Thursday, February 19, 2015

Twenty Years of Oscar: Actor in a Leading Role


I want to go ahead and get something out of the way: I love Tom Hanks. Now, he didn't make this list because I'm in constant struggle about "Forrest Gump" and whether it's actually a great movie or not. I haven't seen it in years, and I fear it may not be as powerful as I once considered it to be. Also, while his win as Gump was deserved, I am still bitter about his loss in 1998 to that Italian Jumping Bean guy. If Hanks had won for "Saving Private Ryan," he would be on this list.

Anyway, we've reached Day Three in my "Twenty Years of Oscar" extravaganza. Best Actor...it's a biggie. And it is so often one of the tightest races each year. Some are runaways, including most of the picks you'll find below, but it always finds itself a hot topic this time a year. This year, especially. Can't wait 'til Sunday.



Here are my favorite Best Actor Winners since 1994:

5. Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum in "Mystic River" (2003)



Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" sticks in your gut for days after watching. This happens every single time I see it. My Dad and I went to the theater and caught it that year. It is devastating and beautiful and Boston. Sean Penn's performance as ex-con/grieving father, Jimmy Markum, is angry and supremely powerful. A well-deserved Oscar for in incredible actor.

4. Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in "American Beauty" (1999)



I watched "American Beauty" for the first time in years the other night. For me, it holds up and is as good now as it was then. Kevin Spacey, in his acceptance speech, thanked Jack Lemmon, whose role as C.C. "Bud" Baxter in Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" (1960) was Spacey's inspiration for the lead character here in Lester Turnham, a man in rebellion of his sorry suburban existence. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, fun performance from one of our greatest living actors.

3. Nicolas Cage as Ben Sanderson in "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995)



Ben Sanderson is one of those characters made for Nic Cage. Cage is one of those actors who brings it no matter what, even when he does crappy movies. When Cage does a role in a great movie, like Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas," he shows you what screen acting is all about. Despite being one of the most utterly tragic movies ever made, Cage somehow brings everything to the table: humor, fear, and pain. No movie has ever seemed more true to alcoholism than this one. Cage just nails it. I remember Richard Dreyfuss (nominated with Cage that year for "Mr. Holland's Opus") saying, in an interview with Barbara Walters before the telecast, that even he though Cage would and should win. Nobody was beating Nic Cage in 1995.

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in "Capote" (2005)



Once again, a performance that really had no competition. It was seriously the best performance of the year...period. Philip Seymour Hoffman went method for this movie, remaining in the embodiment of Truman Capote throughout the filming of this movie. I'm not a huge fan of Bennett Miller's movies (well, I LOVED "Moneyball"). Like last year's "Foxcatcher," this is one of the slowest burning movies of all-time. Hoffman saved it. May he Rest in Peace.

1. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood" (2007)



Face it! This is the best performance by a lead actor in my lifetime, maybe ever. It is scary how good Daniel Day-Lewis is in almost every movie he makes but none more so than this one, Paul Thomas Anderson's epic of greed, betrayal, and oil in turn-of-the-century California. No movie buff alive doesn't worship this performance. Plainview in intense, conniving, confident, evil, and Day-Lewis owes everything to P.T. Anderson for this one, for Anderson is the man who gave the world the "milkshake" rant, the greatest movie insult speech of all-time. 

18 comments:

  1. Eeek...I hate Penn's performance, but I hate that movie too. LOL.

    This category is hard for me, because I rarely think the best man wins. If I had to make a list of my favorites from 1994 till now, I'd say...

    Day-Lewis
    Hoffman
    Spacey
    Crowe
    Dujardin

    None of them would be my personal winners, but they are all very good performances.

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    1. Boo! I love Mystic River. Tim Robbins and Sean Penn are both unreal great in that movie. Alas, you're a huge Gladiator fan obviously, and I always thought that was a strange BP win. It's great, but I sort of fell out of love with it over the years.

      I'm intrigued. Who would you pick over Day-Lewis? Clooney would be second best for me that year. Michael Clayton was a great movie.

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    2. My win in 2007 is Casey Affleck, who was an obvious lead in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Such a multi-layered and brilliantly composed performance. I also prefer Mortenson to Day-Lewis, to be honest, but that isn't to say that DDL isn't great. I just think he's far too overrated.

      And yes, I love Gladiator. I think it's probably the best sword and sandals film out there, and Crowe's win is just amazing, mostly because he's my favorite actor and knowing that he has an Oscar makes me happy. Still, my personal winner in 2000 is Christian Bale for American Psycho.

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    3. OK. I didn't even think Affleck, since he was considered in the supporting category. But, you're right, that was a leading role and one of the best of that decade for sure. God, I love that film! It is beautiful. And that Nick Cave score! I didn't get into Eastern Promises. I loved A History of Violence much more and even Mortensen's performance in that one as well. Day-Lewis may be a bit overpraised but he nails it every time for me.

      I've always been a Russell Crowe fan as well. He needs a good role again. Bale's work in American Psycho is incredible. Haven't seen that in years.

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    4. Oh thank GOD someone else who isn't worship at the altar of DDL/There Will Be Blood! I thought I was all alone! I also agree with you - this is not my favorite category because my favorite almost never wins. For what it's worth, I think Penn was more deserving for Milk than he was for Mystic River, but Mickey Rourke should have won that year.

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    5. Penn was great in Milk. I just didn't love the movie that much. I loved Mystic River! Still do. That's the deciding factor there. Rourke was outstanding. That was my pick that year.

      There Will Be Blood, despite its bleakness and lack of a strong female role, is a modern cinematic masterpiece, especially in its cinematography, score, production design, and that maniac bit of acting from Day-Lewis. I hear what you guys are saying about the "worship," but it's still one of the best performances I've ever seen.

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  2. I love that you included Day-Lewis and Spacey. I liked Hoffman's performance too, but I just think Ledger did better in Brokeback Mountain. I think even Phoenix may have been stronger in Walk The Line, but I have no complaints about Hoffman having an Oscar for sure. He was brilliant there.

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    1. That was a great year for the Best Actor category. I think Hoffman just transformed himself into that character so much, it couldn't be overlooked. I remember really sort of secretly hoping Phoenix would win myself. But I would've been happy with any of those three that year.

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  3. K... great reading...passion comes through...but...what happened to the english teacher proofreader?..2nd paragraph...think (hope?) you meant to write 'races' and NOT 'racist'...just saying...love uncle dave

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    1. Thanks, Dave. I fixed it. That was a bonehead typo. It's always hard to proof your own stuff, you know?

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  4. Great picks! I agree that the best man doesn't always win, but I don't get to pick!! Although I think DDL is great, I think Bradley Cooper should have when he won for Lincoln, and he nailed Lincoln and I love Presidents! His performance in Ther Will Be Blood is amazing. Same for Gangs of New York, but that being said, I would have Brody on my list. I might even include Forrest Whitaker because I didn't realize he won an Oscar until now, and I thought he was awesome!

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    1. I actually never saw The Last King of Scotland. Brody's win was great. Just missed the cut here. And his acceptance is one of the best ever. I would've been okay with Cooper in 2012, you know that.

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  5. Great picks! I haven't seen #1 and #2 yet, even though they've been on my "Must See Soon!" list for years. But I love the others. American Beauty is a movie that gets so much better, for me, every time I see it. And Leaving Las Vegas redeemed Nicolas Cage for me ... almost.

    I am not a fan of Forrest Gump, but I've always loved Tom Hanks.

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    1. So true about American Beauty. Hadn't watched it in maybe 10 years and watched it the other night. It's so great! Leaving Las Vegas is the most devastating movie I've ever seen. I can barely re-watch it, but it's one of the best performances of the 90s. I like Nic Cage, even when he does crap. You have to see There Will Be Blood. It's harsh but just so amazingly well-made, especially in the writing and performances. Capote is a movie I'll never see again because, despite Hoffman's incredible performance, I'd almost rather watch paint dry. It was just a well-deserved Oscar for a great actor.

      Tom Hanks is boss! And I loved Forrest Gump as a kid. I'm just afraid if I watch it now, it won't hold up.

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  6. I LOVE Cage's win and the movie. It's just fantastic and so crushingly realistic. I can never call Cage a bad actor, not after this one

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    1. Cage gets a bad rap. He's always good, even when he's doing that over-the-top crazy ass persona in the bad movies he does. I'm thinking the National Treasure movies. As far as putting on a good performance, he nailed it for the Oscar. I also love his other Oscar-worthy work in Adaptation.

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  7. I think DDL's performance in There Will Be Blood was the second-best male performance ever, along with his second-best performance ever. The best male performance of all time was his role in My Left Foot. That was the best male performance ever.

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