Like the supporting categories that have come before it, the race for Best Actor and Best Actress is heating up. And for the first time in a long time, we might be in for surprise or two. That’s at least my hope despite the fact that neither have lost all that much this season. Reason I would go out on the limb? Well, it’s simple, neither one of them were the best from a year ago. Yeah, that’s right. No need to bury the lead in the final post of this countdown. I just wonder if the Academy will finally do the right thing and go off script when it matters the most. Hey, one can dream and really that’s what it will be given the ridiculous history around both these categories over the years. History that has helped fuel the notion that politics play too much of role. Because what use to be a viable task of picking who should win in these categories has transformed into who you think will win, meaning the best actor/actress may not go home with the gold. Sure, it’s been awhile, but I can’t help but think back to 2001 when Russell Crowe was hosed in favor of Denzel Washington. The film was “A Beautiful Mind,” which went on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. Well guess what, most of that would not have taken place without Crowe. So while I can appreciate the notion that it winning Best Picture is a win for Crowe, he isn’t walking home with the Oscar. Instead Denzel Washington was for his role in “Training Day,” one that was not his personal best or the best of that year. Sure, Ron Howard was magnificent behind the camera and Jennifer Connelly only added to the greatness of Crowe, but it was still Crowe’s work that made that film what it was.
To this day, I still cannot believe Washington won for “Training Day” and what’s ironic, this year he is the same position Crowe was back then. He was by far the best of 2016 with what he did in “Fences,” but the feel right now is Casey Affleck will win for his work in “Manchester by the Sea.” I obviously don’t agree and anyone that watches five minutes of “Fences” will quickly realize the same, but the Academy sometimes ignores the obvious. What else can explain how Crowe wins for “Gladiator” one year, but then loses for “A Beautiful Mind” the following year? Even in 2003 when Adrien Brody won for “The Pianist,” I felt Daniel Day Lewis was better in “Gangs of New York.” Don’t worry, the Academy rewarded Lewis the following year for his work in “There Will Be Blood.” Truth is though, he should have won for that just as much as his role as Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York.” So just like Crowe, he should have won in back to back years, but the Academy just rarely does that; the last time being in 1993-1994 when Tom Hanks won for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” respectively. The good and bad of really all of this is the fact we really haven’t seen this kind of drama in 15 years, at least from the Best Actor race. Pretty much anyone that has won should have won, which I give the Academy voters credit for. I just hope they do the right thing this year and reward Washington for his work, as “Fences” would not be here without him. Figure his peers agree, rewarding him with the SAG, so now the Academy has to follow suit and give him his third Oscar out of seven total nominations.
Going through the rest of the nominees for Best Actor, Casey Affleck is the only other nominee who has a chance. And to be honest, he will probably win for what was truly a brutal role based on the story. I just don’t believe it was dynamic enough though to win over Denzel Washington. So while Affleck should probably be an Oscar winner at some point in his career thanks to a solid body of work, this is not the time. It’s just not, so let’s hope the politics stay out of at least this category for one more year. That said there were a couple other noteworthy performances and had this been a different year, we might have watched Andrew Garfield win for “Hacksaw Ridge.” What a job by a guy I never expected to be capable of this type of performance. He was fantastic and carried the emotion of this entire film on his back, so I give him credit and hope this role has turned a corner for him as he moves forward. Then there was Ryan Gosling for his part in the soon-to-be draped in gold “La La Land.” As much as I liked him, Gosling will need to be happy with his nomination as one of the five best from a year ago. And you know what, that’s OK, as there is always next year. Just ask Russell Crowe. Finally there was Viggo Mortenson for “Captain Fantastic.” This is one of those quirky films that you would stumble upon one late night and not be able to turn off. Who knows, maybe that’s why Mortenson was nominated, but he shouldn’t have been unless they wanted to give him a nod for going “full frontal” in one the scenes. Either way, I personally would have rather seen Chris Pine earn a nomination for his part in “Hell or High Water,” a role that I never would have pictured him shining in. But, I guess that’s why they play the game and why it’s good the race this year is really only between two guys, not five.
I thought when the nominees came out for Best Actress we would be looking at somewhat of a contested contest between Natalie Portman and Emma Stone. That’s at least what I had hoped, but so far it has been all Stone in the ceremonies leading up till now. That’s good for her, but bad for Portman who to be quite honest was better. Two completely different kinds of films and characters, but that’s the beauty of it. You can really look at each in their own light and decide. But, it only took me seven minutes of watching Portman in “Jackie” to realize why she was nominated. She embodied the former first lady in a way you don’t often see and that should be rewarded. Sure, we have seen plenty of actresses portray real-life individuals, but this was different given the circumstances of what her character had just experienced. I was blown away and that’s what you want from a nominee on this grand stage. But, as I teased, Stone has not lost and I doubt it will start here. She has dominated this category and if she wins, it will be the third consecutive year we have watched a lead actress win the Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar for the same role (Julianne Moore – “Still Alice”, Brie Larson – “Room”). That’s pretty cool and something I won’t mind seeing despite my feelings about Portman. That’s this ceremony in a nutshell though and why a nomination is still an honor; one that I doubt Isabelle Huppert is taking lightly. In a role many people didn’t see, she was both funny and serious. So had “Elle” been nominated for Best Foreign Film, it probably would have won because of Huppert. That said, I’m still trying to figure out what Ruth Negga did in “Loving” to earn her nomination. This marks only the eleventh time an African-American actress has been nominated for Best Actress with Halle Berry being the only winner for 2001’s “Monster Ball.” That won’t change this year given they threw Viola Davis (“Fences”) into the Best Supporting category, a fact pointed out by our guest columnist Bobby Rivers a couple weeks ago. And then there was Meryl, the actress so many look up to. Bagging her record 20th nomination for her work in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” one would think Streep would have more than three Oscars at home on her mantle. Sadly that number won’t change after this ceremony, but that’s the harsh reality of these Academy Awards and why I cannot wait to tune in come Sunday.