2009 Honorees: Best Actor
You'd think I have very narrow tastes based on this roster, which brims with militarized men. The one character who isn't packing artillery nonetheless anchors a movie that's all about World War II. Maybe the Academy will have me after all? But of course the superficial impression of likeness belies five very different men, played splendidly by five commanding and prismatic actors, who jointly lead the charge of the year's most competitive acting category, by far.
SHARLTO COPLEY for District 9, who evolves so organically from doofus to terrorized victim to angry humanprawnthing, and whose work lingered mightily as the months passed;
BEN FOSTER for The Messenger, who projected a strapping maturity from a slight frame, who felt green but not naïve, who coiled in anger, shock, decency, and inadequacy;
ISSEY OGATA for The Sun, whose odd, fishlike tics and blank-faced diffidence made Hirohito a needfully enigmatic figure, edging toward a harsh metaphysical reckoning;
JEREMY RENNER for The Hurt Locker, whose reckless bravado and no-bullshit diligence feel bizarrely indivisible, even after a creepy mixup over a dead kid jars his equilibrium; and
CHRISTOPH WALTZ for Inglourious Basterds, who must be as tired of The Charismatic Nazi as we are, so he makes him jolly, urbane, Napoleonic, cobra-like, and a bit bonkers to boot.
Extremely honorable mentions to Anthony Mackie, whose watchfulness and ethical principles are almost as bracing in The Hurt Locker as Renner's struts and tremors; to Mark Duplass, whose comic timing and psychological dissection are so exquisite in Humpday that the movie's collapse almost doesn't matter; to Ben Whishaw for giving Bright Star an effete, sickly Keats who still registers strongly as a casual charmer and an object of mystery and passion; to Viggo Mortensen for taking fatherhood as seriously as survival in The Road, as a dirt-smeared Falconetti of haunted persistence; and to Robert Downey, Jr. for submerging his character's compassionate initiatives and his phobias about commitment amidst so much colorful, humanizing, offhanded detail in The Soloist that the movie never feels schematic or "inspirational" in the sticky way you expect.
Nearly as honorable are the truculent, focused pragmatism of In the Loop's Peter Capaldi; the mealy resentments and half-baked self-confidence of Patton Oswalt in Big Fan; the utter plausibility of Russell Crowe in State the Play, holding the screen even more surely than in more grandiose projects; the savvy, highwire balance of surface affectation and emotional truth that Jamie Foxx brings to his tricky part in The Soloist; the adolescent restlessness, combining comedic and dramatic instincts, of Jesse Eisenberg in Adventureland; and the noisome, big-bellied, aging-wolf magnetism of Oscar winner Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, full of deft details that battle valiantly against the haziness of the script and the film.
Even this wasn't all for the embarrassment of riches, given Tom Hardy's overdone but often electrifying turn in Bronson, Souleymane Sy Savané's gradually tested bonhomie in Goodbye, Solo, Gianfelice Imparato's controlled but anxious professional dispatch in Gomorrah, Paul Rudd's indefatigable charm as he faces new feelings in I Love You, Man, and Tom Hollander's space-cadet PM and Chris Addison's rationalizing wonk in In the Loop. Adam Sandler and Michael Stuhlbarg made smart choices and fostered memorable moments in the odd patchwork of Funny People and the off-putting, self-satisfied cynicism of A Serious Man, making them honorable honorable mentions, or something. But I have to start drawing the line somewhere.