Best Actor Nominees (90th Academy Awards)
In recent years we have seen the presentation of Best Actor and Best Actress in alternating positions in the schedule of the evening. This began a while ago in order to blunt the perception that the Best Actor category was necessarily more significant than the Best Actress category is. Obviously there have been years when one set of nominees seemed to have a bit more prestige or flash than the other. Consider 1994, in which the Actress nominees, despite all being well-regarded actresses, were indeed from films with less overall buzz than their male counterparts. On the other hand, this year appears to be slanted just a little in the other direction. Who knows? Maybe when we look back twenty years from now we might think a little differently about it, but that’s how it looks to me at the moment.
Of course Gary Oldman, Denzel Washington, and Daniel Day-Lewis are nothing to sneeze at in and of themselves.
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
When people are asked who they could see upsetting Gary Oldman, this is the name I keep hearing. Timothee Chalamet is the one nominated performer this year who shows up in more than one of the Best Picture nominees, also appearing as Lady Bird’s second boyfriend. Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird herself) does have a voice performance in animated nominee Loving Vincent, and Michael Stuhlbarg, who played Chalamet’s father in Call Me By your Name also had roles in The Post and The Shape of Water, but alas was not able to secure a nomination himself. Trivia aside, Chalamet truly is given a chance to inhabit and breathe in his character. We get to see him in moments of thoughtful repose, in feeling his own power and his own vulnerability. He has the opportunity both to simply exist as the character and do extremely natural and nuanced work and also a couple of opportunities to deliver on very specific emotional experiences. He performs the role at a remarkably accomplished level, and although the film itself is not one of my favorites of the year, I wouldn’t have any objections if he finds himself on stage in March.
Experts’ Rank: 2
My Rank: 2
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
This is ostensibly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance in his amazingly impressive and unique career, nabbing him his sixth nomination in the Best Actor category and a chance at his fourth win. Whether or not that turns out to truly be the case, it’s as good a time as any to step back a little and appreciate how he has run his career on his own terms while more often than not also giving himself the opportunity to do only the kind of films and work that he has found rewarding personally rather than professionally. I’m sure if he made himself available for the next big super hero melee, both Marvel and Warner Brothers would likely be knocking down his door (anybody got any perfect casting ideas there?) If this really is his last performance, it’s an adept choice, with the character seeming at first to be the sort of thing he could do in his sleep and then slowly morphing into something entirely unlike what you came in expecting. Although his performance being nominated is obviously not the biggest surprise in the world, the amount of love Phantom Thread ended up receiving from the Academy was one of the notable elements of nomination morning. Almost as surprising as the film itself.
Experts’ Rank: 3
My Rank: 3
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
You know, just because you’ve never heard of a guy doesn’t mean he hasn’t been hard at work for a while piling up credits and honing his craft. Such certainly was the case for Daniel Kaluuya from Get Out, whose resume currently boasts forty-one different credits, including a key supporting role in the current number one box office Marvel studios hit Black Panther. A London native of Ugandan descent, Kaluuya came up in British theatre and improvisational live shows, winning a number of high profile stage awards across the pond and putting a roof over his head with a variety of appearances in British television productions, including roles on Skins, Doctor Who, Black Mirror, and Psychoville. He also made appearances in sequels with only moderate profiles such as Johnny English Reborn, and Kick-Ass 2 before taking a supporting role in 2015’s well-liked action drama Sicario directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049). How do you learn to do just about anything? Practice. So it should be no surprise that Kaluuya’s performance in Get Out is so seamless and sympathetic, carrying the weight of the film on his shoulders through a series of strange and mysterious events without ever losing the sense that this guy is reacting appropriately to what’s going on around him. He is sensitive and confident, but appropriately suspicious and vulnerable. All without breaking the reality of the character or the suspension of the audience’s disbelief. He’s my choice for the lead male performance of the year.
Experts’ Rank: 4
My Rank: 1
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Despite all of the change that has come to the Oscars over the last several years, with rules and voting changes in some categories and alterations to membership rules resulting in a long term trend towards a younger and more diverse group of voters, there are some trends that may just stick around for a good long while. We’re looking at two tried and true Oscar traditions here with Gary Oldman and his performance in Darkest Hour, and both are about things that the voters typically love to throw awards at. Firstly, Oldman is one of those highly respected actors with an impressive resume simply packed with stand-out performances who has for one reason or another been under-rewarded to this point come awards season. Whether that’s been because he was appearing in films that were too edgy or violent, or if they were too low budget or too fantastical, something always seemed to be not quite right for awards consideration, and the members of the Academy just love to make good for perceived past wrongs or to reward veterans who just never really got a shot before. They also love a transformative performance in which the well-known actor is unrecognizable and disappears into a different visage, and Oldman becoming Winston Churchill surely qualifies for that. Oh, and that reminds me, the Academy loves historical dramas and when famous people play other famous people. Is this the role Oldman should be canonized for? Maybe not, but it looks like it’ll be the one to give him something to put on his shelf.
Experts’ Rank: 1
My Rank: 4
Denzel Washington – Roman J Israel, esq.
On the morning of the announcement of the Oscar nominations this year there was a great deal of talk about the exclusion of James Franco for his performance in The Disaster Artist, which does look like at least a bit of a snub, considering his consistent appearance on most of the other awards nomination lists and his recent troubles with accusations about sexual assault. Many observers assumed that Denzel Washington’s nomination was a placeholder for the one left empty by Franco’s exclusion. Washington is a well-liked and respected veteran actor who was clearly the second-place finisher in last year’s race, so nobody was likely to begrudge throwing him another nomination for old time’s sake. But while I’m not going to recommend Roman J Israel, esq. overall as a film, I will say that Washington’s performance in it is not a weak sister in comparison to the others it’s listed with here. There is character work going on here that an actor with more vanity or less personal confidence might not allow himself to dig into at this level. The script is weak in places and imposes some difficulty on what Washington had to do, but he is up to the challenge, and whatever appeal the film has is largely based on what he and Colin Farrell bring to it.
Experts’ Rank: 5
My Rank: 5
How many of these have you seen? Do you have a favorite? Let us know!