The 93rd Oscars – Best Actor

In today’s post, I will review the Best Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards. Let’s go!

The Nominees

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)

Filmmaker Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal tells the story of Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed), a recovering drug addict and drummer in a hard metal band with his girlfriend Lou (played by Olivia Cooke), who suddenly loses his hearing. Eventually, Ruben makes his way to a sober-living community for deaf people, which is run by Joe (played by Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Ruben’s hearing loss is set up in the first act of Sound of Metal, and thus, the bulk of the film is substantively focused on Ruben’s experience learning to live with his new circumstances. As I will get to in greater detail when I reveal my Top 10 Films of the Year this Saturday, Sound of Metalis an incredible cinematic experience, and Riz Ahmed is stunning as the movie’s protagonist. Ruben quickly becomes overwhelmed by the sudden and incessant silence associated with his deafness, which ultimately causes him to engage in addictive behaviors that Joe feels threaten Ruben’s sobriety—Ahmed skillfully plunges deep into this portrayal of Ruben’s complex journey to realizing deafness is not a handicap. It is a moving performance that at times will bring you to tears, and although the film as a whole is superb, Ahmed’s depiction of Ruben is the most vital ingredient—a truly impressive display of acting bravura.

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

In his final film role before his death just 8 months ago, Chadwick Boseman plays Levee Green in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the film adaptation of August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 play of the same name. In the movie, which tells the story of a turbulent studio recording session with Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) and her band in 1920s Chicago, Levee is an ambitious, yet cocky and erratic, trumpet player who ultimately experiences an emotional collapse—Boseman is utterly exceptional, depicting this hot-tempered character with mesmerizing style and fiery flair. This is just the ninth time a performer has received an Academy Award nomination posthumously in an acting category, and only Peter Finch and Heath Ledger have previously won in those circumstances—based on the results at the other major film awards this season, Boseman is sure to become the third such winner.

Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

In Florian Zeller’s film The Father, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the titular father (whose name is actually Anthony in the movie), an elderly man battling against the degeneration of his own mind at the hands of dementia. It goes without question that Anthony Hopkins is one the greatest actors of all time. This year’s Oscar nomination is the sixth of his career (and second consecutive nomination following his inclusion in the Best Supporting Actor category last year for The Two Popes), and in The Father, Hopkins delivers what is arguably his greatest acting performance, behind only his Academy Award-winning turn as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins’s character in the film is snappy and petulant throughout, clearly struggling to come to grips with his condition. He quickly oscillates between moods, engages in unkind outbursts, and hurls a number of cutting comments at his daughter, Anne (played by Olivia Colman), and yet, he’s also such a sympathetic character. It’s understandable why Anthony is who he is, and Hopkins embodies this character masterfully, giving us a peek into the man’s heartbreaking circumstances. I got choked up a number of times during this movie, but never more so than when Hopkins brought the performance home with a crushing final scene. Anthony Hopkins epitomizes dramatic acting, and even in his early 80s, he’s still showing the industry how it’s done.

Gary Oldman (Mank)

David Fincher’s black-and-white biopic Mank (written by Fincher’s late father Jack, who passed away in 2003) tells the story of famed Hollywood screenwriter Herman “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) and his role in developing the screenplay for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, often credited as the greatest film in cinematic history. Mank is definitely a love letter to Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” and I had incredibly high hopes for it since Fincher directed it. Unfortunately, for me, the film underwhelmed altogether. Gary Oldman, a master of his craft, was obviously great in his role of the titular Mank, but I never felt while watching it like this was worthy of a surefire Oscar nod—certainly, I expected it to get a nomination, as the film is the prototypical Oscar bait, but I never felt blown away by his performance. Oldman’s spot among the nominees should have gone to more deserving actors this year.

Steven Yeun (Minari)

Minari, a semi-autobiographical film by writer and director Lee Isaac Chung, follows South Korean immigrants Jacob Yi (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica Yi (played by Han Ye-ri) as they move their family from California to rural Arkansas to fulfill Jacob’s dream of starting a Korean produce farm. South-Korean born Steven Yeun, who is best known to audiences as Glenn from the AMC television series The Walking Dead, is stellar as the Yi family’s patriarch in this film, and I was incredibly excited to see him become the first Asian-American of Korean descent nominated for the Best Actor award at the Oscars. Despite Jacob’s painstaking commitment to achieving his piece of the “American dream,” the bullheaded character is also marred by stubborn imprudence. Yeun’s portrait of this complex character is first-rate and exquisitely captures the enduring spirit of an immigrant’s inspirational journey to achieve success for his family in America.

Snubs and Other Performances

Despite the year’s many wonderful acting performances from male leads, it was always going to be difficult snagging an Oscar nomination, as the field was certainly crowded. Other than the nominees, here are a few other performances that caught my eye during the past year in film. First, one of the surprise hits of the film season was The White Tiger, a film set in India that examines the country’s caste system from the perspective of its lead character Balram (played by Adarsh Gourav), who cleverly escapes poverty. Gourav was remarkable in his breakout starring role, and I hope to see much more of him in the future, as he’s proven to the world just how capable of a performer he is. Second, in addition to his blockbuster role as Vision in Marvel’s Disney+ television series Wandavision, Paul Bettany was equally extraordinary in Uncle Frank, a film set in the 1970s, which tells the story of the titular Frank, played by Bettany, a gay man living in New York City who, following the death of his father, must grapple with his past and his South Carolina-based family. Bettany turned in a beautiful performance as Uncle Frank, and although he hasn’t been nominated for too many major acting awards in his career, it’s hard to think he didn’t deserve more attention for this fantastic role. Additionally, Ben Affleck was superb in The Way Back as a former high school basketball star and alcoholic seeking redemption as the coach of his former team. In light of Affleck’s real-life issues with alcoholism, it’s clear this perspective for the role allowed him to uniquely portray the heartbreaking struggles of the addiction—Affleck delivered a great performance.

This year, I believe the biggest snub in any category was Delroy Lindo missing out on a nomination for his stellar performance in Da 5 Bloods. Spike Lee’s latest film tells the story of four African-American veterans of the Vietnam War who reunite to travel back to the Southeast-Asian country to both locate the remains of “Stormin’” Norman (their former squad leader, played by Chadwick Boseman, who died during the war) and to find a massive treasure the group hid during their time in Vietnam. Like most Spike Lee films, Da 5 Bloods explores a number of important themes, including the horrors of war, race relations, and redemption. At the center of the story is Lindo’s emotionally complex character Paul, a cynical Trump supporter whose hostile demeanor is shaped by tragedy and oppression. Lindo, who previously collaborated with Spike Lee on three films in the 1990s, is spectacular in his depiction of Paul. The character is tragic in every sense of the word, and Lindo delivers his performance with heart, passion, and above all, masterful skill. My tweet on the day the Oscar nominations were announced says it all.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Anthony Hopkins

Sir Anthony Hopkins’s performance in The Father is clearly one of the best of his storied film career, and for that, if anyone is going to overcome Chadwick Boseman’s incredible frontrunner status to pull off an upset on Sunday night, it’ll like be Hopkins. Presently, Hopkins is getting +700 odds, the best of any challenger in the category.

Who Should Win: Riz Ahmed

My personal pick for Best Actor is probably the toughest call in any category, and despite my love for Anthony Hopkins in The Father, if I had a vote, it would go to Riz Ahmed, the first Muslim to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Ahmed committed to his role in stunning fashion, spending a great deal of time learning American Sign Language and how to play the drums. His many hours of preparation were well worth it, as Ahmed turned in a perfect performance in a film that highlights a community not often depicted with regularity in film. Although Ahmed won’t win this year, he’d have my vote.

Who Will Win: Chadwick Boseman

I simply cannot see anyone beating the late Chadwick Boseman at this year’s Oscars. The only major award Boseman hasn’t received for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the British Academy Film Award, which went to Anthony Hopkins, although it’s likely due to the fact The Father is a British film and Hopkins is one of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished performers. Currently getting frontrunner odds of -1600, Boseman is set to become just the third performer to posthumously win an Academy Award in an acting category.

Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 3 – Nightcrawler

Night1Nightcrawler is a neo-noir crime thriller written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film, set in a nocturnal Los Angeles, follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man desperate for work who happens upon the world of “nightcrawling”—a trade where freelance journalists monitor police scanners in order to rush to the scene of wrecks, fires, assaults, murders, and more to capture video of the events to sell to the highest bidder. Determined to make himself an overnight success, Lou embarks on a determined, but twisted journey into the bloodthirsty business of turning crime into dollar signs.

Night5Of all the films released in 2014, you will not find a more sadistic, but comical, spine-chilling, but appalling one than Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy has not had the most prestigious career in film, making his mark only as an average writer in the industry (over a 20-year period, from 1992–2012, he penned only six screenplays). But in Nightcrawler (Gilroy’s directorial debut), he has elevated himself into “a-force-to-be-reckoned-with” territory. This film explores the old media adage of “if it bleeds, it leads,” and this broad, violent idea provides Gilroy with plenty of room to delve deep into the underbelly of society’s voyeuristic lust for blood. I am sure everyone is familiar with the term “rubbernecking,” (commonly used to describe slowing down to view the scene of a car accident) and this is the primal theme that Gilroy surveys. Night9In the film, Lou chases down accidents, murders, and so on before the police can arrive to shoot footage of the incident, and then he negotiates for the purchase of that footage with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the morning news director at a failing local TV station who desperately needs a boost in ratings. Therefore, Gilroy’s story is the manifestation of the cyclical demand for this raw, brutal footage: society is enabled by Lou (who shoots the footage), Lou is enabled by Nina (who purchases his footage), Nina is enabled by the news station (who is in dire need of an increase in ratings), and the news station is in turn enabled by society (who craves this footage). The concept seems so simple, and Gilroy does an exceptional job of delineating this perverse plot in the most irksome way.

Night3One mark of a great writer is his/her ability to create a memorable character, such as Tarantino’s Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), and Oliver Stone’s Tony Montana (Scarface). In Lou Bloom, Dan Gilroy has created one of the most inexplicable, sociopathic, and demented characters since Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. One of the most unnerving features of Lou Bloom is his appearance. Jake Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for the role, and this gauntness is the defining characteristic of his portrayal of the ruthless antihero. Gyllenhaal’s eyes appear sunken in throughout (making him look like an unsettled insomniac), and his greased-back hair and robotic-like demeanor go perfectly hand-in-hand with Lou’s manic rhetoric throughout the film. Night4An established actor in the industry, Gyllenhaal is no stranger to remarkable, critically acclaimed performances. But I believe that his portrayal of Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler is by far his greatest of all time—this is why, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest mistake this year (aside from The Lego Movie getting jipped) was leaving Gyllenhaal out of the Best Actor category. Apart from Gyllenhaal’s physical dedication to the role of Lou, he delivers one of the most icily neurotic performances of 2014. Lou is a fascinating mix of blank-stared sociopath and charismatic comic, and Gyllenhaal brings these utterly multifarious characteristics to life in an unruly manner.

Night7Nightcrawler also features some marvelous supporting performances from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Russo (writer/director Dan Gilroy’s real-life wife) executes her role as the morning news director Nina Romina with effortlessness. Nina knows that her job is on the line at a news station that is rapidly faltering, and with that in the back of her mind, she must go to extreme lengths to survive. She is chilling in her own way (not to mention wildly matter-of-fact), and Russo gives one of the most surprising performances in Nightcrawler. Night6Riz Ahmed also gives an unpredictable breakout performance as Rick, Lou’s ill-fated recruit/sidekick. Riding around every single night with Lou (a character with little to no moral compass), Rick is consistently besieged by the ferocious nature of this business—he attempts to be, to no avail, the voice of reason for the nightcrawling duo. Ahmed brilliantly delineates the conflicted nature of Rick’s character, and he breathes a humanistic vivacity into the only character worthy of empathy. Nightcrawler is rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.

Nightcrawler trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1uP_8VJkDQ

Academy Award nominations for Nightcrawler:

Best Original Screenplay (Dan Gilroy)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. Starred Up
  2. The Theory of Everything
  3. Boyhood
  4. Blue Ruin
  5. American Sniper
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy
  7. Birdman
  8. Fury
  9. Calvary
  10. Interstellar
  11. Gone Girl
  12. The Lego Movie