CS Soapbox: How the Best Actor Race Should Look

The 92nd Academy Awards are this Sunday and it seems the Best Actor race is… quite boring. What was once considered an unpredictable Oscar bout between the likes of Adam Driver, Robert DeNiro, Adam Sandler, and Golden Globe-winner Taron Egerton has turned into an easier-than-expected victory lap for Joaquin Phoenix.

The Joker star has swept the awards circuit, including the Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice, and Golden Globes. And the film has picked up major steam as a potential threat to win Best Picture of the Year. Spoiler alert: the Oscar is Phoenix’s to lose. And rightfully so. The man turned Arthur Fleck into an icon — a tragic, even pathetic figure who finds solace through violence and mayhem.

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However, I am actually quite surprised at how lopsided this race has become. Phoenix truly is next level in Joker, but one could argue that Driver is just as deserving of Best Actor for his heartbreaking performance in Marriage Story. His portrayal of Charlie has lingered with me since I watched the film nearly a month ago. So much so that I wouldn’t be shocked or disappointed if Driver snuck in and stole the prize; even if the odds of such a scenario occurring are extremely slim.

That said, the Academy could have made this current two-pony race fun with a little more creativity. This is how the current Best Actor crop looks:

Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Here’s how I think it should look:

Joaquin Phoenix, Joker

Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Taron Egerton, Rocketman

Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name

With Robert De Niro (The Irishman), Christian Bale (Ford v Ferrari) and Banderas as alternates.

The current pool does not accurately reflect the masterful performances we saw this year. Of the five, only Phoenix and Driver really stand out. The other performances are good. Just not great. In fact, I’m truly shocked at DiCaprio’s nomination. Did anyone watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and think, “Damn, DiCaprio is great in this movie?”

Oh, you did? Maybe it’s just me.

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Personally, I walked away thinking, Damn, Brad Pitt owned that movie. Quentin Tarantino deserves a lot of love for his direction and screenplay. Margot Robbie was terrific in her brief screen time. And DiCaprio was funny when he ran out with that flamethrower.

Now, watch Uncut Gems. Sandler completely transforms into Howard Ratner. I’m not simply judging against the comedian’s past performances. He astounds at portraying an individual you loathe yet sympathize with and ultimately end up rooting for. No small feat.

Egerton got snubbed because Rami Malek had the audacity to win an Oscar for playing a similar character one year prior. I saw a comment that said, “Egerton first sang like Elton John. Then he was Elton John.” I concur. The man sings. Dances. And makes you completely forget about Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Again, no small feat.

Murphy exploded onto the screen in Dolemite is My Name to remind us that he’s still Eddie Murphy. For all of his bizarre career choices, Murphy has always possessed incredible acting chops. Dolemite was the role of a lifetime and we have discarded it. Why? Are people still mad about Norbit? Dolemite marks an exciting return to form for the veteran actor that didn’t receive the proper respect it deserved.

The Academy instead opted to go the safer route by selecting DiCaprio and Pryce rather than take a few risks. Even Banderas’ nom was an easy choice for what many consider a career-best performance for the actor. And while I find him captivating in the role, I don’t consider it a career-best. Then again, I’m still enamored (and haunted) by his performance in The Skin I Live InThat was a truly magnetic performance.

Similarly, DiCaprio was better in Django Unchained and The Departed. (His win for The Revenant will always baffle me.) Pryce will forever be the High Sparrow. Sorry, I simply cannot look past that character. Though, admittedly, he was good in The Two Popes.

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Again, all three actors were certainly deserving of recognition, but did any of them truly pop off the screen more than Sandler, Egerton, or Murphy? (Or De Niro or Bale for that matter?)

I don’t think so.

Next year, Oscar, could you throw a little more caution to the wind?


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