Academy Awards Project: Best Actor


We are reaching the last categories of this project. I am leaving the shorts and other feature film categories (animated, documentary, foreign language) last, because these are almost like their own forms of “best picture” (or I would at least like to convey them that way, as that is how I view them). So, that leaves us with only three categories left. Let’s start off with Best Actor, only because I am still torn between how I want to rank the Best Actress category and would like one more day to figure this out. A lead performance should command a film. I don’t expect a performance to be the sole focus of a film, but you will find nominees of that nature in these kinds of categories usually. This year, we have five fairly solid nominees (plus one dark horse that I didn’t expect to be here, but am all the more thankful for it). Here are the nominees for Best Actor, ranked from worst to best.


Biggest Snub: Ethan Hawke-First Reformed
I think many of us wanted Hawke to be nominated for this multi layered performance, but alas it was not meant to be. It’s too bad, because Hawke deserves to be seen here. As a conflicted pastor who has too much thrown at him at once, you are witnessing a spirit, heart, and mind fighting all at once. There is no overly theatrical moment. No super big speech to win you over. This is a serious issue done tastefully (as tastefully as such an extreme film can be, anyways). This is a true downward spiral. You can speculate how we got there, but only the character fully gets it. Hawke hides enough to keep you guessing, but he displays enough to make it all worthwhile.


5. Viggo Mortensen-Green Book
Mortensen is one of my favourite actors working today. He is highly understated as a chameleonesque actor. In Green Book, he is no different. As Tony Lip, his diction is thick, most of his conversations are done through his hands, and he is embodied as a person. What I do like is that Mortensen rarely tries to command the scene. He lets Mahershala Ali’s Don Shirley take the reins most of the time, and it is effective. That’s not bad acting: it’s systemic acting. It may be ranked last here, and it may not be the strongest performance Mortensen has ever commanded (check him out if Green Book and Lord of the Rings are all you know him for), but this nomination still feels warranted.


4. Bradley Cooper-A Star is Born
To see Bradley Cooper continue to thrive as an actor is fantastic. As one of the strongest alumni members of the Actor’s Studio (New School members, of course), Cooper has gotten stronger and stronger with his hold on the craft. In his directorial debut, Cooper tells yet another old tale in a refreshing way: a master’s battle with addiction. Many films have covered this (ten years ago, Crazy Heart came out). However, there is a certain visceral quality with this performance. He is self destructive, but it’s almost as if he flat out doesn’t even care for most of the film. He feels the repercussions, and only knows what he does is wrong through Ally. Cooper knew how to make both a musical icon, and that close relation we cannot stop from going too deep, and he balances both at once pretty effortlessly.


3. Willem Dafoe-At Eternity’s Gate
See, this is why I hold an interest in the Academy Awards despite the many problems and let downs that happen. Not many other awards ceremonies (or mediums) would publicly celebrate a performance or film like this (especially in such a major category). Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh is devastating to watch. A majority of the film is seeing his mind racing through his reaction to the world. There are no clear cut answers, and Dafoe represents this clearly through his constant distress. When he talks to others about his visions and voices, he is so calm that it is worrisome. Naturally At Eternity’s Gate is an arthouse film, so Dafoe’s Gogh is more poetic than cinematic; it feels like a stronger tribute than it could have been in the wrong hands.


2. Christian Bale-Vice
Splitting the first two nominees felt like splitting an atom: no matter how I did it, it would end in disaster. My thought process here for Christian Bale’s perfect Dick Chaney performance is that this is a lifelike interpretation that steals each scene simply because of its reflection on the real man. Bale, who can easily steal a film with a booming scene or a certain inflection (see most Christian Bale films for examples), lets his source material do literally all of the work. That’s terrifying enough. We really are witnessing the real former veep, and there is nothing we can do to stop him. The varying ages of Cheney’s life being recreated by Bale adds some major points, too.


1. Rami Malek-Bohemian Rhapsody
The main reason why Bohemian Rhapsody even had a snowball-in-hell’s chance of even being considered for Best Picture. Malek narrowly (and I mean microscopically narrow) wins this ranking, because the film would have flat out failed with a lesser performance. Malek isn’t just good as Freddie Mercury (which, he does a damn fine job at). This is just a strong performance overall, and that’s an important factor many people forget about when it comes to reviewing biographical pictures. Sure, someone can look and sound like a real person, but is this remotely interesting to watch? Malek makes Mercury so candid, that every little warble in his voice gives us goosebumps. There is so much vulnerability exposed, despite all of the confidence in the world teetering on top. Malek’s performance creates an illusion that virtually every scene of Bohemian Rhapsody is masterful; remove him mentally, and see if you would feel the same way. This is like Eddie Redmayne in The Theory Of Everything all over again: a likeliness being present, but the command of every single aspect of the film being the main attribute. Malek slays as Freddie Mercury, and is the best actor of the year.

Our Predicted Winner: The race is so, so, so tight. At the time of this article, it looks like Rami Malek will claim the coveted prize. However, anything can happen, and Christian Bale can be in the lead again soon.

Our Academy Awards Project is an ongoing series that will continue until all the categories have been ranked and reviewed. Tune in Monday to Saturday for a new category each day.

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Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.