Best Actor this year feels to be more of the hopeful variety, less dark, more optimistic and heroic. This is certainly true of the category’s frontrunner of the moment, George Clooney, who takes things to a different level with his portrayal of a newly single dad trying to keep his family together in the wake of a tragedy in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. It is most certainly true of The Artist’s Jean Dujardin, who may finish out as the year’s most endearing. Ryan Gosling in Drive, Tom Hardy in Warrior are also heroic but they are more complex.
One cannot help notice how, erm, hot and beefcakey this year’s potential lineup is either. Not to be crass but seriously, dude. Cold shower time. I’m thinking that this alone could boost ratings.
There are some outside possibilities right now, and with Toronto a heartbeat away who knows what other names might pop up. Let’s run them down so far:
1. George Clooney, The Descendants
Despite the raves Clooney got for Up in the Air, The Descendants shows that Clooney can do more than just be the charming, somewhat and occasionally confused ladies man, and/or lovable goofball, and/or quirky sidekick. He’s actually finally been a role where he has to play a genuine human being – a father and a husband whose own emotions are on full display. There is no hiding from pain. All at once, Clooney’s character deals with parental responsibility, the loss of a spouse and betrayal. There is a scene towards the end of the film that will go down in film history as one of the most moving. In truth, I did not ever expect Clooney would ever be able to expose himself this way. After all, he’s the cool cat who dumps women as soon as they want something more than just being his girlfriend. He’s the guy who always makes jokes at press conferences. He’s not the guy who bares his heart and soul. But in this film, he does it. It’s hard to talk about without A) overhyping, or B) spoiling the movie. To my mind, right now, Clooney is in the frontrunner’s spot for the win.
2) Jean Dujardin, The Artist
If there is one movie that seems to be getting near-universal acclaim it’s The Artist. It could charm the pants of a dead man. Even the most hard-boiled hipsters among us melt when they watch the lyrical tribute to movies themselves. And much of the reason for the success of the film, it must be said, is Dujardin. Everything that happens in that movie happens on his face. It is a landscape all its own. Somehow he holds us in his thrall with no words spoken. This is really and truly, to my mind, the movie to fear come Oscar time.
3) Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Word has it DiCaprio goes beyond what we’ve seen him do already which, if you count The Departed, The Aviator and Shutter Island is quite a lot. But his J. Edgar is going to be a stretch. And a stretch could get him a nomination. Hard to tell at this rate if he could win but at this moment in time it appears to be down to these three. Really, it’s down to Clooney vs. Dujardin.
4) Brad Pitt, Moneyball – Jeff Wells says of Moneyball, “a smart, true-to-life, business-of-baseball movie with a touch of the mystical and the sublime, and propelled along by a killer lead performance by [Pitt]. It’s not just the emotional and spiritual currents that makes it great, but the subtlety of them.” According to some who’ve seen it, Pitt finally realizes his promise as a complex, mature lead.
And a fifth potentially—
Tom Hardy, Warrior
AV Club’s Alison Willmore writes of Hardy, “He’s riveting here, a little boy lost with the hulking build of a minotaur; his dialogue would scarcely fill a few pages, but his character speaks volumes with his fists.” Hardy already has quite the following of devotees thus his should be among the favorites this year. Not sure whether that passion will translate to Oscar votes but it’s certainly possible that the performance alone will be enough.
Ryan Gosling, Ides of March/Drive
The year of the Gosling has him turning out Crazy Stupid Love as a big money maker, then the Clooney politico thriller, The Ides of March, and finally, his daydreaming, non-speaking romantic in Drive. None of these are to the level of what he did last year in Blue Valentine, and was subsequently ignored by the Academy. But there is little doubt of his star power and charisma. Ides and Drive could split up the Gosling support, and result in a non-vote for any. I haven’t yet seen Ides, so I have to put my support behind his subtle, brilliant work in Drive. Gosling plays a Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, whose inner turmoil doesn’t reveal itself until he forced into brutal and violent scenarios. It’s not a showy performance but it is every bit as intelligently drawn and complex as anything he’s ever done.
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Apparently Oldman is wonderful in this but I have yet to see any really great raves coming out about his performance specifically. Still, there is enough talk/buzz to put him in consideration. Guy Lodge writes this, “As Smiley, Oldman has perhaps handed himself the toughest task of all: with cherished memories of Alec Guinness’s TV portrayal weighing heavily on his shoulders, he has chosen to tread a similarly dry path of expression and gesture. Eyes frequently shielded by the character’s trademark cola-bottle spectacles, he works his own personality into sly infective details and hovers patiently around many scenes before snatching one for a moving, quivering monologue; it could be the one that secures the actor his long-overdue Oscar nomination, but for the most part, it’s selflessly subtle work that recognizes the character’s responsibility to fade into Alfredson and DP Hoyte van Hoytema’s carefully autumnal palette of dun browns and flannely charcoals.” So, who knows. Could this finally be Oldman’s Big Oscar Moment?
Michael Fassbender, Shame
If I had to pick one performance so far this year that drove a spike through my soul it’s this one. Shame is a bit esoteric and lord knows the many scenes of masturbation could put off some voters — it was rumored Sid Ganis walked out of the Chuck Jones when it screened. So if Sid Ganis is walking out that should tell you something about the potential to offend the AMPAS demographic. When thinking about Oscar, it is often wise (not always) to imagine your family’s Thanksgiving dinner and all of the variety of people who come to eat. Different age levels, life experiences, tastes — so the one movie that appeals to all is your winner. And if a movie like Shame would offend some or all in that group? Well…
Chris Evans, Puncture
Evans showed himself capable of turning out Captain America but then to do something wildly different, playing a drug addicted lawyer who learns, as the film goes on, what the whole point of his case actually is. There is something fascinating about Evans in Puncture, as he must act like someone who’s high all of the time but must appear sober. He is at his best when he almost found out, or is hovering right near the edge of total collapse. He doesn’t overdo it, as one might be inclined to do playing a drug addict, which makes it all the more believable and all the more effective.
Johnny Depp, The Rum Diary
Nobody knows anything about this but Depp is always worth consideration. But for now we’ll hold a spot for him, given his work in the past.
One wonders what might happen if Clooney, Pitt, Gosling, Fassbender and/or Depp were in the running — it would turn into a feeding frenzy of adoring, lusting fans. That has to be good for ratings, right? Even still, it feels like a thin slate overall for Best Actor contenders compared to years past.
Which acting contenders have we forgotten? Help us fill in the gap.