OFF THE CARPET: Looking at the leading gentlemen

Posted by · 10:31 am · November 2nd, 2009

Colin Firth in A Single ManWe’ve taken concentrated looks at the lead actress and supporting actress categories in recent weeks.  Now let’s turn our attention over to the fellas.

Behind the Best Picture race, of course, the lead actor competition is perhaps the most hotly anticipated award of a given Oscar telecast.  Movie stars are born, Hollywood staples are rewarded and careers leap to the next level.  It makes for an intriguing annual state of the union as it pertains the the film industry’s talent roster.

This year, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars finds himself right at the front of the conversation.  George Clooney is likely to end up with his third acting Oscar nomination, for Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” and he’ll owe much of that to Reitman’s powerful work on the page.

Clooney doesn’t give his best performance to date in the film.  But the material is so cleverly built around his persona that one can’t blame the actor for saddling up to a role that fits like a glove.  And there is something to be said for the bravery of taking one’s image on like that.

Colin Firth, meanwhile, has caused a critical stir with his leading performance in Tom Ford’s “A Single Man.” He has already won the Venice Film Festival’s acting honor and has been tapped for another at February’s Santa Barbara Film Festival.  He is pitch-perfect in the film, giving a refined performance of nuance and gesture.

A number of other pre-season performances deserve to be noted in this space, however.  Jeremy Renner in Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” is probably at the top of that list, yet he remains a bubble contender despite his film’s sure-fire status in other categories.  It can be difficult for a newbie to muscle in without a wave of critical support, but one major precursor award and Renner starts to look like a great bet.

Also from earlier in the year, Sam Rockwell gave a tour de force performance that is being taken seriously by the studio for awards in Duncan Jones’s “Moon,” while Sharlto Copley’s work in “District 9” remains some of the finest on screens this year.

Sam Rockwell in MoonLike Rockwell, another actor from this year’s Sony Classics stable will get a serious push from the studio: Michael Sheen in “The Damned United.” Sheen apparently dazzled the Hollywood Foreign Press Association so much with his work in the soccer drama that some insiders are already placing early shoo-in bets on the actor nailing down a Golden Globe nomination.  He moves through the film with an airy sureness that could make voters sit up and take note or, perhaps, be too chameleon-like to register.

Two comedic performances that were on screens as the season took hold could survive the race.  Matt Damon offered perhaps his best work to date in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Informant!,” while Michael Stuhlbarg jumped onto the scene in the Coens’ “A Serious Man” and could get the added benefit of critical kudos.  The former is probably a safer bet than the latter, and may even be underestimated at the moment.

A pair of old-timers will be gunning for recognition in Hal Holbrook and Christopher Plummer for “That Evening Sun” and “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” respectively.  Holbrook gives a wonderfully ornery performance in a timely piece, while Plummer might have better luck in the supporting arena for another Sony Classics film.  An AFI tribute to the actor is right around the corner.

Two contenders that everyone is betting on (but no one has seen) are Daniel Day-Lewis in “Nine” and Morgan Freeman in “Invictus,” but another vet is lurking: Robert De Niro, who received an arbitrary Best Actor award from the Hollywood film fest for his work in the remake “Everybody’s Fine.” That film screens tomorrow at AFI Fest and buzz has really been cranking up on the actor’s potential return to the awards race.

Jake Gyllenhaal is said to be quite good in Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers” (Tobey Maguire, not so much), while Ben Foster nails the drama of “The Messenger.” Both will likely receive campaigns.  Ditto fellow younger contenders Ben Wishaw in “Bright Star” and James McAvoy in “The Last Station,” but all remain long shots at best.

Viggo Mortensen in The RoadOne performance that isn’t likely to go away, however, is one that has already become an excuse to hold career tributes to the actor: Viggo Mortensen in “The Road.” It will be tough for the Weinsteins to muscle both Mortensen and Firth into the race, however, and given the largely cool reception the film is receiving in many quarters, Mortensen’s work could be an awards casualty.  Truth be told, we’ve seen better, and he’s given better.

A final note on perhaps the best performance in this category I’ve seen all year: Tahar Rahim in “A Prophet.” While the film is France’s foreign language film submission, it will not receive a qualifying run for other categories in 2009.  Sony Pictures Classics is holding the release until February of 2010, where it will hopefully find an audience.  But unfortunately, Rahim cannot be considered for the Academy’s lead actor award this year.

There are other fringe possibilities, all of which are noted in the Contenders section.  But I don’t imagine the field will widen much beyond that.  The sidebar predictions, meanwhile, have been tweaked yet again, mostly in craft categories.

What are your thoughts on this year’s Best Actor race?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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61 responses so far

  • 1 11-03-2009 at 9:21 am

    The Other James D. said...

    Let’s remember that Swank also got a Hollywood Fest Award, and Julianne Moore received one for three projects–one of which hasn’t even been seen yet, to my knowledge (“The Kids Are All Right”). That award is all about the person, so I’m wondering if the buzz is merely being manufactured from nothing. Like I said in another comment, I want to see it nonetheless. He’d be down around 13 or so on my predix list, however.

    I’m not sold on Damon or Day-Lewis. I feel one or both will miss the cut (but probably just Damon, who’ll likely get in w/ “Invictus” instead).

    I’m holding out hope that Rockwell pulls a miracle of a nomination for “Moon”, but my hopes are probably better spent pining for Renner’s, thus satisfying the perennial breakthrough achievement-nod instead.

    I’m very intrigued by Holbrook and cannot wait to see his performance on screen. And two non-contenders that I feel are worthy of mention would be Hugh Dancy for “Adam” (in an otherwise trite film) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for “(500)” (nothing groundbreaking, but he played it wonderfully and probably WILL get a Golden Globe nomination to boot–hopefully nothing mucks that up).

    Time for some duck.

  • 2 11-03-2009 at 10:28 am

    billybil said...

    Today I am tired of the same old names all the time – that isn’t fair, I know, but today – if I had my way – there would be all 1st time nominees for best actor this year:

    Colin Firth A Single Man
    Jeremy Renner The Hurt Locker
    Sam Rockwell Moon
    Michael Stuhlbarg A Serious Man
    Ben Foster The Messenger

    I’ve seen 3 of these performances – I’m going on what I’ve read regarding the other two.

    IF we have to have some “repeats” then, today, I’d prefer to see one of these two get in:

    Hal Holbrook That Evening Sun
    Jake Gyllenhaal Brothers


  • 3 11-03-2009 at 10:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    DHE: Same thing with the actresses, actually.

  • 4 11-03-2009 at 5:51 pm

    elemacd said...

    Yes, I am tired of the usual suspects, too.

    I say Colin Firth for Best Actor…will be a breath of fresh air.

  • 5 11-03-2009 at 8:33 pm

    Douglas said...

    Kris if you saw A Single Man what was Julianne Moore like? Cause really, she is overdue but could she be on track for another nomination?

  • 6 11-04-2009 at 3:53 am

    Satya said...

    That photo for Original Score on the sidebar makes a case for the Cinematography prediction for ‘Bright Star.’ Great shot!

  • 7 11-04-2009 at 4:00 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Douglas: Not to speak for Kris when it comes to his own thoughts on her performance, but he’s seen “A Single Man” and he has Moore in his predicted five, as you can see to your right.

  • 8 11-04-2009 at 5:26 am

    DHE said...

    Seriously, I don’t hate Daniel Day Lewis or anything, but how sad is it that virtually nobody has actually seen his performance in “Nine” and yet everyone is assuming he’s a lock for a nomination? This happens any time he’s in an “Oscar bait” film. Automatic consideration by the predictors. And that sort of thing builds its own buzz.

  • 9 11-04-2009 at 5:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Actually, not everyone is calling Day-Lewis a lock. I don’t have him in my five right now, and Nathaniel Rogers makes a compelling theoretical argument against him.

    That aside, however, it goes without saying that an actor as extraordinary as Day-Lewis is going to feature heavily in the discussion when he’s in a highly anticipated prestige picture. Same goes for anyone of his calibre.

    But it’s not as if it happens that often: prior to “Nine,” he’s only been in three films this decade, after all. And he got nominated for two of them because he did remarkable work in both. Where’s the problem?

  • 10 11-07-2009 at 2:46 pm

    Kyle J. said...

    My picks for who will be nominated:

    1.) Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” (lock)
    2.) Colin Firth in “A Single Man” (lock)
    3.) George Clooney in “Up in the Air” (lock)
    4.) Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker” (a frontrunner and the actor that I am most pulling for to be nominated, been watching this brilliant young actor’s films for years now)
    5.) Viggo Mortenson in “The Road” (saw a clip of his scene with Charlize Theron where they were talking about the gun, Viggo’s acting in that scene alone brought me to list him as a top contender)

    other possible nominations:
    1.) Sam Rockwell in “Moon” (the most deserving performance of a Lead Actor nomination that I have seen all year but I’m just worried that not enough of the Academy will see the film)
    2.) Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
    3.) Michael Sheen in “The Damned United” (absolutely snubbed for both “The Queen” and especially “Frost/Nixon,” haven’t seen “The Damned United” yet but I have no doubt that he delivers from what I’ve heard)
    4.)Matt Damon in “The Informant” (one of his top 3 all time best performances, although his role in “Invictus” looks even better and looks to actually outdo Freeman’s performance, I think he’ll get a supporting nod for that one)
    5.) Michael Stuhlberg in “A Serious Man”

  • 11 12-27-2009 at 6:18 pm

    Lucy says: said...

    No, I haven’t seen all the Best Actor contenders that Kris has named. But of the ones I have seen:

    1. Colin Firth
    2. Viggo Mortensen
    3. Morgan Freeman
    4. George Clooney

    Colin Firth has to win this one hands down!