Friday, February 16, 2007

Oscars 2006: Best Actor

With a final viewing of Notes on a Scandal yesterday, I've finally seen the complete set of Oscars' acting nominees, and, as promised, here is the first of four posts on each of the four categories. Frist up, I've decided to tackle the leading men, and what will follow hence is my ranking of the five nominees, from worst to best (it's MY opinion, remember, before you get up in arms), with a short explaination on what I think of the performance. Also included will be the likelihood of each performance actually winning the award (again, totally my opinion- I am not responsible for any monetary loss you may incur). On with the show...

Oscars 2006: Best Actor

5. Peter O'Toole as 'Maurice', Venus
O'Toole is, for some reason, all-too-ready to pander to Hanif Kureshi's deplorable 'old-man' schtick, swearing like he's got tourettes and leering over the sympathetic Jodie Whittaker (in a much superior performance) without reservations. Oh, sure, he's devoted as hell to the script, but O'Toole is all surface, a creepy old man without the expected soul beneath it; an ageing, wizened actor who spends his time playing corpses and drinking with his actor buddies, who are almost as bad as he is. Occasionally Kureishi gives O'Toole a chance to shine, spinning a Shakespearean monologue in the fashion that only O'Toole can, but Venus is no more than a slapstick comedy than turns into a snooze, and O'Toole is happy simply to go along with that, never working to find anything beneath the surface.
Likelihood of win: 25%

4. Leonardo DiCaprio as 'Danny Archer', Blood Diamond
Make no mistake, had they nominated DiCaprio for the right film (The Departed), he'd be up there fighting with the leaders of the pack. But for whatever reason, it was deemed that this South African, apparently soulless diamond hunter was the role that Oscar wanted to reward DiCaprio for. To be honest, I see little wrong with this performance: it's proficient, mixing DiCaprio's trademark charm with a volatile side we've never really seen from him before (Gangs of New York, eat your heart out), and giving him the chance to struggle with an accent that I found strangely attractive. But the script never really gives DiCaprio much to chew on, too often choosing the route of action-thriller rather than character-driven drama. DiCaprio is fine, but there's nothing much to love about this performance: it's good work in a mediocre film that will soon be forgotten, although perhaps not as soon as it deserved to be.
Likelihood of win: 8%

3. Will Smith as 'Chris Gardner', The Pursuit of Happyness
I liked The Pursuit of Happyness more than I expected to, although I never expected it to be so bland: the whole thing is so lukewarm, like a bath that's perfectly easy to lie in but is neither hot nor cold enough to alert your body (what a strange metaphor). But I couldn't, to my surprise, deny the quality of Smith's work in it: he never oversells any scenes, as much as they are calling for him to do; he, unsurprisingly, has charming chemistry with real-life son Jaden; he combats Thandie Newton's required screeching with a heartfelt anger. The film itself is what really prevents Smith for being truly deserving, because it never gives him much chance to make a true emotional impact: the whole thing bubbles with something that you can't quite see, as if the emotion is there but someone didn't turn the heat up on it enough (okay, I'll stop with the temparature metaphors). It's quite strange that this was even nominated, because no-one seems to love it: it almost slipped in without anyone noticing.
Likelihood of win: 5%

2. Forest Whitaker as 'Idi Amin', The Last King of Scotland
I didn't much care for the film itself, but, like most of the world, I was so impressed with the performances that it raised my opinion of the whole thing several notches. And Whitaker, for all my admiration for McAvoy, Anderson, Washington, etc., is the best in the film: a terrifying, creepily charismatic Idi Amin, he doth make, always on the line between evil and good, a teetering man who's as unsure of himself as Nicholas Garrigan is. Idi Amin was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, yes, and yet often Whitaker slips in a moment that suggests he does feel guilty, a bit, a touch paranoid, a tad fearful. Ultimately, The Last King of Scotland shows us Amin as unmitigated monster, yet, even in his last, gruelling scenes, Whitaker holds tight to the idea that Amin does, actually, have feelings inside of him, and that he is truly upset by this betrayal. It's a terrifying performance simply for how close it is to being a real, human person.
Likelihood of win: 60%

1. Ryan Gosling as 'Dan Dunne', Half Nelson
I intend to see Half Nelson again on a bigger, clearer screen, and perhaps I'll then appreciate the lauded visual sense of it, and pick up on what makes the film surrounding Gosling so appreciated. But even on the small, grubby copy on which I first encountered it, Gosling's performance was stunning: he effortlessly humanized what could easily have been a stock character, formed delicate duets with the various characters he encountered, made a man both selfish and sympathetic, struggling with his life while struggling to help the lives of others. Out of the five films in this category, Half Nelson is the only one that always feel like actual life, and Gosling is the living, breathing centre of it.
Likelihood of win: 2%

Coming next: Best Supporting Actress

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