Thursday, January 10, 2013

Non-Oscars: Best Actor

The Oscar nominees were: Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix and Denzel Washington.  Happy to see Jackman nominated for his difficult role.  Cooper is my pick for Best Leading Actor of the year with Denzel a close second.  I was not as won over by Day-Lewis or Phoenix as others.  Now here are my picks for Best Actor Not Nominated for an Academy Award:

Richard Gere, Arbitrage
In any other year this performance would be a major contender and likely nominee.  However this was a competitive best actor race and the veteran actor was denied another nomination.  This is the best I've ever seen Richard Gere.  He does not play this role safe, he allows his character to be despicable and own all of the moral compromises.  Gere plays the character as smart and charismatic but troubled.  The biggest testament to him as an actor is that he makes this character relatable, you feel for him.  Despite the fact that he is richer than anyone in the audience and makes choices none of us could ever bring ourselves to make.  The fact you are invested in this terrible person and captivated by him really makes you respect Gere as an actor.

Michael Peña, End of Watch
Michael Peña has been a stand-out in everything I've seen him in.  He was the only thing I liked about the overrated Crash and helped get me through the uncomfortable Tower Heist.  It is great to see him finally flex his acting chops as a leading man.  Peña has impeccable chemistry with Jake Gyllenhaal but is never dependent on him.  Peña's range as an actor and experience in both comedy and drama is perfect in a movie like End of Watch where the tone shifts from light-hearted to harrowingly realistic and tragic regularly.  The many depths of his character is always present as he is always a faithful husband, young father, true friend and partner and committed cop.  All of these elements clearly wear on him, but he believably lightens the mood with a very natural and likable sense of humor.  I hope that Peña's roles keep getting better from here, he has more than proven himself as an actor.

Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
With all of the love Life of Pi has been receiving where is the attention to this young actor?  The movie is technically stunning, but it has unfortunately overshadowed one of the year's best performances.  Suraj's Pi is the one human character for a majority of the movie and at only 19 years old (younger at the time of filming) he completely carries it.  This is Pi's story after all and he embodies fear, frustration, hopefulness and one of the year's most fascinating character arcs.  He does all of this while acting with a CGI tiger.  He is acting on his own, but his relationship with Richard Parker is real for the audience.  There are a other actors who portray Pi at a younger and older age, and Sharma's portrayal is consistent with both of them.  Also he gets really skinny, almost emaciated, something Oscar voters usually go for.  This is a terrific debut performance that nobody has seemed to notice.  Hope to see more of this talented young man in the future.

Channing Tatum, Magic Mike
This is a performance I really respect.  For a role that is very physical and energetic it is also tender and personal.  In the stripping scenes Tatum certainly plays the role of the male stripper, but in the scenes about his personal life he shows some surprising layers.  He does not give a big Oscar bait performance, rather he is very close to the chest and normal.  His best scene is when he is trying to explain who is to the love interest.  This was not a well-rehearsed, eloquent character he was tripping over his words and doing so demonstrated incredible vulnerability.  Tatum anchors this movie, shows off his good sense of humor and carries the romantic scenes against the cinematic dead weight that is Cody Horn.  Watching this movie you relate to Magic Mike, he is very much an every man.  You stop noticing that he is a handsome, incredibly buff movie star.  This is the role that really humanized Channing Tatum.

Mark Wahlberg, Ted
I have long maintained that this was one of my favorite performances of the year and I think it was one of the most difficult.  Wahlberg has chemistry with an animated teddy bear and allows you to believe that Ted is really there.  I think that Wahlberg is the best straight man in the business, he anchored outlandish characters in The Fighter and Boogie Nights and provided them with a backdrop and someone to play off of and he does it here.  Wahlberg is so incredibly likable and charming, but he does not play this role like a movie star.  He is able to demean himself quite a bit and make himself look like ridiculous for a good joke.  But even though the character is a lazy slacker Wahlberg makes him feel intelligent and brings quite a bit of depth to the part.  He is able to be funny when he needs to be and restrained otherwise.  This movie would not have worked without this great actor in the lead.

Other Great Leading Performances
Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Chris Evans (The Avengers), Chris Pine (People Like Us), Liam Neeson (The Grey), Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained), Karl Urban (Dredd), Martin Freeman (The Hobbit)

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