Monday, March 2, 2020

Ranking the Decade's Best Actor Oscar Winners

It was only when I saw my final ranking of the Best Actor winners this year when I really realized how weak this decade’s winners were – really only the top two are truly great performances. The rest are ones that either caught the wave at the right time (Malek, Redmayne, Dujardin) or great actors, overdue for wins, that finally won for not their best work (Oldman, DiCaprio, Phoenix, McConaughey, Firth). This is not a strong list.
10. Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) – I remember walking out of Bohemian Rhapsody, on the Thursday screening before it opened Friday, and thinking that it wasn’t winning anything all season. So it was mystifying to me that he started to waltz through the season, winning everything. I don’t really think Malek is to blame for how bad this movie is – he played the role as written as good as it was possible – it’s just so badly written, directed and edited, that there is nothing there for him to play. Truly, one of the worst winners of all time.
Who Should Have Won (of the Nominees): I remain mystified as how the Academy ended up not giving the award to Bradley Cooper for A Star is Born. He does Malek one better by doing his own singing, and he delivers a far better performance in every other aspect. Plus, he wrote, directed and produced the film – and is overdue for a win. Truly bizarre for me.
9. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything (2014) – Another example of the Academy rewarding someone in a lame biopic, this one with the added bonus of playing someone with a disability. That’s Oscar bingo. But there really isn’t all that much to this performance – no real depth or feeling, and the film is dull and boring. Not one of their finer moments.
Who Should Have Won (of the Nominees): Not of my favorite year for nominees (where was Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel) – but I remember rooting for Michael Keaton for Birdman – which isn’t a favorite film of mine, but Keaton was great in that film, so none of the problems were his – and it would have been great to see him win.
8. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour (2017) – Gary Oldman probably should have won a long time ago – Sid & Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears, JFK, The Contender, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy – but of course, he needed to play a famous person – Winston Churchill, and get buried under a lot of makeup to win. Yeah, he’s damn good in the film - but it’s hardly a great film, or that deep of a performance.
Who Should Have Won (of the Nominees): My personal choice would have been Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread – although he didn’t really need a fourth win, so how cool would have been had Daniel Kaluuya won for Get Out?
7. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Reverent (2015) – There is absolute no doubt that Leonardo DiCaprio should have an Oscar – perhaps several. But The Reverent doesn’t strike me as anywhere near his best performance – physically challenging to be sure, but the character is one note. Compare that to his work in The Departed or The Wolf of Wall Street or many, many others (seriously, I don’t think this would rank in my top 10 DiCaprio performances). He’s good here to be sure – the role just isn’t all that interesting – one track mind of vengeance. He won because he was due, and for some reason, the Academy loved this grim slog of a film.
Who Should Have Won (of the Nominees): Sorry, but they really screwed the pooch here in terms of nominees – it’s one of the few years where none of the nominees would have been in my top five – maybe 10. Of those they nominated, perhaps Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs – who was convincingly an asshole – or Matt Damon in The Martian – who was quite charming and funny. Not a banner year.
6. Jean Dujardin, The Artist (2011) – An impressive physical performance by Dujardin, who does a good job of being a silent film star, is funny and charming and plays the role to perfection. It is a surface level performance – a lot of style, without a lot underpinning it. That’s by design – and not a knock on Dujardin, who is wonderful – just not quite the type of performance I’d like to see win awards.
Who Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): We could have killed two birds with one stone here and give the Oscar to Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a masterful performance by the great actor, one of his best, and then it would free up the year he did win this decade for something with less bluster than his turn in Darkest Hour.
5. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker (2019) – Like DiCaprio, I have no problem with Phoenix – arguably the best working actor today – having an Oscar. I would have rather he win for one of his very best performances – The Master, Inherent Vice, Her or You Were Never Really Here. Phoenix is excellent as the Joker – he saves the movie from being awful, which it could have been since the screenplay is rather odious. Still, it hurts to see a great actor like Phoenix winning for this instead of one of his best performance – especially since DeNiro didn’t win for either Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy – and Phoenix essentially copied those performances, and eliminated all the subtlety.
Who Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): If Phoenix isn’t the best working actor today, then it’s Adam Driver – and his performance in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is truly one of his best performances – a gut-wrenching one at that. Also, I would have loved to see Antonio Banderas for Pain & Glory win – those two performances are masterclasses of subtlety, something Phoenix’s certainly is not.
4. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – At the height of the McCoanaughesance (sp.?) – McConaughey won for his performance as manly man – who competes in rodeos, at the height of the AIDS crisis, who contracts the disease, and tries to save himself – and others. He is great in the film – the best thing about it by far (sorry Jared Leto – and spoiler for the supporting actor list, he won’t rank anywhere near this high). I think the film is flawed, but none of that has to do with his performance. Is it his best? No – but it’s close enough that this isn’t an injustice.
Who Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): As much as I like McConaughey – I’d take three of the other nominees over him (sorry Christian Bale) – but I’m split between Bruce Dern for Nebraska – a great performance, by a legend who has never won, and Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street – which I think may just be his best performance.
3. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech (2010) – You can dismiss The King’s Speech as typical, safe, Oscar pablum if you want (I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, but I’d push back a little) – and still admire just how good Colin Firth is in the lead role. Perhaps it’s just because I have a stutter myself (it was much worse as a kid)- and Firth simply nails it. I felt for him, and oddly for someone playing a King, related to him. Firth is terrific in this film – way better than the movie itself – and his career is good enough that an Oscar doesn’t seem out of line. Is he better in A Single Man, the previous year? Probably – but he’s great here.
Who Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): For my money, Jessie Eisenberg in The Social Network delivers one of the great performances of the decade – and one of the few that I think has defined a real life person, who has simply become less and less likable ever since.
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln (2012) – Before his retirement (we’ll see if this one sticks), Day-Lewis would get my vote for the Best Actor in the world, and Lincoln is one of his best performances. It’s very difficult to play a towering historical figure like Abraham Lincoln, and yet make him human at the same time. Tony Kushner’s immaculate screenplay does some of that work, but Day-Lewis absolutely nails the performance. One of the best performances of a legendary career – fully deserving of a third win.
Who Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): Day-Lewis was always winning this one, but one of the very best, most enigmatic performances of the decade was delivered by Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, which for my money is the best performance of the decade that was nominated for an Oscar in this category – and he would been my choice, easy.
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea (2016) – I know Affleck has become a complicated figure – and with good reason – and yet I have to admit that his performance in Manchester by the Sea absolutely destroyed me – a performance full of grief and longing – and yet with a little humor. He has big moments in the film, and he underplays them all brilliantly making the moments absolutely devastating. Affleck is one of the best actors in the world – and this is his crowning achievement.

Who Should Have Won (Of the Nominees): The one year they actually picked by favorite nominee – and best of the year – this decade. Of the other nominees, only Denzel Washington in Fences even comes close.

No comments:

Post a Comment