The 92nd Oscars – Best Leading Actor

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

The Nominees

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)Banderas gif

In legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Pain and Glory (nominated this year for Best International Feature), Antonio Banderas stars as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker battling health issues and nostalgia as he reflects upon important memories and relationships throughout his past and how they’ve shaped his present. I have not seen an immense amount of Banderas’s films, but from what I have seen, his performance in Pain and Glory is certainly his best. This movie has a lot of drama and a lot of heart, all while sprinkling in some clever humor. And although the film features some wonderful supporting performances (including Penélope Cruz as Mallo’s mother and Asier Etxeandia as his former collaborator Alberto), Pain and Glory thrives most prominently because of this stunning performance by Banderas. Whether it’s the humorous moments where Mallo is, for the first time in his life, trying heroin with Alberto, or the emotional reunion with a lover from days gone by, Banderas sinks his teeth into the role and delivers a masterful performance. It is no wonder Banderas took home the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)DiCaprio gf

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In my Best Supporting Actor post, I waxed poetic about the glorious reunion between Tarantino and Brad Pitt following their collaboration in my favorite film of all time, Inglourious Basterds. But Once Upon a Time also marks a spectacular reunion for Tarantino and DiCaprio, who previously joined forces to bring us one of the most well-acted, but despicable villains of all time, slave owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. As much as I loved Brad Pitt here as Cliff Booth, my favorite aspect of the film (aside from the brilliance of Tarantino’s storytelling as a whole) was DiCaprio. Rick Dalton is by far the funniest character DiCaprio has ever portrayed (yes, even more so than the real-life Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street), and he delivers a performance that, in a year where Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t play the Joker, surely would be my top pick to take home the Oscar. This performance exhibits much of DiCaprio’s range, equal parts comical and earnest. The moments that will live on in my memory forever include the Basterds-esque “anyone order fried sauerkraut?” scene; the “Easy Breezy” conversation with Julia Butters’s character; yelling at the Manson hippies with a pitcher of margaritas in his hand; and most of all, that infamous trailer argument with himself on the set of Lancer.

Adam Driver (Marriage Story)Driver gif

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story follows a couple, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), as they cope with a contentious coast-to-coast divorce that involves a bitter custody dispute over their eight-year-old son. Despite the sad and depressing nature of Marriage Story as a whole, it is hard to argue with the fact that the film features two utterly tremendous performances from its leading actors. I have already discussed Johansson’s performance in my Best Leading Actress post, but with respect to Driver, his portrayal of New York-based theater director Charlie is one of the most emotionally shattering acting performances of 2019. Although the film follows both Charlie and Nicole through their separation and divorce, Marriage Story eventually homes in more distinctly on Charlie’s struggles. (The character arc of Nicole is vital to the story, but given Baumbach’s own divorce history with ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, the self-reflection through via Charlie is unsurprising.) Although the scene has been turned into a bit of a meme via Twitter, the argument between Charlie and Nicole in Charlie’s LA apartment (wherein Driver angrily proclaims “Every day I wake up and hope you’re dead”) is etched in my memory forever, and it certainly provided Driver his “Oscar moment.”

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)Phoenix gif

Joker, co-written and directed by Todd Phillips, is an origin story for the infamous Joker villain from the DC Comics. The film follows Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a wannabe stand-up comedian with severe emotional instability who, over the course of the story, spirals down into a dangerous and violent state of madness. Upon release, Joker polarized audiences for its depiction of mental illness and gun violence. But regardless of your take on the ethics of the film, Joaquin Phoenix’s staggering transformation into the famed super-villain is a sight to behold and deserves all the critical acclaim you can throw at him. One of the most obvious parts of Phoenix’s transformation is physical in nature, as he lost a significant amount of weight to give Fleck a disturbingly gaunt figure. Although impressive, the weight loss hardly compares to the haunting genius of Phoenix’s acting performance as a whole. Phoenix had massive shoes to fill with his portrayal of the future Joker, as Heath Ledger already gave the world one of the greatest performances in film history as the character in The Dark Knight (for which Ledger posthumously received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). Phoenix’s performance is incredible, but it’s also different from Ledger’s, as Phoenix only becomes the Joker during the climax of the film. As Arthur Fleck, Phoenix is chilling and terrifying, slowly creeping toward complete derangement throughout the movie. One of the major standpoint parts of Phoenix’s performances is the variety of maniacal laughs in Fleck’s repertoire—those things will haunt my ears forever. Phoenix’s embodiment of such a mentally ill character must have been taxing, both physically and emotionally, but his acceptance of the challenge provided cinematic history with one of its better performances. I expect Phoenix to take home the gold in a few days!

Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)Pryce gif

Netflix’s The Two Popes is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. With the exception of a couple of stray scenes, this film is comprised nearly entirely of one-on-one conversations between Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Although that does not seem like a recipe for an entertaining movie, I was thoroughly surprised in the result being just that. The two characters are both Catholic, and that is really where their similarities stop. Pope Benedict is staunchly conservative, while Pope Francis is more liberal and progressive. This dichotomy of ideologies makes for some very interesting conversations and debates throughout the film as the two discuss the future of the Church, and Pryce subtly, but quietly, steals the show, turning in a wonderfully inspired performance.

Snubs and Other Performances

This category was always going to be a bit crowded this year, as 2019 was packed with wonderful performances. In addition to the five nominees, though, there were a handful of other actors that turned in noteworthy performances this year that deserve some appreciation. First, despite the fact that both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci earned Best Supporting Actor nods this year, The Irishman’s lead, Robert De Niro, missed out on a nomination, despite giving us another very memorable performance as the titular Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. Second, Daniel Craig was marvelous in Rian Johnson’s whodunit Knives Out as private detective Benoit Blanc—this was by far the most fun role I’ve ever seen Craig in and he killed it. Third, Eddie Murphy was absolutely hilarious in his R-rated comedy comeback Dolemite Is My Name (his first R-rated film since Life in 1999), a film about the real-life comedian and legendary blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy would have been a worthy nominee for the Oscar, as he received nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards.Bale gif Additionally, Christian Bale was remarkable in Ford v Ferrari as British racecar driver Ken Miles. When I first saw the trailer for Ford v Ferrari, I thought it looked like a very paint-by-number Disney-style biopic—I was wrong. The film is fast-paced, electrifying, and extraordinarily fun, and Bale carries the film gloriously across the finish line with one of my favorite performances of his storied career.

Sandler gifThe five nominees all gave very strong performances, but I really think the Academy made a mistake by not nominating Adam Sandler for his portrayal of jeweler and gambling addict Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems. (I guess Pryce would have to lose his spot to grant a nomination to Sandler.) This was one of my very favorite movies of the year, and although it’s great for so many reasons (including, but not limited to, the raw and frenetic pace masterfully crafted by the Safdie brothers, as well as the stellar supporting performances from Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, and Julia Fox), it is a notch better on the strength of the single greatest acting performance of Adam Sandler’s career. On paper, Howard Ratner is incredibly unlikable. Throughout the entire film, he proves to be a bit of a sleazebag who incessantly makes bad decisions at every turn. And yet, because of Sandler’s career-defining performance, it’s impossible not to root for Howard during the movie’s thrilling twists and turns. Sandler obviously has more career ahead of him, but it’s hard not to imagine this being his masterpiece—the Academy should have rewarded that.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Adam Driver

Just like his Marriage Story co-star Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver is currently getting +1400 odds to pull off an upset in the Best Leading Actor category. Please read the “Who Will Win” section below for proof as to why this upset isn’t happening, though. (Yes, I know I listed Driver as someone who “could” win, but I feel obligated to at least list the second best odds amongs the other nominees no matter what, even though the odds don’t suggest Driver will be winning on Sunday.)

Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Think what you want about Joker as a film, but it is patently undeniable that Joaquin Phoenix turned in one of the greatest acting performances of all time. He deserves this win more than ever before.

Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix is currently getting the second best odds of any nominee in any category to win an Oscar this year. (Phoenix’s -5000 odds are second only to Parasite’s odds to win Best International Feature, which currently stand at an astounding -10000.) With the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Award, SAG Award, and BAFTA already under his belt, I fully expect Phoenix to be the actor giving his acceptance speech in this category come Sunday night. If When he wins, it will be his first Oscar win.

The 92nd Oscars – Best Supporting Actor

In today’s post, I will be analyzing the Best Supporting Actor category for this year’s Academy Awards, the most decorated acting category at this year’s Oscars. (The five nominees combined account for 27 career Academy Award nominations in acting categories.) As I pointed out yesterday, the format for all of these post concerning the acting categories will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.

So let’s go!

The Nominees

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)hanks gif

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a biopic inspired by a real-life Esquire article about Fred Rogers (better known as Mr. Rogers) by journalist Tom Junod titled, “Can You Say…Hero?” Although the film takes inspiration from the famous theme song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, is merely a supporting character. Hanks is obviously one of the greatest actors of his generation, and in this film, he is great in his embodiment of the calm, soft-spoken Mr. Rogers—although not looking physically like Mr. Rogers, Hanks nails the voice and mannerisms. But although I enjoyed his performance, it didn’t feel incredible invigorating for me, especially since Hanks just played Walt Disney in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, which this film felt so eerily similar to. I like Tom Hanks, and I really enjoyed him here, but I couldn’t help but think name recognition played a major role in not only this nomination, but also its companions at the Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs.

Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)Hopkins gif

 

At first glance, I didn’t think Netflix’s The Two Popes was going to be a movie I’d enjoy, but in the end, I was thoroughly surprised by and taken with its charisma. The film is about Pope Benedict’s shocking decision to resign the papacy (the first to do so in over 700 years) amidst controversy and the unlikely journey of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) to the Chair of Saint Peter as his successor. The plot is simple, and the film is executed through Sorkin-esque dialogue between the two main characters as they debate and discuss many topics, most importantly their vastly different religious ideologies. Pope Benedict is incredible conservative, while Cardinal Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce, who was nominated for Best Actor) is widely progressive. Both of the actors are exquisite and authentic in their portrayal of these real-life characters on the brink of a major shift for the Catholic Church, and per usual, the legendary Sir Anthony Hopkins is masterful.

Al Pacino (The Irishman)Hoffa gif

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro) who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Surprisingly, The Irishman was Pacino’s very first collaboration with Scorsese, and it definitely left me wishing the two worked together more. In his portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino returns to his peak acting prowess. Over the years, some believe Pacino has become a caricature of himself, resorting to the loud and boisterous delivery made famous in his Oscar-winning role in A Scent of a Woman far too often. In The Irishman, Pacino taps into those infamous rowdy and ostentatious traits, but he does so in a way that is extraordinarily reinvigorating—it is the Pacino we’ve grown to know, but it never feels like old hat. This is Pacino’s 9th Oscar nomination, but it’s his first since his lone win 27 years ago. As Hoffa, Pacino was back to his best, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see him back at the Oscars as a nominee.

Joe Pesci (The Irishman)

Pesci gifIn The Irishman, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a mobster and crime boss of the Bufalino crime family. Pesci came out of an extended retirement to play his role in The Irishman, and some reports indicate he actually turned down the role over 50 times before finally agreeing to do it. We should all count ourselves lucky for his decision to jump in. In this film, Pesci is as we’ve never seen him before, especially in the mob genre. A frequent collaborator of Scorsese, we’ve learned to expect Pesci to embody the smack-talking, loud-mouth, larger-than-life, over-the-top character traits from Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. (And oh, how I love Pesci when he’s in that zone.) But here, Pesci is distinctively restrained, exemplifying a strange sense of calmness. It is this aspect of Pesci’s performance that not only steals the show but also makes the character eerily more sinister than past Pesci characters—the guy plays a caring father figure to De Niro’s character with a great deal of compassion, all the while being someone who can call in a hit like it’s nothing. This will go down as one of Pesci’s greatest performances of all time.

Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)pitt gif

 

Quentin Tarantino’s newest masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I am admittedly a huge fan of Tarantino and his work (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time), and when I describe my love of Once Upon a Time to people, I tell them that it’s just a movie that was made for me. (Tarantino’s exquisite storytelling set against the backdrop of a glorious era of cinematic and cultural history is a recipe for success.) And from an acting standpoint, DiCaprio and Pitt are an amazing duo and are truly simpatico. And this film marks an outstanding return to the Tarantino set for Pitt, who dazzled in his memorable role as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds. Here, Tarantino gets the absolute best out of Pitt once more. Cliff Booth is just cool, and Tarantino couldn’t have chosen a better performer to embody that swagger. Highlights for Pitt in this movie include his fight with Bruce Lee, fending off hippies in the Manson cult at Spawn Ranch, and that hilariously unrestrained ending involving Pitt high on an acid-dipped cigarette. In this movie, Brad Pitt is in his element, and oh, what a wonderful element it is.

Snubs and Other Performances

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, although The Lighthouse did not necessarily work for me (which was a surprise, as I generally love everything A24 Films puts out), there is no denying that Willem Dafoe’s gruff portrayal of lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake is superbly deranged as one half of the film’s two-man show. Second, Dolemite Is My Name was one of my favorite out-and-out comedies of the year. And not only was it the vehicle for Eddie Murphy’s spectacular R-rated renaissance, but it also provided a humorous return for Wesley Snipes, who portrayed the real-life blaxploitation star D’Urville Martin. Majors gifAdditionally, I really enjoyed The Last Black Man in San Francisco (shout out to A24 again), and although Jimmie Fails was great as the lead, I was most impressed with Jonathan Majors as Jimmie’s sidekick “Mont”—the character is eccentric, artistic, and caring, and Majors was absolutely brilliant in his execution.

Song gifOne of the single best supporting performances of the year, though, came courtesy of legendary South Korean actor Song Kang-ho in Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a darkly comedic exploration of class inequalities, and Song is extraordinary as Kim Ki-taek, the patriarch of a poor Korean family who uses ingenuity and deception to infiltrate the home of the wealthy Park family as employees. The entire acting ensemble in Parasite is collectively magnificent. (In fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.) However, Song is definitely the film’s brightest star, and he was thoroughly deserving of an Oscar nomination this year.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Joe Pesci

Joe Pesci is currently getting odds of +1200 to render an upset in this category, better than any of the other three underdog nominees by quite a bit. (For instance, Al Pacino is next best, but his odds currently sit at +2800.) I don’t anticipate a surprise for Best Supporting Actor, but if the Academy throws us a curveball here, look for Pesci to be the only other nominee with a chance.

Who Should Win: Brad Pitt

I love Tarantino’s characters, and I love the actors and actresses he chooses to portray them. Cliff Booth is a fun and charismatic character, and I wholeheartedly believe no other actor but Brad Pitt could have breathed that energetic life into Booth. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage performances from Pacino and Pesci, I find Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be a better film than The Irishman. (Pacino and Pesci also cancel each other out a bit in this category.) So Pitt gets the nod here for me.

Who Will Win: Brad Pitt

Just like Laura Dern, Brad Pitt has executed a clean sweep this awards season, taking home this award at the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes. Currently, Pitt’s odds to win the Oscar are an astounding -3335. So just like Laura Dern, it looks nearly certain that Pitt will be taking home the first Academy Award of his career in an acting category.