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.