OFF THE CARPET: Leading men in the spotlight

Posted by · 10:14 am · October 25th, 2010

About a year ago I took to examining the 2009 Best Actor race.  The frontrunners for five slots seemed to be, in order, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Jeremy Renner, Morgan Freeman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Viggo Mortensen and Robert De Niro.

A day later press members received their first invites to “Crazy Heart” screenings and were notified that the film would be released in 2009.  Jeff Bridges hit the ground running and never let off the gas until he was past the finish line.

A year earlier we were looking at a pair of politico-biopic portrayals, either one of which would make a handsome winner: Frank Langella and Sean Penn.  But we were fairly sure the latter would be on his way to the podium one more time.

But soon after, Mickey Rourke’s festival buzz caught serious fire and forged an atmosphere of doubt.  The season’s narrative seemed to be changing, and yet the early buzz carried through and brought Penn his Oscar.

So that’s two drastically different directions – in as many years – that a lead actor race can take.  Given the mid-October fulcrum shared here, let’s consider our perspective on the Best Actor category right now.

Bridges zipped through the 2009 season with such aggressive inevitability that Clooney, Firth, Freeman and Renner couldn’t even make a race of it.  And there was very much a race to be had.

This year the actor and his work in “True Grit” rides a sight-unseen buzz wave into a conversation already being dominated by Firth in “The King’s Speech.” But the talk around James Franco in “127 Hours” has smartly kicked in just long enough before these three crash at the top to have a solid enough foothold, one that might even pull him out of the fray with an Oscar in his hand.

Beyond that there is room to maneuver.  Robert Duvall has a well of goodwill built up around his performance in “Get Low,” while the other side of the age spectrum sports a contender with his fair share of proponents, too: Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network.”

A number of actors have two shots on goal, all of them captivating.  Ryan Gosling, for instance, brings his unique charisma to “Blue Valentine” (which I’m sticking my neck out for in this week’s predictions update) while internalizing a darkness with equal skill in the much less-engaging “All Good Things.”

Leonardo DiCaprio boasts two performances in “Inception” and “Shutter Island,” but genre bias rears its head most often in the acting fields.  Meanwhile, Ben Affleck faces the potential of a below-the-radar year with really nice work in “The Company Men” and “The Town.”

A smart hunch might be Javier Bardem building on praise for “Biutiful” or artfully dodging criticism of it and remaining unscathed for an inarguable high point performance in his career.  But it really is a situation that could fall either way.

If there is room beyond King George VI and Aron Ralston in the biopic arena, Mark Wahlberg in “The Fighter,” Sean Penn in “Fair Game” and Kevin Spacey in “Casino Jack” are waiting for a crack, but that’s a big “if.”

The indie sector hosts a typically diverse array, from the comedic (Jim Carrey in “I Love You Phillip Morris”) to the dramatic (Aaron Eckhart in “Rabbit Hole”) to a mixture of both (Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version”).  Also worth noting is Stephen Dorff in “Somewhere,” the best part of an otherwise taxing experience but more likely to be remembered by critics groups than the Academy’s acting branch.

And then, the studio dramedies that always feel like an uphill battle for leads, this year with Paul Rudd in “How Do You Know” and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Love & Other Drugs” representing.

So what’s lurking around the corner?  There isn’t really a “Crazy Heart” primed and ready to pitch relief.  And there isn’t really a performance waiting to take off as Rourke’s did in 2008 (though one could argue for Franco in that light).  But just when it starts to feel like “the great settling” in this category, something – or someone – always stirs the pot.

One possibility being talked up as of late, and bringing us up to 22, is Michael Douglas in “Solitary Man” (which we covered at Toronto in 2009).  But I think it should be said that, without Douglas’s unfortunate health situation as of late, this would not be in serious discussion.  It’s a great performance, but one not all that well-served by the film.  Chalk it up to opportunism, perhaps, but the publicity machine is in full swing regardless with Deadline and The New York Times recently paying lip-service.

Oh, let’s make it 23.  Jim Sturgess may not offer the kind of showy leading turn that stands out in a lead actor race, but he’s a solid anchor throughout and, should “The Way Back” take off, he could be a big part of this conversation in a hurry.

Mostly it’s just intriguing to me that the field feels so soft after three assumed shoo-ins (only two of which have even been seen).  This race could get exciting.

The Contenders section has been updated throughout and the predictions sidebar adjusted as well.  A reminder, you can keep track of what Gerard and Guy are thinking at their own prediction pages (always linked in our About Us section and at the bottom of the right sidebar).

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42 responses so far

  • 1 10-25-2010 at 10:20 am

    amanda said...

    Glad to Gosling back. Wish there was room for Williams, who equals Goslings performance, but it’s just to crowded. I get kinda tired of people not giving Williams the credit she deserves for this role, it seems to be all about Gosling and I don’t understand it.

  • 2 10-25-2010 at 10:23 am

    americanrequiem said...

    still rotting for eisenberg, will be until nominations id presume

  • 3 10-25-2010 at 10:34 am

    red_wine said...

    I think Jesse Eisenberg won’t be nominated. Good as he is, its a removed aloof performance, suited to the movie but not warm or understanding or providing a window into to the soul of this pop culture icon. The character/performance reminded me sometimes of Al Pacino’s turn in Godfather Part II (their character arcs even conclude in similar shots and predicaments) but with none of Pacino’s immense gravity and moral gloom because well Zuckerberg was still an awfully young guy and he did not do anything as heinous.

    Garfield on the other hand is a worthy shoo-in I believe(in supporting). Dicaprio in Shutter Island might make a return like Tommy Lee Jones in In The Valley Of Elah simply because of the amount of acting he does in that movie. Wahlberg might also be rewarded for effort – working out and learning boxing for 2 years for a role is no small deal. But I believe in Guy’s conviction and many others as well that its a done deal, give the Oscar to Firth already, its inevitable.

  • 4 10-25-2010 at 10:50 am

    Joseph said...

    The acting race is looking pretty awesome this year.

  • 5 10-25-2010 at 10:50 am

    James said...

    It will be a shame if Eisenberg is ignored this year. Its excellent character work that might never come along his way again.

  • 6 10-25-2010 at 10:57 am

    Eric said...

    Michelle Williams < Jennifer Lawrence. That is all.

  • 7 10-25-2010 at 10:59 am

    Eric said...

    …I meant >
    Shows how much I know.

  • 8 10-25-2010 at 11:06 am

    Cameron said...

    At this point, I’d say nominations for Bridges, Franco and Firth are practically etched in stone (and more than likely will duke it out for the prize). Duvall too seems like an easy choice, but I can’t escape this nagging feeling he might be left out (emphasis on MIGHT). The last slot seems to be a toss-up between Eisenberg (I’m gonna humble myself and take back some of the Michael Cera-comparisons I’ve made in the past), Wahlberg (Boxer=better shot than most), Spacey (he’s been out for a decade or so, but when he’s on he’s ON), and quite possibly Carrey (if the film is well-recieved).

    Right now, I’d say Franco or Bridges is our Best Actor.

  • 9 10-25-2010 at 11:38 am

    Zack said...

    I’m looking at it as Bridges, Franco, Firth, Wahlberg and Duvall; I think that if Wahlberg disappoints, Eisenberg gets that slot (similarly, I think if Bale disappoints, Jeremy Renner gets his slot). Overall, I think unless Bridges or Wahlberg are really jaw-dropping (or campaign the shit out of this thing), it’s between Franco and Firth. I could be way off-base; that’s just how it looks to me. (And just for the record, the only performances of the above that I’ve seen are Eisenberg’s and Duvall’s, so I’m kinda going in blind.)

  • 10 10-25-2010 at 11:43 am

    JJ1 said...

    I’m sorry. Call me naive. And I may be DEAD wrong by December … but … I don’t see Bridges being nominated again after finally winning what was considered an ‘overdue Oscar’. No less, he’s up this year for a remake of a much-loved film that John Wayne already won an Oscar for. I just don’t even see a nomination. There are so many other specific male roles and wonderful performances this year. But again, I’m sure I’m in the minority on that line of thinking (as of October).

    For now, I see Firth, Franco, Eisenberg, DiCaprio, Gosling. But that feels young. And Bardem & Duvall could easily slip in.

  • 11 10-25-2010 at 11:45 am

    Graysmith said...

    I think the race for the win is between Firth and Franco. Firth is still remembered for his fine performance (and nomination) last year, and this time around he’s got a bonafide Best Picture contender to back him up. Franco doesn’t have that same goodwill, perhaps, but he’s respected and by all accounts knocks it out of the park.

    I think Jeff Bridges would have to give one hell of a performance to win back to back, and I just don’t really see this kind of character possessing enough OOMPH to defy those odds.

    Gosling could be a surprise winner, but his biggest concern right now is really just getting nominated in the first place. If he is nominated and the film gains momentum (and preferably some other nominations) it could happen.

    As for Duvall, I’m as certain that he’ll be nominated as I am that he won’t win. If he wasn’t already a previous winner though, he’d definitely be a serious contender, but as is I think a nomination will be his reward and recognition.

  • 12 10-25-2010 at 11:50 am

    Graysmith said...

    Outside of those five, I’d say the ones with a serious shot at squeezing in would be Eisenberg, Bardem, Penn or DiCaprio (for Shutter Island, but the film will need to catch on a big way with Best Picture nomination and so on).

    Regardless, an exciting year with so many real contenders.

  • 13 10-25-2010 at 11:55 am

    Ella said...

    Here’s how I see it shaking out among the top 10:

    Bardem—People love him, but will hate the film.
    Bridges—Won last year, and will they really reward him so soon again for a role we’ve already seen?
    Douglas—The wild card, but he wouldn’t be part of the conversation if not for circumstances.
    Duvall—In the mix for sure, but the Academy won’t give another Best Actor career achievement award after handing out one last year.
    Eckhart—Overshadowed by Kidman
    Eisenberg—The Academy won’t warm to the film.
    Firth—Have heard only raves about him in TKS.
    Franco—Have heard only raves about him in 127.
    Gosling—The film may be too small, but he’s got a shot.
    Wahlberg—Overshadowed by Bale.

    It comes down to Firth and Franco, and I’d give the edge to Firth because many feel he should have won last year.

  • 14 10-25-2010 at 12:14 pm

    SoSueMe said...

    I’m convinced Bardem, Gosling, Firth, and Franco are in…the last spot goes to one of these gentlemen…DiCaprio (Shutter Island), Bridges, Duvall, or Giamatti.

  • 15 10-25-2010 at 12:18 pm

    Fitz said...

    Firth has it. I don’t see anyone – regardless of performance – taking home that statue but Firth. The Academy feels like it’s owed to him after last year and given their history to give “retrospective” Oscars this year will be no different.

  • 16 10-25-2010 at 12:19 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    Has the consensus become that Bridges won his Oscar for his body of work and not for “Crazy Heart”?

    I may have rooted for Firth to win last year, but I think Bridges was outstanding enough to legitimately win for that one performance…

  • 17 10-25-2010 at 12:28 pm

    j said...

    Valentine up, Fighter down (Actor/disparity between Pic & Screenplay)=goodness.

    As is Lawrence who’s been holding onto her Breakout Star of the Year status, esp w/Hawkins both having been ignored by the big awards and with a Mike Leigh performance in the mix to siphon off the Brit votes. I’d like to see Williams too though, esp if she knocks out Kidman/Hathaway.

  • 18 10-25-2010 at 12:29 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nicolas FTW. It’s a fantastic performance, and ever since day one when I reviewed it and pretty much said the path was clear for Bridges, I made sure to note that it would be an Oscar for a wonderful performance and not just a career achievement award.

  • 19 10-25-2010 at 12:39 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I think Bridges’ win was a career Oscar as well as for his performance being truly excellent. He’s my number 1 of the year, with Firth a close 2nd. Ben Foster in The Messenger was my 3rd.

  • 20 10-25-2010 at 12:57 pm

    Zack said...

    I’m with Kris and Nicolas. I would’ve wanted Bridges to win even if it had just been two hours of him singing into a hairbrush, but I loved the performance. I think my favorite part was that he always comes off so natural that I kept forgetting he didn’t really have a Southern accent.

  • 21 10-25-2010 at 1:02 pm

    Ella said...

    Jeff’s performance was great, but I found that people talked less about the performance itself and more about he’s due, he’s never won, he’s Hollywood royalty, etc. Career achievement was definitely part of the mix. That’s far less so with Firth this year, as people are talking about the performance and the film, although in a tight race, they may be cognizant of the fact that he came very close last year; his George in A Single Man was a rare thing of beauty and sensitivity that you just don’t see very year. It was unique, IMO, but ASM was not everyone’s cuppa. This year with TKS, he’ll be running with a film that has broad appeal and that will get multiple noms.

  • 22 10-25-2010 at 1:03 pm

    and said...

    I liked the performance by Michael Douglas in Solitary Man, and I think if he is nominated will be earned and not because of opportunism by his illness

  • 23 10-25-2010 at 1:09 pm

    AdamL said...

    I thought Solitary Man was great and delivers beyong just the fantastic lead performance. And besides, since when did you have to be in a good film to get Oscar attention (though I grant you it helps.) The Last King of Scotland (to name one example) was a car crash but Whitaker still went away with the statue.

  • 24 10-25-2010 at 1:17 pm

    Pete said...

    “Douglas—The wild card, but he wouldn’t be part of the conversation if not for circumstances.”

    I call BS on that. Even his supporting work in “Wonder Boys” got some people thinking he might be nominated for an Oscar and I do not think this is any different.

  • 25 10-25-2010 at 1:31 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Douglas wasn’t supporting in Wonder Boys. All his precursor mentions (including BAFTA and Globe nods, and an LA Critics win) were correctly in lead. He was close to the Oscar nom — it wasn’t a case of “some people thinking.”

    And “Wonder Boys” is a different case — a critically championed prestige film with a few other shots on goal, notably its screenplay.

  • 26 10-25-2010 at 1:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Really, Pete? Wonder Boys had legitimate Best Actor talk (he won LAFCA). The film was released in February but re-released in November EXPRESSLY for film awards consideration. Lots of people were behind that performance. (And yes, as Guy reminds, it was a leading performance.)

    Call BS all you want, but you’re totally wrong.

    All the same, it’s a shame he missed that year. It’s great work. Perhaps his best.

  • 27 10-25-2010 at 1:53 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    AdamL: IMO, The Last King of Scotland was one of the best films of the year.

  • 28 10-25-2010 at 1:54 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Jeff’s performance was great, but I found that people talked less about the performance itself and more about he’s due, he’s never won, he’s Hollywood royalty, etc.”

    Inevitably, they would, when you’re talking about Hollywood royalty and a guy who had never won. But I think it’s unfair to say that such talk is the only thing that would have gotten him the award, which therefore diminishes the actual work.

  • 29 10-25-2010 at 1:59 pm

    Ella said...

    Not the only thing, Kris, as I’ve acknowledged, but an important factor.

  • 30 10-25-2010 at 2:03 pm

    Graysmith said...

    I can’t imagine Douglas coming anywhere near an Oscar nomination this year for Solitary Man. It just wasn’t successful/acclaimed enough, and even with sympathy votes there are just way too many great lead performances this year. He doesn’t even crack the top ten on my current predictions.

  • 31 10-25-2010 at 2:45 pm

    Eric said...

    Of course, it is going to be Firth. It would be foolish to say otherwise unless someone randomly pops up in December. Apart from that, there’s Franco and Bridges (I’m fairly certain he’ll make it in). But apart from THAT, I agree with JJ1, that there is something that tells me Duvall will barely miss it. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because of Bardem and Gosling. I just see a ton of love growing for those two over the next couple months. But yeah, Firth ftw.

  • 32 10-25-2010 at 3:21 pm

    AdamL said...

    Off topic, but TLKOS was completely racist and I swear I never ever buy into any “this is a racist film” bullshit that people come up with, but in this case it was completely justified. James McAvoy’s character was just unreal, he got people killed left right and centre, but it was okay because everyone that he got killed was black. The woman he forced into a backstreet abortion, the minister of defence, the black doctor who basically was written as this completely disposable human being who sacrificed himself to save the good white doctor. McAvoy wrecked the lives of every poorly written stereotypical black person he came into contact with, and the audience were supposed to be okay with it? Even if you don’t buy the racist argument, I cannot believe anyone thought that screenplay held up at all. It was ridiculous.

    Idi Amin was the only decent character in the whole film. Whitaker gave a great performance that made the film watchable, but I detested everything else about it.

  • 33 10-25-2010 at 4:46 pm

    Square Eyes said...

    Kris, what are you thinking in terms of Jacki Weaver? The ads are obviously everywhere and Guy seems to like the idea. It would take a monster of a campaign but one I think is deserved.

  • 34 10-25-2010 at 4:56 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Square Eyes: Just to clarify, I haven’t seen Animal Kingdom yet. (That will be rectified on Wednesday.)

  • 35 10-25-2010 at 5:47 pm

    Square Eyes said...

    Well she’s really good in it but keep an eye out for Ben Mendelsohn who I think deserves the campaign more.

  • 36 10-25-2010 at 7:17 pm

    Joe said...

    Please put Jesse Eisenberg back in. (“Well, who do you think I should take out?” “Uh… good question.”)

  • 37 10-26-2010 at 1:14 am

    w11 said...

    Duvall, Firth and Franco. Those three I feel will be nominated. The last two spots I believe will be between Bardem, Bridges, Eisenberg, Gosling and Wahlberg (if he really nails the part). I don’t think DiCaprio will be nominated this year. Nothing against him or his performances this year, I just can’t get behind him as of yet as a serious contender this year.

    I could see Duvall fading if he fails to get some notices or nominations in favor of Bridges. I’m just not entirely sold yet on Bridges being a nominee right now. Am I crazy? Maybe. Part of me feels like I should be on board with him, but I’m not…yet. I also don’t know if I see both Bridges and Duvall nominted together. I think it may be one or the other, but not both.

    This is the category I’m really exicted about because even when I feel like I know…I still don’t know. And that’s kinda nice.

  • 38 10-26-2010 at 3:10 am

    Angry Shark said...

    It would be total bullshit if The Social Network picked up a bunch of nominations, but Eisenberg wasn’t one of them. He IS THE FILM. You can’t say “oh, I loved The Social Network, but thought Eisenberg’s performance was just okay.” If they’re not gonna nominate Eisenberg, I’d just as soon have them ignore the whole film, rather than be totally disingenuous. Because, COME ON.

  • 39 10-26-2010 at 6:12 am

    JJ1 said...

    I agree with Angry Shark (on Eisenberg being a HUGE reason for TSN’s success, and if he’s not nominated).

    It reminds me of James McAvoy in ‘Atonement’. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and 7 Oscars total. And I thought he tied for the most impressive, commanding performance of the film (with Saoirse).

  • 40 10-26-2010 at 9:29 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Adam: That’s just ridiculous. It’s like the idiotic claims that Black Hawk Down is racist. So no, I don’t buy the argument in the slightest. And I thought the script was thrilling and served two great performances quite well.

    Angry Shark: Sideways.

  • 41 10-31-2010 at 4:27 pm

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    My Top Ten Oscar Contenders:

    1. Bardem – Now, he’s an international star. Yes his film is very polarized but again, Iñarritu is 3/3 as the Oscars.
    2. Bridges – He reprises an iconic role by John Wayne and an acclaimed novel. If he’s great he’ll nail it but I don’t think he’ll win.
    3. DiCaprio – I don’t think he’s SO beloved in Hollywood that many people thought. He’s snubbed three times with legitimate shot: Titanic, Catch me if You Can and Revolutionary Road.
    4. Douglas – He might have the consolation vote, but again he’s two Oscars (For producer and actor, maybe is enough)
    5. Duvall – His performance is acclaimed but the film is very polarized. Right now, his chances are 50/50 (But his current campaign with Spacek is a good bet)
    6. Eisenberg – Many people thought he’s too young but he’s actually one year older than Gosling and Ledger -at the time of their Oscar Buzz- and also he’s not a GQ model (If we considerate the AMPAS as a bunch of old creepy men). Also his movie is one of the stronger contenders.
    7. Firth – Frontrunner of the year (Biopic, English royalty, WWII, BP nominee)
    8. Franco – Frontrunner of the year (Biopic, Excellent year, Lead status, BP nominee)
    9. Gosling – His film is too indie but again he made it before and like DiCaprio; there’s a possibility a la Tommy Lee Jones
    10. Wahlberg – He’s not exactly a lot of acclaimed as his contenders but he’s a prior Oscar nominee and he’s talented. Boxing is AMPAS taste but this is enoguh?

    And for others:
    *Rudd and Gyllenhaal – Just Globes nominees
    *Eckhart – His role isn’t exactly a Lead Oscarish role and maybe is only Kidman show

    So my lineup will be:

    -Javier Bardem
    -Robert Duvall
    -Jesse Eisenberg
    -Colin Firth
    -James Franco

    With Bridges and Gosling are next

  • 42 11-01-2010 at 6:50 am

    austin111 said...

    Firth all the way!!! It’s the proper kind of performance and it’s his year. Anyone else nominated will just have to be happy with that. Ditto Rush! He’s got supporting sewed up too!