Wednesday, August 18, 2010

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.

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Blogger Glenn said...

Excellent, yet again. I admit to not "getting" what's so good about Sharlto Copley, but I think it's just me. Would you believe The Messenger hasn't received an Australian release yet?

This year I was all about Dafoe in Antichrist, Damon in The Informant!, Colin Firth in A Single Man, John Malkovich in Disgrace and Sam Rockwell in Moon, although I could swap out Firth for Gordon-Levitt, Ewan Leslie/Matthew Newton (from Three Blind Mice) or Renner.

12:37 AM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Amir said...

finally a mention for ben foster. how that performance got so little attention is beyond me, specially when the film was obviously well liked for what it was.
i actually like that movie a lot, and morton's performance as well, but how foster shows his frustration with harrelson's character, his sympathy for the families and also his awkward chemistry with morton is truly fantastic.

p.s. Glenn, sam rockwell was my favorite male performance last year. i think that movie's really underrated.

12:51 AM, August 18, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I replied to your tweet about this post. Love the selection.

Also, Michael Sheen from Damned United and Tahar Rahim for A Prophet.

12:57 AM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Glenn: Part of what I love about Copley is that he's so merrily and off-puttingly the white-collar bureaucrat stooge that you're rooting for and against Wikus in about equal measure. Already a feat, but even as that was happening, I had no idea I'd be able to feel harrowed by this character, and there's a long stretch from when he's arriving to clean out the shantytown to when he's escaping the hospital that the tone of the perf and the potentials in the character change in jerky, detailed, plausible, and very potent ways. Less sure about the end (the bizarre midfilm scuttling of the faux-documentary conceit doesn't help Copley at all), but that first half or 2/3 is really something.

There are probably "better" perfs, but this one stayed with me. He's the only nominee in any of these four acting categories who would have been an Honorable Mention if I'd posted these in January when I first drew them up. Everyone down to Capaldi put up a fierce fight for that spot.

@Amir: So glad to hear that someone else jived to Foster. It was like Ryan Phillippe in Stop-Loss all over again, except Foster was even better, and significantly so. And as you say, so much else (Harrelson, Morton, the script, the film) got some level of awards traction, but the best element somehow got ignored.

To me, Firth and Rockwell were both in the right roles at the right times after a long time of being ignored, such that media hoopla finally crested. And obviously, a lot of people were intrigued or moved or impressed by what they did, and more power to you/them. In both cases, I had a hard time seeing more than admirable proficiency. Give me Firth in Pearl Earring or Valmont and Rockwell in Joshua or Snow Angels.

@OkinawaAssault: Again, films that got released in the U.S. in 2010 are being considered for this year's lists, not last year's. I fully admit that global release would be so much more democratic, but it's harder to get a broad sampling of what else is out there, when so much int'l work, especially, doesn't open here till later. So Rahim is definitely a strong contender for this year. I missed The Damned United and wished later that I hadn't.

1:14 AM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger tim r said...

Speaking of which, can you believe that Ogata made my five as far back as 2005?! It's great to see him here. I had Rahim also, Renner, and Duplass, and I'll still defend Bettany in Creation to the hilt, however indifferent people were to his vehicle. A cracking year for this field.

2:47 AM, August 18, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Agreed, a ballot in this category was by far the most painful to assemble, in terms of who to leave out. And yet, for the myriad options given us, we still have two overlaps! (Renner and Waltz -- glad you also put him in lead where he belongs.)

I'll join Glenn in not quite loving Copley -- though I do think he anchors the film ably and charismatically -- though probably for a different reason. I just spent so much of my life around middle-class Afrikaners like Wikus every day that I couldn't shake the sense, particularly pre-transformation, that he's playing a crude type more than a character. (At times, rather too condescendingly for my liking.)

Interestingly, I thought John Malkovich (handily my winner) located rather more truth in beleaguered South African maledom than Copley, but I know where you stand on Disgrace, and shall badger you no further with memories of it!

My ballot was rounded out with one performance I'm pretty sure you disagree on, Matt Damon in The Informant! (his best work, I think) and another I have no idea where you land on, Max Records in Where the Wild Things Are.

(Though Records certainly wouldn't have his spot had I been playing by Tim's rules -- Tahar Rahim all the way.)

5:01 AM, August 18, 2010  
Anonymous JStor said...

Agree 100% with Guy on Matt Damon's presence in my theoretical list. The Informant! was my favourite film of last year, and Damon's performance was a massive reason for that. If he played it too broad or too flat, the film would have suffered immensely; that he didn't is The Informant!'s gain.

For my personal list: Waltz would definitely stay, Damon and Stuhlbarg would be in place of Foster and Ogata (who I didn't see), and the other two places would be awarded in a deathmatch between Copley, Renner, Firth and Capaldi.

Capaldi's work on The Thick of It, if anything, showcases even more of his brilliance, especially in the final two episodes of the latest season.

7:22 AM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm with Glenn re: Copley, although your comments make me eager to revisit the film (which I mostly forget, but remember being only mildly entertained/impressed).

I'm with you, though, in a big way re: Foster and Phillippe. Really undervalued performances both.

My own list:

1. Jeremy Renner - The Hurt Locker

2. Ben Foster - The Messenger

3. Viggo Mortensen - The Road

4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt - (500) Days of Summer

5. Paul Rudd - I Love You, Man

With apologies to Rockwell, Firth, Bridges, and Whishaw.

12:26 PM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Robert Hamer said...

So, now for the moment of truth; who comes out on top in your lineups? After all, there can only be one true winner.

2:25 PM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Shtajner said...

I must say I'm a bit confused with your choices. Maybe beacuse I didn't like Ben Foster and didn't see Sharlto Copley and Issey Ogata, and although I liked Renner and Waltz, I do find the list militarized, and because I generally dislike those characters I might say that even don't like it. I'm much happier with your Extremely honorable mentions, especially Duplass and Mackie, who I just love!!! And I can't believe you included In the Loop guys only as honorable mentions! Hello!!! Aren't Capaldi and Hollander two most delicious pieces of work of the entire year?!

Anyway, this is my list (ranked, as you can see):

1. Joaquin Phoenix in Two Lovers
2. Mark Duplass in Humpday
3. Peter Capaldi in In the Loop
4. Tom Hollander in In the Loop
5. Willem Dafoe in Antichrist

Extremely honorable mentions:

6. Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
7. Lars Eidinger in Everyone Else
8. Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
9. Xavier Dolan in I Killed My Mother

And honorable mentions go to:

10. Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
11. Chris Addison in In the Loop
12. Rupert Friend in The Young Victoria
13. Charles Berling in Summer Hours
14. Andre Dussolier in Wild Grass

As you can see, I included Rupert Friend's surprisingly good work in this category; I felt he was a really good co-lead, and not the supporter to that exhausting (and unfortunately very pale) effort of Emily Blunt! With hope that you'll find the room for incredibly intimate role of Lars Eidinger in that supernatural, amazing, the most quiet earthquake I've ever felt called Evryone Else on your 2010 list, I must ask you about I Killed My Mother. Will you get the chance to see it? I'm really interested to see your response to nasty Xavier Dolan and his even nastier Anne Dorval.

3:08 PM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Bill C said...

Terrific roundup; only wish I could get on the Ben Foster train. To me, his performance in THE MESSENGERS was every Ben Foster performance: Sean Penn Lite, full of inappropriate menace and twitchy, actorly pretensions. Samantha Morton seemed like she was struggling to stoop to his level half the time, like the tall girl at the junior-high dance.

4:47 PM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

Love this list, because it's different and yet logical. I second the love for Ben Foster who I find so brilliant in The Messenger (one of my favourites of the last year) that I almost end up resenting Harrelson's string of nominations (though I liked him too) which seemed almost at the expense of Foster (different category or not).

I'm really cheering loudest for the mention of Ben Whishaw who gives my favourite male performance of the last year...heck, it might be my favourite performance of the last year. I don't know why his Keats registers so much with me...I'm not even that big a fan of the real Keats but I'm willing to believe everything he does with the character. Mortensen, Firth and Maguire round out of my five. I really have no good excuse for the Maguire...but I like him in Brothers. If Newton is lead (I had him in supporting). He'd follow Whishaw in the leading male category.

(Is it wrong that I think The Soloist is the best Foxx has ever been?)

8:34 PM, August 18, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

My field consists of:

Souleymane Sy Savane, "Goodbye Solo"
Teriyuki Kagawa, "Tokyo Sonata"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"
Michael Stuhlbarg, "A Serious Man"
Matt Damon, "The Informant!"

4 of these 5 were snubbed from Oscar nominations, although I believe Stuhlbarg and Damon got Golden Globe ones.

And then, honorable mentions to:
Joaquin Phoenix, "Two Lovers" - who falters at times but still was very good


Paul Rudd, "I Love You, Man" - the role that he'll never be able to escape

5:43 AM, August 19, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

Bill C -- i can totally see where you're coming from (Sean Penn lite -- great peg) and i can see where Nick's coming from so i am totally in the middle with Ben Foster. Usually when I'm watching him i see a great performance in there struggling to get out. But i never quite see the great performance if you know what I mean.

I have every confidence that at some point he'll start giving them without all the caveats.

anyway... that's my take.

Nick -- so happy to see you churning these out even if our lists rarely coalesce. In a way though i'm very jealous of the extra months you gave yourself as i'd like to change things now to a small degree.

4:19 PM, August 19, 2010  
Blogger Bill C said...

@Nathaniel: Yeah, I'm certainly open to being turned around on Foster. After all, pre-BROKEBACK, I had no use for Heath Ledger, and now I miss him as much as anybody does.

10:29 AM, August 22, 2010  

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