Friday, February 24, 2017

2016 Best Actor: Some Thoughts

Peter O'Toole:
Record Holder for Most
Best Actor Nominations
Without a Win (Eight)

The sixth of a seven-part series on the 2016 Academy Award nominees.  Today, a look at Best Actor.

The nominees for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for 2016 are:

Casey Affleck: Manchester By the Sea
Andrew Garfield: Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling: La La Land
Viggo Mortensen: Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington: Fences

Casey Affleck

I've long argued that when it comes to the Affleck Brothers, Ben is the director and Casey is the actor.  Whenever one of them tries the other (Ben in acting, Casey in directing), the results are pretty disastrous.  I think the Academy agrees with me, as it is Casey who has received two acting nominations, while Ben hasn't (winning only for either writing, which I don't think he should have, or producing).  As Lee Chandler, this working-class man who has shut down after a horrifying tragedy, Affleck gives one of his best performances, a study of grief unbearable that he has to bear.  His best moment is when he speaks to the police. Most people would have made it an overwhelming scene of tears and agony, but Affleck made it one of shock and numbness, a powerful moment.

Andrew Garfield

I have not and will not see Hacksaw Ridge due to my firm opposition to Mel Gibson, but having seen the trailer, I am not impressed with Garfield.  Now, I think he was robbed of a nomination for The Social Network (even if I think the film itself was wildly overrated).  However, since then I've soured on Garfield as an actor, and not just because he was a pretty lousy Spider-Man.  I heard Garfield's Southern accent (or what I figure is supposed to be a Southern accent) and thought it a lousy Southern accent.  It's hard to judge what kind of performance he gave, but I don't think I would have voted for it in any case.

Ryan Gosling

Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling's last good performance was in Drive.  Since then, he has done nothing that has particularly impressed me.  In fact, he seems to have gotten worse, ACTING with a Capital A, always showing how he practices his 'craft'.  Whether it's a 'comedy' with Crazy, Stupid, Love or heavy 'drama' with Only God Forgives, Avant-garde actor Gosling always shows us that he is ACTING.  Only God Forgives was an absolute horror, where Avant-garde actor Gosling was indulged in his worst instincts (the silent type full of angst).  La La Land, from what I gather, is a comedy, a romp, but I wouldn't figure that from Avant-garde actor Gosling's performance.  He never made me believe he was a passionate young man when it came to jazz.  All Avant-garde actor Gosling showed me was that he was ACTING, never believing that he was anything other than a snob, elitist, smug, and worse, not giving a performance but an impersonation of a human.

Viggo Mortensen

Another film I haven't seen.  I cannot comment on whether Mortensen was good or bad in Captain Fantastic, but I know some people love it, some people hate it.  Another past nominee, Mortensen is highly respected, but the film was nowhere a big-enough hit to make his chances realistic.

Denzel Washington

Washington knew Troy Maxson well, having played the part on Broadway (and winning a Tony Award for his performance).  As a director, I think he was unable to open up August Wilson's play, which was a real shame.  As an actor though, the mix of wisdom and foolishness of Troy, a deeply flawed but compelling man driven by his own demons and his war with Death, Washington gives yet another standout performance.  No one I know who has seen Fences has said anything bad about Washington the actor, though no one I know who has seen Fences has said anything particularly good about Washington the director. 

Closing Thoughts:

Remember Nate Parker?  Some time back, Parker and his Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation was highly touted as being a front-runner for Best Picture and both Best Director and Best Actor for the film.  Then came allegations of rape from his college days, his lukewarm answers to those charges, and the ensuing controversy sank his Oscar chances.  When The Birth of a Nation was released, audiences were indifferent and whatever the merits of the film the failure of the film and the controversy surrounding Parker blew his chances.  Do we see the same thing when it comes to former front-runner Casey Affleck?

For the longest time, Casey Affleck was almost assured of a win, his major competition being left in the dust (that major competition being either Avant-garde actor Gosling or maybe Garfield and Mortensen).  Then Came Denzel, and soon youth found itself facing a fierce challenge from experience.  It's a curious thing that Washington finds himself in a similar situation from a decade-plus back, when few gave him a chance to beat Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.  Crowe, upon accepting another prize, opted to do some poetry reciting, and when he learned his poem was cut, assaulted the producer of the awards show.  Despite profuse apologies, the Academy went on to shift their allegiance to good-guy Denzel, who has never been attached to any scandal.

Now, it's Affleck who faces his own charges of sexual harassment, charges he vehemently denies.  Though not as damaging as those against Parker or as embarrassing as Crowe's antics (which I believe did cost him the Oscar), will the Academy once again turn to good-guy Denzel to save them?

Ultimately, this is a fierce two-man race, and for once the biopic will lose (Garfield having virtually no chance to win).  Avant-garde actor Gosling may be loved by critics, but he has never managed to put himself in major play (as far as I know, he hasn't won a major award for La La Land, especially against either Washington or Affleck). 

A good performance will win, but now the momentum has shifted from the young man to the older man.

My Prediction: Denzel Washington

My Rankings:

Casey Affleck
Denzel Washington
Viggo Mortensen
Andrew Garfield
Ryan Gosling

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