Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Black Sheep @ The Oscars: BEST ACTOR

This past spring, I caught Thomas McCarthy’s THE VISITOR and found myself unexpectedly taken with Richard Jenkins. I had only known him as the infamous Nathaniel Fisher on “Six Feet Under” and suddenly felt as though I had never seen him before. In October, I caught a press screening of FROST/NIXON and thought Frank Langella had it locked after his pitch perfect incarnation of Richard Nixon. Then I saw Sean Penn in MILK. I’m not a huge Penn fan but, as soon as I was through weeping, I was consumed with how transformative his performance was. I couldn’t imagine it getting any better but then I saw THE WRESTLER. Aside from being completely floored by Mickey Rourke’s comeback performance, I was most excited to know that the Best Actor race at the Oscars would be the most exciting race around. Oh wait, I forgot about Brad. This is probably because I found him and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON fairly forgettable.

Richard Jenkins in THE VISITOR

For five years, all anyone knew of Richard Jenkins was that he was one of the coolest dead guys around and that he certainly did a number on his adopted television family. In THE VISITOR, Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a widow who hasn’t lived a day since his wife passed. It isn’t until he meets visitors from foreign lands in a home that is supposed to be his own, that he realizes that he is a visitor in his own life.

Jenkins was always a dark horse to get the nomination in this category and this is certainly a case where the nomination will be the ultimate honour. The nod will open plenty of doors though and Jenkins will walk right through them. We may hear his name here again before very long.

Frank Langella in FROST/NIXON

Langella’s Nixon is a tricky one indeed. He is always on top of whatever game is being played. He always has his sights on a grand return to the public eye, one that he never doubts he is fully entitled to. It is the moments where he finds himself alone though that reveal the most surprising aspects of a very guarded personality – fear and uncertainty. Langella makes Nixon human.

Langella originated this role on the stage and has been in Nixon’s skin long enough to make everything look so easy. He was the early favorite this year, with the added sympathy bonus for missing out last year on a nod for STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING, but this race comes down to only two horses really.

Sean Penn in MILK

Penn is considered to be one of the most prolific living actors of his generation. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not always sold on this. As Harvey Milk though, he embodies the spirit of progress, equality and life, all of which made the real Harvey Milk so incredibly charismatic and convincing. Penn’s portrayal of the first openly gay man elected to American public office is no caricature; it is tender and human.

Unfortunately, Penn won the Oscar a few years ago for MYSTIC RIVER, a performance I never felt was that impressive in a film that I always felt was horribly overrated. Having one statue already on his mantle or his toilet (I don’t know where he keeps these things), puts him at a disadvantage here as voters might choose to reward someone who has never won before. That said, he just picked up the SAG award and that has a lot of sway.


Pitt is hit or miss most of the time. He definitely hit it in David Fincher’s 13 times nominated epic but was it really him who hit it? Pitt’s facial expressions were captured using CG and subsequently graphed onto a number of other actors’ faces and bodies to show the character’s transition from old and dying to young and new. Personally, I never felt like I truly ever came to know Benjamin Button despite the technical marvel.

Pitt may have gotten swept up in Benjamin Button buzz here because he is way out of his league considering the competition. That’s saying a lot considering the gravitas of this particular superstar. Still, many have argued that Pitt’s performance is a collective collaboration with a handful of other actors, all of which had Pitt’s face pasted on theirs.

Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER

It only takes about five minutes of watching Darren Aronofsky’s return to form, THE WRESTLER, before you are amazed by how perfect Rourke is as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aging professional wrestler who still has to play in order to pay for his lackluster life. Rourke’s performance inspires such intense sympathy but remains authentic and realistic. It is no exaggeration when people say Rourke was born to play this part.

After picking up the Golden Globe for this performance, it pretty much comes down, in my opinion, to a final death match between Rourke and Penn. Rourke’s recent announcement that he will be fighting in a legitimate WWE wrestling match a few months from now is a little odd but Rourke still has one major advantage over Penn, the comeback vote. Who doesn’t love a comeback … especially when it is this damn good?

All in all, this a very hard one to call. I’m going to have to flip a coin now and make the big decision at the last second. Heads, it’s Penn; tails, it’s Rourke … And Rourke it is!


Anil Usumezbas said...

Among the two possible nominees, I will be happier if Rourke wins the statuette. But my personal favorite is Jenkins.

Black Sheep said...

Hey Anil ... I am still good either way if Rourke or Penn takes it. I will probably be very happy to see Jenkins surprise them all too. Langella is certainly solid but it just doesn't connect emotionally like the previous three. Brad ... well, I don't think he should even have the nomination.