Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Nomination Round-up Part 3: Actor and Supporting Actor

Actor in a Leading Role
Demian Bichir, A BETTER LIFE
Jean Dujardin, THE ARTIST

One of the key reasons that THE ARTIST works as well as it does is Jean Dujardin's performance.  You need a certain look and a certain ability to pull off a silent performance, and I'd wager that a lot of contemporary actors couldn't do it.  I'd be fine if he wins, but I don't think he will.  (Unless THE ARTIST sweeps.)

I initially found it surprising that this was Gary Oldman's first Oscar nomination.  He's been giving such great performances for so long now that I just assumed he'd have at least ONE nomination before now.  But when I considered some of his key roles, they're not typical Oscar fare: SID AND NANCY, PRICK UP YOUR EARS, ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, ROMEO IS BLEEDING.  His most obvious Oscar-bait performance would have been Beethoven in IMMORTAL BELOVED (an underrated and overlooked movie).  So kudos to Oldman for finally getting a nomination.  Alas, his work in TINKER TAILOR, like the movie itself, didn't do it for me.  It's a good performance, but it's all internalized. With Oldman's best work, there is an element of danger, of the unexpected, and that's almost completely lacking in his nominated performance.  (Having said that, if he manages to pull off the upset and win the Oscar, I'll think of it as an award for his amazing career.)

Bichir's nomination baffles me.  A BETTER LIFE received little buzz, and so did his performance.  An obvious comparison for this nomination is Catalina Sandino Moreno's for MARIA FULL OF GRACE in 2005, but that movie had more buzz, and Moreno's performance was dazzling.  Bichir's performance is fine, but the movie is a little didactic.  Also, I think we can view Bichir as the fifth nominee in this category, a spot that better belongs to either Ryan Gosling or Michael Fassbender, who both had amazing years.

Which leaves two great movie stars, Clooney and Pitt.  Now you know I loved the hell out of THE DESCENDANTS, and Clooney's great performance was the key element of that movie.  But if I was handing out the Oscars, I would give Best Actor to Brad Pitt.  Pitt's long been a terrific but underrated actor, especially when he's not doing a straight dramatic performance.  His work in 12 MONKEYS, and FIGHT CLUB, and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and the OCEAN'S movies is terrific; it's like we don't expect him to be a great actor because he's such a handsome movie star.  As good as he was in those movies, MONEYBALL may be his pinnacle, and I'd love the Academy to award him for it.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Nick Nolte, WARRIOR
Christopher Plummer, BEGINNERS

I think it bears repeating, because you really need to let it sink in: Jonah Hill is now literally in the same category as Kenneth Branagh, Nick Nolte, Christopher Plummer, and Max Von Sydow.  I didn't see - and won't be seeing - EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE, so I'll refrain from commenting on Von Sydow's performance.  But for my money, only two of the other four actors belong here.

Branagh plays Laurence Olivier in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, and plays him as quite the prima donna.  It's not really a deep characterization, or a deep performance, but Branagh's clearly having fun.  Still, I can think of a handful of actors who should be on this list instead of him.

Ditto Nick Nolte.  WARRIOR came and went quickly last year, so it wasn't on my radar for any nominations.  Nolte's nomination must be for reminding us that he's Nick Nolte, Great American Actor, and not Nick Nolte, Cautionary Tale.  Again, it's a fine performance in an ok movie, but nothing memorable.

Christopher Plummer is terrific in BEGINNERS.  It's a movie a lot of people liked more than I did, but we're all in agreement that Plummer's fantastic, that he deserves the award, and that he will most likely win it.

But personally, I think Jonah Hill should win the Oscar.  And while I've enjoyed him in the past (notably in SUPERBAD) I never thought I would ever use an adjective like "Oscar-worthy" to describe Jonah Hill.  He's wonderful and surprising in MONEYBALL; playing the geek outsider might not be much of a stretch for him, but he holds his own against (and has terrific chemistry with) Brad Pitt.

You know who else was terrific in MONEYBALL, and likely should have been nominated over Branagh or Nolte?  Chris Pratt.  Pratt's Scott Hatteburg - quiet, withdrawn, uncertain - is so different from Pratt's PARKS AND RECREATION character Andy Dwyer.  I would also have loved it if Ben Kingsley had been nominated for his superb work in HUGO. 

But the actor who was REALLY robbed of a nomination this year was Patton Oswalt.  I wasn't a fan of YOUNG ADULT, but I would have been if it had been about Oswalt's Matt instead of Charlize Theron's Mavis.  He was funny, sad, moving - and I'm not sure I've ever felt more vulnerability from an actor than I did when Matt took his shirt off.  It was an incredibly moving and surprising scene and performance.

And I think that's the recurring theme of my favorites of the nominated performances: I like it when actors and their characters and performances surprise me.  And that's what Williams and McCarthy, Pitt and Hill all did this year.

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