Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Countdown to Oscar: Best Actor

The Best Actor race seems to have come down to two very worthy contenders: Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke. If you look at past winners of the prize and go by statistics, the likely winner is an actor of about 45 who has is either a first-time nominee (36 winners) or has been nominated before but not won (33 winners), starring in a film nominated in key categories like Picture, Director, Screenplay and at least one other Acting category. Neither Penn nor Rourke fits this template perfectly (in fact, going solely by statistics, Brad Pitt is the frontrunner), but few winners actually do. The nominees:

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

Jenkins’ quiet performance is a beautiful thing, something built largely on small gestures and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments, and him actually securing a nomination was one of the few happy surprises for me on Oscar nomination day. I don’t think there’s any conceivable way that he’ll win, but in this case I’d argue that a nomination is the reward. This is Jenkins’ first nomination.

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon

I haven’t seen Frost/Nixon, but my understanding is that Langella’s performance as Richard Nixon transcends mere caricature and impersonation. Although I don’t think it’s likely, Penn and Rourke could split the vote in Langella’s favour, resulting in him walking away with the statue. Though most precursor awards have gone to either Penn or Rourke, Langella managed to nab the Las Vegas Critics’ award for Best Actor. This is Langella’s first nomination.

Sean Penn, Milk

Penn is one of the most consistently great artists working today, both in front of and behind the camera. As Harvey Milk, Penn manages to shove aside his dark and intense off-screen persona to embody a character that emanates light and an easy charisma. His is my favourite of the performances I’ve seen and I think he’s got a really good shot at winning. Having won already (for Mystic River in 2003) works against him, but the fact that Milk has so many other nominations plays in his favour.

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I know a lot of people really didn’t care for his performance and I can certainly understand why. It’s a very passive and, perhaps, passionless performance. Personally, I thought it was a great and subtle performance, particularly when Pitt embodied the young Benjamin in old Benjamin’s body. I don’t think Pitt will win, but I’m glad he received some recognition for this since the more daring/edgy performances he’s given over the years have been routinely ignored, save one - 12 Monkeys - for which he received a nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Mickey Rourke, The Wreslter

Having finally gotten a chance to see The Wrestler, I can agree with the general consensus that Rourke is really great and engaging as the past his prime and down on his luck former superstar Randy The Ram. My preference remains for Penn partly because his performance came as such a surprise to me, while Rourke fits the role of Randy so snugly, that you can’t imagine him not playing it. This is Rourke’s first nomination.

No comments: