Thursday, February 20, 2014

Non-Oscars: Best Actor

I have yet to see Dallas Buyers Club, so I can't judge McConaughey in that film.  I was not incredibly blown away by Christian Bale in American Hustle.  He did fine, but his goofy caricature did not seem to fit in with the rest of the cast.  I never really ended up caring about his character, I always felt that I was watching Bale trying to do a De Niro-esque impression of Tony Clifton.  Wolf of Wall Street is easily DiCaprio's best performance and was eye opening to me as I often find the actor to be overrated.  I am very happy to see Bruce Dern nominated for his subtle, but extremely moving performance in Nebraska.  But my personal Oscar pick would be Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was just as subtle and moving in 12 Years a Slave.  Watching him just breaks your heart, but definitely gets you through a tough film.

Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man 3
Most blockbuster stars that have multi-picture deals end up being bored and frustrated in the roles that make them famous.  That is because the films often decrease in quality and the actors are usually only in it for the money.  Although reports may indicate that Downey is frustrated with Marvel's paychecks his performances show no sign of Downey getting sick of playing Tony Stark.  In fact Iron Man 3 is easily Downey's best outing as the character.  Downey maintains an incredible consistency between films as he continues a story arc that started at the end of 2012's Avengers.  Stark beat death against incredible odds and now has PTSD.  Downey gifts this new development with incredible weight without losing his signature smarm and likability.  Downey really adds to his character's already developed personality, he really grows in the role.  It should also be noted that Downey keeps scenes with a little boy grounded as they could have been corny.  This movie is the fifth film appearance of the character and I can't wait to see where he goes next.

Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station is such an emotional experience, because it gets the audience to care about a very real person who became a victim.  By the end of the movie, you feel like you really knew Oscar Grant and the ending will indeed tear you up.  Jordan is an absolute revelation in this movie.  His respectful portrayal of Oscar Grant is extremely likable but believably flawed.  Not two things that are easy things to work into a portrayal of a real person.  Normally there is some judgement or hero-worship involved in movies that are based on a true story, but Fruitvale Station is extremely raw.  Grant made mistakes and hurt people he cared about, but he was still an admirable human being.  I seem to be talking more about Oscar Grant than Michael B. Jordan, but that is a good thing.  This is not Jordan taking on a manipulative role as an attempt to win awards or be taken seriously, he gets the audience to feel and that is an incredible thing.

Nick Robinson, Kings of Summer
I am absolutely shocked that I am including an actor from Melissa & Joey on this list, but anyone whose seen Kings of Summer knows that Robinson definitely deserves to be mentioned.  Robinson plays a fifteen year old boy who runs away from home to live in a childhood fantasy in the woods.  It should be noted that Robinson would have been around eighteen during the time of filming, but this never feels like a case of Dawson's Casting.  Robinson embodies that spirit of a young teen which is important as the movie hinges on child logic.  Robinson behaves and reacts like an average kid.  No matter how difficult he may behave, he remains incredibly sympathetic and relatable.  This movie describes very much what it feels like to be a teenager and Robinson plays it all perfectly.

Jason Sudeikis, We're the Millers
Comedy stars seem to not count as much as dramatic ones, but good comedy certainly takes talent.  And the dependable Sudeikis is full of talent that can anchor a fun summer comedy.  Sudeikis has transitioned much easier to being a leading film star that most SNL-vets.  Mainly because Sudeikis can find the humor in a normal situation without needing gimmicks or weird characterization.  He plays Dave Miller as a real guy, but seamlessly works in sly observational humor.  He is also a perfect ensemble member.  He is comfortable being the focal point, but also plays well with others and shares focus.  Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter and Emma Roberts all gave better performances because they had a solid lead to play off of and support them.  I hope that Sudeikis keeps finding great scripts to work with, because he is a star that I will gladly pay to see.

Forest Whitaker, The Butler
On the surface The Butler may look like a pretty gimmicky and manipulative film and it is to Whitaker's credit that it isn't.  Whitaker provides the backbone of the movie that spans almost seven decades and a litany of minor characters.  Whitaker's Cecil Gaines is an incredibly developed character.  He is believably an eager charismatic newcomer, loving husband, grieving family member, risk-taking employee and frustrated father.  In fact it is the scenes where he is at odds with his oldest son that are the film's strongest.  Whitaker provides a counter-point to his son's more aggressive methods of civil rights.  Cecil Gaines is indeed a servant but Whitaker plays him with honor and ambition.  Whitaker is a great ensemble member and a great emotional center for a very good film.

Other Great Leading Performances:
Chadwick Boseman (42), Jake Johnson (Drinking Buddies), Paul Rudd (Prince Avalanche), Tye Sheridan (Mud)

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