead that has three Lead acting Oscars (Jack Nicholson is the closest with two and one supporting).  Having two Oscars may give voters pause in checking his name off, especially for winning.

Bill Murray missed the Oscar for Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.  Many think he should have won, many think Sean Penn was just better.  Hell, people may think Johnny Depp’s Oscar is in Penn’s house, whatever side of the triangle you’re on; Murray is in a good position to regain Oscar love in Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson.  Playing Franklin D. Roosevelt is a great opportunity for Bill to show some range.  The trailer insinuates that Murray looks fitting and also seems to be having a great time.  Could be a home run.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables will helm two outstanding actors in the mix in the forms of Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.  The former who’s an acclaimed Tony winner and fully capable of taking on a role of this magnitude, has a real possibility of securing his first nomination.  The closest Jackman’s come to a nomination was in Kate & Leopold (2001).  It’s time for him to have more of a showcase to exercise his abilities.  Crowe however, is in a different boat.  Crowe entered the new millennium as one of the most sought-after actors working.  Nominations for The Insider (1999), Gladiator (2000), and A Beautiful Mind (2001), declared Crowe one of the best actors working.  Since 2002, he’s missed some key notations along the way.  Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (2005) was a great change of pace for him as well his supporting role in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007).  Many praised his work in Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, however only the Golden Globes found solace in his work.  There’s no telling where Crowe will be campaigned this year in Hooper’s film, my gut tells me he could get the shaft.

Could Leo hold an Oscar in February?

By the Awards Circuit Community estimation, Leonardo DiCaprio should have two Oscars by now in Scorsese’s The Aviator and The Departed.  With only three nominations on his résumé thus far, DiCaprio has aligned himself as one of the few actors in Hollywood we all know will win an Oscar someday.  With two chances this year, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby will be his leading chance as his other role in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained seems to be supporting (or could we have a Kate Winslet-“Reader” switch coming?).  In Luhrmann’s film, the role of Jay Gatsby is complex, in-depth, and a change of direction that DiCaprio has offered time and time again lately.  His self-tortured and “dream man” persona was wearing thin in films like Shutter Island and Inception.

Bennett Miller’s Moneyball last year gave us the Brad Pitt we all knew and loved in a role that many people knew and loved.  Pitt has offered brilliance for years in unsung hero performances like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Burn After Reading (2008).  Both nomination worthy, both criminally ignored.  This year, he teams up with Andrew Dominik once again in Killing Them Softly, adapted from the book “Cogan’s Trade.”  Pitt’s loss to Jean Dujardin last year may still have people scrambling to get him the gold man.

I still find it insanely weird to be writing Ben Affleck’s name in the same sentence as possible Oscar contenders.  His turn around in Hollywood has been a success story after producing dud-after-dud for years.  This year, he directs himself in the adaptation of Argo with Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin.  He also has the leading role in Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder with Rachel McAdams.  While many are placing their bets on his work in Argo being the Oscar train, Malick has been known to do extraordinary things with his actors.  If Malick gets Affleck to dig-down-deep, watch out for a spoiler in Ben Affleck.

Clint Eastwood will be delivering his final acting performance in Robert Lorenz’s Trouble with the Curve later this year.  You can never count out the power of the veterans sticking together especially in an acting race.  Think Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story.  And then there’s always comeback stories that Oscar loves to get behind.  Tom Hanks playing multiple characters in Cloud Atlas could be a welcome back since his last nomination in Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away.

While the Lead Actor category is not typically one to welcome newcomers, up-and-comers in Hollywood on the verge of A-list status could find their names in a lineup.  Tom Hardy has given us a breakthrough turn in Bronson (2008), and this year he’s looking to follow-up his great work in last year’s Warrior in John Hillcoat’s Lawless opposite Shia LeBeouf and Jessica Chastain.

Gosling on the set of “Only God Forgives”

Though ladies consider him the hottest thing in Hollywood, Ryan Gosling is only a sole-nomination man looking to make a lineup in either Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines or Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives.  It can be argued that he missed last year after vote-splitting with himself for Drive and The Ides of March.  This year could have the same fate if both performances are well-acclaimed.

Bradley Cooper has become a bankable movie-star after delivering in The Hangover (2009) and Limitless (2011).  This year, Cooper will team up with director David O. Russell along with Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook.  Based on the trailer, Cooper could be distributing some acting chops.  He also has Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s The Words that could help his campaign.

I have appreciated Martin Freeman for years now as he’s flown under-the-radar with terrific turns in Love Actually (2003) and Breaking and Entering (2006).  His sure-to-be high-profile work in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey could have an Ian McKellen-type lovefest in store for him.

Colin Farrell by default should have two nominations by now.  He won the Golden Globe for Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008) and Tigerland (2000) had him and director Joel Schumacher deliver immensely entertaining work.  Teaming back up with McDonagh, Farrell will have another opportunity in Seven Psychopaths.

Ewan McGregor, why o why haven’t you found Oscar love yet?  Moulin Rouge! (2001) was his most tender work and he’s been added sprinkles of brilliance in I Love You Phillip Morris (2010) and Trainspotting (1996).  In his newest film, The Impossible, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and co-starring Naomi Watts, McGregor could have a new possibility to land on an elite list.

Take a look at the Best Actor predictions and tell us who you think/want to land on the Oscar list this year.  Typically, this has been a stacked category but we could be in store for something a bit more substantial this coming season.

Comment and discuss!