The Oscar Warrior: 10 Male Performances That Deserve Oscars


We were originally going to write about the director’s race and maybe we still will, but with the first round of critics’ awards and a number of important nominations like the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes already announced, we decided to look at some of the performances that deserve some more attention this year from movies that are barely being mentioned, let alone seen.

Let’s face it, having just five nominations in some categories just isn’t enough and that’s definitely true in the acting categories this year, because there are so many actors who have done exemplary work this year.

Some of these have been discussed before but we really wanted to give them a little more attention, so in relatively alphabetical order:

1. Adrien Brody in Detachment (Tribeca Film) – I’ve been a big booster of this film ever since I saw it at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and we think it’s one of Brody’s best performances since The Pianist for which he won the Oscar. He plays a substitute teacher at an inner school city fraught with troubles and violence and he’s trying to keep his head above water as other teachers are sinking around him before he meets and takes in a teen girl who is working as a street hooker. It’s a film and role very similar to what Ryan Gosling did in Half Nelson, which got him an Oscar nomination and the only reason Brody isn’t being mentioned is because the film got such a small release.

2 and 3. François Cluzet and Omar Sy in The Intouchables (The Weinstein Company) – French actors always have it more difficult in getting recognition in this country even with many foreign members in the Academy, but these two actors, one a long-time veteran, one fairly new to movies, created the type of odd couple chemistry we rarely see in movies these days. It’s these two actors and what they bring to the roles that’s made this one of our favorite movies of 2012.

4. Alan Cumming in Any Day Now (Music Box Films) – Another smaller indie film that I saw at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival where it won the Audience Award. I’ve never thought much of Alan Cumming either good or bad, although I did like his Nightcrawler in X2. In the film directed by Travis Fine, Cumming plays drag queen Rudy who gets involved with a closeted lawyer and takes in his junkie neighbor’s Down’s Syndrome-stricken teenager. It’s a really difficult and layered role in a movie that’s not the most obvious premise for what ends up being a real crowdpleaser and a lot of that has to do with the way Cumming plays Rudy, mixing humor, song and heartfelt emotion.

5. Matt Damon in Promised Land (Focus Features) – It’s hard to believe that in any year, Matt Damon might be considered an “underdog.” His new movie is probably his smallest and most low-profile film, but it’s also his first movie since Good Will Hunting in which he co-wrote the script and tailoring the dialogue to his character (or vice versa) which produces absolutely remarkable results. The way he sells his character Steve Butler, a salesman for a corrupt natural gas company, and actually has the audience rooting for him is quite a testament to Damon’s skillful performance.

6. Richard Gere in Arbitrage (Roadside Attractions) – The first time I saw filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki’s financial thriller at the Sundance Film Festival, I immediately recognized that Richard Gere was doing something very different from what we’ve seen him do in recent years. As someone who has not been that big a fan of Gere’s recent work, I’ve always felt he was coasting along, but that’s not the case in this one where we see him having to go through a lot of different things while maintaining a strong presence as things are falling down around him. This movie really changed my impressions of Gere as an actor, making me feel that he’s heading into another phase of his career.

7. Tom Holland in The Impossible (Summit) – We have a lot of older veteran actors in our list, but the newest of the actors we saw was this young British actor who held his own against Naomi Watts in this family drama set within the 2004 SouthEast Asian tsunami. What this newcomer has to experience and sell to the audience throughout the course of the film is really quite astounding and we hope we’ll see more from this young actor in the future since he clearly has a lot of talent.

8. Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs (Sony) – While everyone’s talking about Jones’ turn in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln playing Thaddeus Stevens, we were more impressed with his portrayal of a crotchety long-married husband opposite Meryl Streep in this sex comedy which opened over the summer. Jones brings a balance of wry humor and pathos to his character that we rarely have seen in a studio comedy.

9. Liam Neeson in The Grey (Open Road) – It’s not often that a movie is released in January that’s really, really good, but that was the case with Joe Carnahan’s thriller that had Liam Neeson and a group of men trying to survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilds while being hunted by wolves. You wouldn’t know that this was a genre film since Neeson’s portrayal of a man who lost his family is so emotional. It reminded us that he was an awards-worthy actor before becoming an action star.

10. Michael Peña in End of Watch (Open Road) – We’ve been a big fan of what Peña has been bringing to comedies in recent years following his dramatic turn in Paul Haggis’ Crash, but this police thriller from David Ayer really allows the Latino actor to mix things up, hamming it up and having fun with co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, but also dealing with some really heavy things. Some may remember that Denzel Washington won an Oscar starring in the Ayer-written Training Day, so why shouldn’t Peña finally get some recognition for what he brings to the policeman he plays here?

That’s all for now, but some time early next we’re going to look at a number of female performances that also deserve attention.