THE CONTENDERS: All Hail The Mighty Actors!

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Actors think for us and thank God for that, huh? You never know, I might have voted Republican the last two elections if it weren’t for them. Now, we all know Republicans are spawns of Satan whose real agenda is to peel the skin off infants and the elderly to support Pamela Anderson’s upkeep… but who knew this before Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were around to inform us?

Actors make us laugh. There are fewer precious moments than, say, seeing Tom Cruise appear on “The Today Show”. I have seen the future of comedy and it is called Any Actor on “Larry King Live”. As for those “E! True Hollywood Stories”, the more sentimental the better. I’ll take an emotional Corey Feldman whining about what an asshole his dad is over Jim Carrey‘s talking anus any day of the week. Give me Winona-Gate and her priceless courtroom expression.

Russell Crowe‘s phone-throwing incident isn’t nearly as fun because.. 1.) From day one, the guy owned up to it. 2.) His amusing antics at the recent Australian Film Industry Awards, where he threatened to hit with a phone anyone who’s Thank You speech went on too long (and he had a dial-up in hand, thank you very much), make it very clear that he knows he’s nuts, and 3.) anyone would be insane to make Crowe an enemy by mocking him. This reminds me, I love these anonymous Academy members I see getting quoted in the paper and online mags, complaining about what a prick he is and how much they dislike them and how they aren’t going to vote for him on principle. Call Robert Novak, we need these guys outed.

There’s a point to all this. With all the hoopla actors garner for all the wrong reasons, every year we are reminded of the real reason we should be discussing them. It’s a little something called their craft, their art and I am a big believer in its power. The writers and directors guide and orchestrate, the producers…well, we don’t really know what they do…but the actors, they’re our portal to our own human emotion. A great shot will give me awe and spark admiration, but a great performance will give me chills to soak over on the ride home. A clever line will make me smirk, but a great delivery will make me positively beam. So without any further nonsense, here’s how I break down the Oscar Race for Best Male Actor in a Leading Role.

Now these first few are kind of boring to write about because everyone is pretty much going to be saying the same thing. Nevertheless, expect Joaquin Phoenix to be nominated for Walk The Line. The movie made a nice little bundle of cash and a major reason for that is Phoenix’s rollicking performance of a singer battling his demons. His recent Golden Globe nomination is just further assurance. Next up, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see fellow Golden Globe nominee Phillip Seymour Hoffman‘s name and face in those little square boxes during envelope time in March. His Truman Capote in Capote is the most transforming performance of the year, but it isn’t all surface. Hoffman really taps into Capote’s self-centeredness, guilt and tenderness. At this point, he has to be considered the leader of the pack. He’s picked up the most trophies so far this season, he’s well-respected among his peers and he’s never won the golden baldie. I haven’t seen it yet, but count me as suckered in (no jokes please) when it comes to Brokeback Mountain. Word has been trailing in since Toronto that Heath Ledger‘s performance is one of the year’s most emotionally effective. The Golden Globes don’t always mean a whole lot, but dude has won a few critics circle awards and a Ledger Globe victory will make things very interesting for Hoffman.

Here’s where it gets dicey. We got a lot of names and a lot of time between now and when the Academy nominations are announced. Let’s begin with the most problematic: Russell Crowe may be one of the top actors working today, but that doesn’t mean the Academy has to like him. In fact, they may throw him a middle finger and deny him for Cinderella Man. More and more I am beginning to think this will happen despite the Golden Globe nod. This is a shame and ironic considering he plays so against type as a kind, gentle boxer.

There’s some Terrance Howard murmur for Hustle and Flow, and I’m happy the Foreign Press recognized him, but I’m not buying into it yet. Every other year there is that great, surprise nomination for a well-respected actor and performance (Ed Norton‘s American History X grab comes to mind). It would be great to see Howard in that list of five, but I think the Academy is just not hippity-hoppity enough to do it this year.

Bill Murray got a bunch of excited talk when Broken Flowers came out earlier in the year, but time and “been there, done that” talk have pretty much eliminated any buzz. Failure to get a nomination for Best Actor in either the Globe’s Drama or Musical/Comedy categories means more than the flowers are broken. Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have had his best shot at a leading nomination with Jarhead and I would argue he is award-worthy. But you can count on the Academy washing its’ collective hands clean of that movie.

You never know what will happen with Eric Bana in Munich. No matter how good he is, he could get overshadowed by the subject matter. It happens. Just ask Djimon Honsou. Then again, if Munich is a box office success (which Amistad was not) Bana could curry some favor and slide in on the big wave. Then again-gain, Munich may just be another Amistad, which had the same amount of Oscar-hype around it but then just died, undeservedly, upon release. One thing is certain, if Munich dies, so does Bana’s chances.

Johnny Depp, Globe-nominated for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, has people talking about his work in The Libertine, but I think it ends there. The Depp love-fest is taking a backseat this year. Jeff Daniels, also nominated with Depp in the Musical/Comedy category, is getting love for The Squid and The Whale, but the Academy knows how to say Independent Spirit Awards and look for them to pronounce it quite clearly.

How Terrance Malick‘s The New World, the movie will play out I’m not sure, but I’m fairly certain Colin Farrell won’t be involved. Pierce Brosnan had some good early Sundance reviews for The Matador, but it never really panned out until The Golden Globes were announced. He’s got to be considered small potatoes in this race. Cillian Murphy has a lot of fans of his work in Breakfast on Pluto but who needs another effeminate lead act when you already have Hoffman’s Capote and Ledger’s cowboy. There’s only so much gay the Academy and American public can reward. Speaking of gay, Nathan Lane could be popular enough to overcome that, but for some reason, despite the length of his screen time, Hollywood will sometimes fit a crowd-pleasing performance like Lane’s in the supporting category.

Which leads us to the Clooney vs. Clooney paradigm that comes into play here. I am all about Clooney vs. Clooney this year. This is pay-per-view stuff. I’m thinking the match-up is so bloody-thirsty and the rounds so invigorating, the crowd will want to reward both fighters. David Strathairn, an actor well-respected by his peers, will be nominated for his knockout performance in George Clooney‘s Good Night, and Good Luck. His Golden Globe vote may have put him over-the-top and guaranteed him that Academy nod. The last slot can go one or two ways. Clooney is going to find himself two nominations this year: one for director, and another for acting. The question becomes, how much does the Academy love George Clooney. A lot? Or a really lot? If they just love him a lot, his work in Syriana will be relegated to a supporting actor’s turn. This makes sense considering the film is an ensemble piece and the Golden Globe nod supports this line of thinking. But since when does the Academy give a crap about that? If it feels like a lead to them, it’s a lead. Of course, if they love him that much they may figure his best chance to win would be in the supporting category this year. But considering there is some serious apologizing to Paul Giamatti due this year, a nomination in the lead actor category will be a reward in itself. So I’m going out on a limb and declare they love him a really lot. The last slot will belong to George Clooney, so good at disappearing into his role as an undercover CIA agent. Seriously, who saw this coming after Batman and Robin?

As I did in my last column with the Best Picture race, I’m going to pick a safety in case I’m completely bonkers on that Clooney Lead Actor pick (and if I had to go back, I’d pick my safety of Match Point over what I then considered a lock, Memoirs of a Geisha. Damn you, sands of time!). I’m kind of torn between Russell Crowe and Terrance Howard. Something in me believes the Academy loves Cinderella Man more than we may think, so Crowe it is.

Now, if I may indulge…a little “For Your Consideration” mentions. This may be blasphemy to the Ringers, but Viggo Mortensen just might have given his best performance in A History of Violence and Ralph Fiennes emerged a soul and a love he, nor the audience, really knew existed in The Constant Gardener. Good luck fellas.

This is coming to the time of year when writers like to pick that a daring and provocative comedic actor choice to show how outside the box their thinking can be…and I’m no different. How about Vince Vaughn‘s manic and pitch-perfect work on Wedding Crashers? Was there a guy more in the zone this year than Vaughn in that movie? I think not. And since we’re doing Bizarro World-type choices, when it comes down to it, was there a more captivating performance than that of Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man? Was there anyone who made you feel more uncomfortable or less safe while sitting your theatre seat? Was there a more interesting or bewildering a performance? Let’s look inward. Now there’s a legendary “Larry King Live” we all missed out on.

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Weekend: Nov. 15, 2018, Nov. 18, 2018

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