Categories One by One: Best Actor

For the films of 2018
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Re: Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby Big Magilla » Tue Feb 19, 2019 11:08 pm

To be fair, I haven't seen Vice and have no desire to do so, although as an Oscar completist I will have to at some point, but I'm not going to spend money on it. It will have to be on cable or a streaming service I already have a subscription to.

I was a fan of Christian Bale as far back as Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, but I have not liked some of his recent choices. I hated The Big Short and what I've seen of every other film Adam McKay ever directed and I expect to like Vice even less. Even if Bale wins, I won't rush to see it.

Of the remaining four, I think Cooper and Mortensen are good, but I don't see either as a winner.

Going into the race, Cooper had momentum with three previous nominations, the film's enormous box office success and the fact that of all the hats he wore, his acting was the strongest component. Even so, he remains in the shadow of Fredric March and James Mason who not only gave indelible performances in earlier versions of A Star Is Born, but who, despite all the hoopla surrounding the current version, had more believable on-screen chemistry with Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland respectively, than Cooper has with Gaga.

Even though Green Book is told from Mortensen's character perspective, it's Ali who has the stronger part and will easily win in support. It's possible both will win, but I'm not seeing it.

Willem Dafoe gives a career best performance as Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate and would make a nice surprise winner even though the film itself is a tough sit-through. It could happen, but it would be the most shocking win in this category since Art Carney in Harry & Tonto.

Rami Malek has the momentum. Bohemian Rhapsody is a genuine crowd-pleaser and his performance in it is infectious. At this point, I don't see how they cannot give it him unless they really, really want to pull a Carney and give it to Dafoe.

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Re: Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Feb 19, 2019 8:09 pm

This is a terrific, wide-ranging piece, and I delayed responding till I had time to give it the reply it deserves.

Before I get to the specifics of this race, a bit of a thesis on the year’s overall gestalt.

A few days prior to the 1996 Oscars, I was exchanging ballots with an equally Oscar-obsessed friend. I remember saying that, while everyone seemed to have gravitated to the same four acting winners, something told me we’d not be getting that exact slate. I’d never in a million years have guessed that Binoche-over-Bacall would be the contradiction, but I had the sense things weren’t as cut-and-dried as the (far fewer, then) Oscar pundits were assuming.

1996 was a humdrum year compared to this one. Just a quick review of the many unexpected things that have happened since this season began:

--The actor who swept the three classic critics’ groups, and most of the newfangled ones, failed to be nominated by the Globes, SAG, BAFTA or, ultimately, AMPAS.

-- The supporting actress who completely dominated the critics’ awards was left off by the two industry TV awards groups – then won the other two.

-- Three films that are – up to this moment – seen as strong best picture hopefuls (Roma, Green Book, The Favourite) all failed to secure SAG Ensemble nods.

-- The film we thought a juggernaut right up to Golden Globes night came a complete cropper with HFPA…initiating a collapse so complete that its director’s omission by the AMPAS directing branch was barely noticed.

-- The film that beat it for best drama had a Metacritic rating of 49, and hadn’t even seemed in the race.

-- The dynamic for the lead acting awards was totally changed by the Globes – a seeming front-runner disappeared, and two contenders many had thought second or third-place finishers popped into lead position.

-- On Oscar nominations day:
Two women were nominated for foreign-language performances – one with absolutely no precursor mention.
A Coen brothers Netflix effort scored three unexpected nominations, including screenplay.
Possible winners in cinematography (First Man), visual effects (Black Panther) and score (First Man again) were left off the ballot.
Two of the three box-office-hit documentaries failed to make the cut. (One of them later won PGA; the other won DGA.)

-- SAG gave an acting award to someone not even nominated for the Oscars.

-- WGA, for the first time since establishing its system in 1984, chose two films not nominated for best picture – one of them not even nominated for screenplay at AMPAS.

-- The major Guilds gave awards to seven different films (Green Book, Black Panther, Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Eighth Grade, Can You Ever Forgive Me?). Films not on this list include two – BlackkKlansman and Vice – nominated for film/director/screenplay/editing at AMPAS.

This is, easily, the wildest Oscar season since the TV awards started setting the agenda. It should be leading to wide variety among predictions. And to some extent, it is – the Gold Derby/Movie City News folk are all over the map in film, original screenplay, most every tech past cinematography.

Yet, somehow, the hive mind has asserted itself in the acting categories. There are stray dissents – an occasional Rachel Weisz or Olivia Colman – but, by and large, the borg has united: it’s Malek/Close/Ali/Weisz, say goodnight. This despite the fact that only one of those four has pulled off the kind of award season sweep all of last year’s actors did.

I have to repeat my 1996 mantra: it isn’t going to all turn out that way. The year’s too crazy for that. We’re all missing something. We just have to wait for next Sunday to find out what.

That all exhaustively said, my thoughts on this category.

I certainly agree Dafoe’s nomination was unlikely (it’s even more unlikely he’d ever win for it). But, as one of few here who’ve seen it, I was gratified by his inclusion: I think it’s an impressive piece of work, way stronger than his nominated performance last year. And, since I’m also the one here who didn’t so much care for First Reformed, I’m fine with Dafoe making it over Hawke.

Though I’d certainly have preferred Hawke over Mortensen. You’re right, it’s a bit odd Mortensen made so little impact: back in October, when Green Book was coming off its Toronto buzz, it seemed to me, with two previous nominations, he might be the main challenger to Cooper. Two reasons it didn’t happen: 1) those two earlier nominations were so obscure they make good trivia questions (without looking it up, name the four actors who lost to Daniel Day-Lewis in 2007). This is the first time Mortensen wasn’t his film’s sole nomination; 2) oy, that performance! If Ali’s work makes the argument Green Book isn’t as bad as some are saying, Mortensen’s is evidence it’s worse.

The disintegration of the Cooper narrative is an utter mystery to me. I thought everyone’s arguments for him back in December were extremely persuasive – but the moment the Drama actor envelope was opened at the Globes, they seemed to become irrelevant. There’s something to okri’s observation that A Star is Born, especially in remake form, has a checkered history at the Oscars – Garland famously lost despite massive public sentiment, and Streisand was so battered in the press for her version that it was considered an act of atonement for her to agree sing Evergreen on the telecast. The Hollywood press also seems to have bought into a “Cooper comes off arrogant” argument, which is something I never heard till he started losing, but maybe it’s a factor. And it’s possible the been-there-been-there-been-there/done-that-done-that-done-that nature of a third remake just caught up with the project. It’d be great if Cooper could revive here in the stretch – a twist no one would expect – but at this point you hear so little about the film, I wonder if people even remember it’s nominated.

I will take a small round of applause for having touted Christian Bale back in the early stages of the race (a position that earned me a few catcalls here). Not to say Bale is the likely winner, but, with his Globe and Broadcasters’ main prize in hand, he’s at least still breathing in the race. As I argued back then, I don’t see his previous win as disqualifying, given that it was 1) in support and 2) three nominations ago. He’s held in high enough esteem that a second Oscar wouldn’t be seen as Too Much. And he of course does Oscar’s favorite thing: the Bio-pic Transformation. (Guy Lodge tweeted out sardonically, How can we know if Bradley Cooper’s any good, when we have no real-life model to judge him against?) I think Bale’s handicap is, Cheney is not in-your-face enough for the transformation to really land – it’s fully accurate (and goes beyond make-up: there’s an early scene, when he’s still young, that nails Cheney’s facial expressions so completely it made me gasp), but it doesn’t really command audience attention until that final speech. Even with all that, though, I think Bale is close enough to make the race somewhat interesting.

But Malek has indeed become a huge, unexpected favorite, and I’m with okri in not really grasping why. Yes, it’s another Bio-pic Transformation, but do that many people have such vivid impressions of Freddie Mercury to be bowled over? (Confession: I don’t – I knew all his songs, but can’t recall ever hearing him speak.) And, yes, the film has been a huge (and unexpected) hit, but shouldn’t that be offset to some extent by the absolutely grisly nature of many reviews? Plus the bad Bryan Singer juju? I like Malek a lot on Mr. Robot – his performance is about all that’s kept me from abandoning the show entirely – but I’m not sure he’s displayed the range yet to make such an Oscar run inevitable. Is this role just some sort of male equivalent of Edith Piaf – a role you’re going to win prizes for simply by virtue of being cast?

Going back to my original premise: I do feel like at least someone of this year’s favored four will not go home with the expected Oscar. But it’s hard to see Malek being that one. The tide just seems too strong.

Then again, I could have said the same about Bacall.
Last edited by Mister Tee on Wed Feb 20, 2019 1:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby Okri » Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:07 am

Also, I just found out it's "pole" position, not "poll position."

Wonder how many times I've gotten that wrong :D

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Re: Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby anonymous1980 » Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:02 am

MaxWilder wrote:
Okri wrote:For all that, I’m still no closer to understanding how Malek is in the poll position. Is it just Freddie Mercury powering him?

This must be a lot of it, plus some thanks-for-making-us-all-that-money.

I think this all goes back to the Globes. Cooper and his film lose; overnight a loser narrative develops and self-perpetuates. Which means the Oscar winner was determined by people who thought Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody were the best films of 2018. Is this how it's going to be from now on?


Sometimes winning too much could mean a backlash. Look at La La Land. After it swept the Globes winning all 7 of its awards, the hit pieces started coming in and the grumbling grew louder and louder. It cost it the Best Picture win.

I think this was the mentality that the A Star Is Born people were thinking when they decided to submit it as a Drama instead of in the Musical-Comedy category where it COULD have done well.

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Re: Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby MaxWilder » Mon Feb 18, 2019 8:56 am

Okri wrote:For all that, I’m still no closer to understanding how Malek is in the poll position. Is it just Freddie Mercury powering him?

This must be a lot of it, plus some thanks-for-making-us-all-that-money.

I think this all goes back to the Globes. Cooper and his film lose; overnight a loser narrative develops and self-perpetuates. Which means the Oscar winner was determined by people who thought Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody were the best films of 2018. Is this how it's going to be from now on?

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Re: Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby Precious Doll » Mon Feb 18, 2019 12:59 am

Okri wrote:
Dafoe’s nomination came by the skin of his teeth, right? The film had one of those Brigadoon-like releases and with how quickly it disappeared alongside Ethan Hawke’s overperformance with the critics groups convinced me that he was a no-hoper for a nomination, let alone a win. I’m curious how good he is – I find Van Gogh’s story fascinating, but I haven’t liked a Schnabel film yet. But he’s not winning this year.

On the other hand, how is Mortensen NOT in this race?



Excellent summary of the race that few would disagree with Okri.

As far as Mortensen goes I don't now if the controversy of his use of the 'N' word whilst promoting Green Book helped lessen his Oscar chances or not.

As for Dafoe, I saw his film this morning and very much disliked it and Dafoe's performance. I completely stumped how he got in and Hawke didn't and his inclusion was a mixture of members who saw it and liked him and a degree of goodwill from missing out on a win last year. Dafoe is generally a stand-out, even in crappy films but his a dull as dishwater in this one.

As for the nominees in this category I sum them up as tepid at best to downright undeserving of nominations. I do think that Malek is the best of the bunch followed by Mortensen but neither are worthy of nominations. Dafoe is dull and I found Cooper (and his film) utterly awful - self indulgent in the extreme. I have to admit that I basically don't like Bradley Cooper and only became aware of him in The Hangover, were for me he was unappealing and seemed to go against the grain of the film. I've rarely warmed to him and don't like any of his nominated performances. Actually the only films that I do like him in are All About Steve (so shoot me, I like the film and him in it), Valentine's Day and more recently The Mule. And his voice work as Rocket in the Guardians of the Galaxy films are a hoot.

Christian Bale in Vice - stunt acting really, which is pretty much what he has been doing for much of this century - or so it feels anyway. Weight gain and loss is not acting! I don't have a problem with an actor doing that once (or maybe even twice) in their career but it feels like that is all Bale actually does nowadays. Anyway, there was little to his work in Vice. He played a dull man and as a result gave a dull performance (though I preferred him over Dafoe because Van Gogh was anything but dull unlike Dafoe's performance). Sure Bales make-up is great but its pretty sad when thats the best thing one can say about his presence in the film.

If I were an Academy member I would leave this category blank. I really couldn't vote of any of these performances and this would have to be the weakest lineup in this category ever.

I do think Malek will win but an 'upset' really shouldn't come as a surprise should someone else win.
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Categories One by One: Best Actor

Postby Okri » Sun Feb 17, 2019 10:09 pm

Otherwise known as what the hell is happening and why?

My confusion about best actor is matched by my refusal to believe in reality.

Reality tells us Rami Malek is winning. And honestly, I should be pleased. I really like him as an actor. I mean, he’s memorable even with a bit role in a film like The Master. I don’t think he’s actually that bad in Bohemian Rhapsody – he certainly wouldn’t be the worst winner in the history of the award. But how did he vault to the head of this race? He’s not the only mimic in this category (which is stuffed with biopics – indeed, the only entirely fictional creation is still a remake!). While his film has now grossed the most in this category, it’s still fairly fine margins between Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born. Virtually every narrative in the race is pro-someone else, except the Singer narrative, which definitely doesn’t help him. Yet he’s just sweeping with ease.

Dafoe’s nomination came by the skin of his teeth, right? The film had one of those Brigadoon-like releases and with how quickly it disappeared alongside Ethan Hawke’s overperformance with the critics groups convinced me that he was a no-hoper for a nomination, let alone a win. I’m curious how good he is – I find Van Gogh’s story fascinating, but I haven’t liked a Schnabel film yet. But he’s not winning this year.

On the other hand, how is Mortensen NOT in this race? I mean, small favours – I think he’s probably underrated on the whole (though not in this piece of shit) – but if the film really is as strong a contender as the precursor’s suggest AND Ali has managed to vault to the front of the race despite a recent victory – how is he so far behind? Shouldn’t his two previous nominations give him some momentum? Or does he exist a little too “on-the-edge” of Hollywood for momentum to accumulate as easily? I mean, in the 15 years since Return of the King, the combined grosses of his films is actually less than what that Jackson film made.

So, of the Hustle-men, how did Cooper falter as much as he did, especially compared to Bale? I think we’ll have to zero in on the sequel/remake aspect of A Star is Born as one potential reason. To whit: in the ten years prior to this season, sequels/remakes/”universe” type films have scored nominations but very few wins. Even when they fall squarely in the discussion – Sylvester Stallone in Creed, George Miller for Mad Max – AMPAS has gone elsewhere. A Star is Born has never really been Oscar catnip, winning only two of 18 oscar nominations throughout. Now, I don’t think he’s out of the race. He’s gotten four Oscar nominations this decade (so he’s clearly well liked) and if you’re annoyed that he was ignored for director, here’s a shot to honour him.

For some time, I’ve been feeling that one of the consequences of the blogosphere narrowing the races as quickly as we do is that you were more inclined to see the same names pop up repeatedly. When I delved deeper, that didn’t end up being true – about the same number of different performers were nominated in any given period and that’s also true of wins too. And Bale’s win WAS long enough ago (and in supporting) that I suppose he could win, on acclaimed/career momentum points. But doesn’t it feel like Vice is underperforming?

For all that, I’m still no closer to understanding how Malek is in the poll position. Is it just Freddie Mercury powering him? I mean, we’ve seen underacclaimed performances win before, in underacclaimed movies – but those were generally for performers of a fairly long standing. Malek feels very new – I doubt AMPAS saw him in film pre-Master (though he was strong in The Pacific, I’ll add). Other performances to win were given by actors who gave genuinely hailed performances. I go back to something like Jamie Foxx in Ray and I suppose that works as a precedent, but even he won NBR and National Society and was a runner-up at New York (and a bunch of the smaller ones).

Reality tell us Malek with the potential of a Bale upset. But I feel like Cooper still is in the race.

So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, I guess.


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