Your Guide to the Oscars: Best Actor

Why should you care about the Academy Awards? In a sense, the Oscars are just as contrived as any other of the dozen awards handed out in the preceding months. However, somewhere amongst the glitz, glamour and incest the show has created, the awards have grown into something more. Win a Golden Globe for Best Picture, and forever your DVD is plastered with a “BEST PICTURE” slogan. Win an Academy Award, and your movie (or your role) becomes canonized.

I’m not sure as much can be gleaned in Best Actor history as other awards, but for the sake of consistency, let’s look one more time at the last 10 Oscar winners:

Jack Nicholson (“As Good as It Gets”), Roberto Benigni (“Life is Beautiful”), Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”), Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”), Denzel Washington (“Training Day”), Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”), Sean Penn (“Mystic River”), Jamie Foxx (“Ray”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”).

Oh, and: Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”).

There might not be an Oscar race that has, over the last two months, been sewn up more than Best Actor. And deservedly so, as I’ve already invoked hyperbole in regards to Day-Lewis’ generational performance. While the mustache is worthy of an award itself, it’s Day-Lewis’ ability to personify greed that takes Daniel Plainview to the next level. He will win his second Oscar, and if nothing else, we should be glad because that likely will be enough to convince him to make at least one more movie.

The line really begins after Day-Lewis, with only one other actor as a real sure bet. Given George Clooney‘s star power, and the Academy’s obvious boner for him given awarding him for “Syriana”, he will get a nomination for “Michael Clayton”. It’s another bit of recognition I find a little odd, as I thought besides Tom Wilkinson, the movie was rather generic. But at the fun Oscar roundtable done by Newsweek, Devin Gordon had a good description of the role, which was to paraphrase, Clayton was a flawed character who could fix everyone’s problems but his own. I didn’t think Clooney gave enough, but perhaps that’s what the point was. I don’t get it, but good for Clooney, who might just be Hollywood’s best guy.

Star power is also on Johnny Depp‘s side, as the mad genius looks to earn his third nomination in four years. Many have called Depp’s Sweeney Todd a better character than James Barrie or even Captain Jack, his other two recognized performances. Depp did his own singing in Tim Burton’s musical, so it does represent the extra-ordinary work that the Academy likes to single out. Clooney and Depp are the biggest stars getting consideration, unless you’re under the belief Denzel Washington still has a shot for “American Gangster”. I, personally, do not.

At the bottom, my own nominations highlight a few other performances. While I thought it was the ensemble of “Into the Wild” that made it such a good movie, the success of the film is hinged on Chris McCandless. Emile Hirsch was the perfect man for a job, and heck, if the guy can make “Alpha Dog” watchable, he deserves an Oscar. James McAvoy stole “Atonement” from his co-stars and didn’t look back, and don’t look now, but in five years he might be one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. I’ve already called him the next Sean Connery. And finally, I cannot understand why Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t get more credit for his haunting performance in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”, but he doesn’t, so he probably doesn’t belong in this column.

Rounding it out, Viggo Mortensen has gotten a lot of love for his work in infiltrating the Russian mob in “Eastern Promises” and Frank Langella has been chosen over Daniel Day-Lewis just a couple times for his supposed career-defining role in “Starting Out in the Evening”. Finally, Josh Brolin is an outside bet because his role in “No Country for Old Men” lacked the screen presence of the names ahead of him, but if the movie grabbed the Academy the way I think it my have, he has an outside nomination chance.

Handicapping the Race

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood (-500)
George Clooney, Michael Clayton (10:1)
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd (25:1)
Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild (40:1)
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises (75:1)
James McAvoy, Atonement (100:1)
Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl (200:1)
Frank Langella, Starting Out in the Evening (300:1)
Denzel Washington, American Gangster (500:1)
Josh Brolin, No Country for Old Men (500:1)

If I did the nominations: Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood”), Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), James McAvoy (“Atonement”), Johnny Depp (“Sweeney Todd”).

The WHAP Award goes to: Daniel Day-Lewis, “There Will Be Blood”.

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