Friday, January 15, 2021

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2019

The Contenders:

Joaquin Phoenix: Joker (winner)
Adam Driver: Marriage Story
Leonardo DiCaprio: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Antonio Banderas: Pain and Glory
Jonathan Pryce: The Two Popes

What’s Missing

There are some odd gaps when it comes to Best Actor for 2019. There are a few places where I’m not surprised by a lack of a nomination, though. Knives Out, one of my favorite movies from 2019, was far too much of an ensemble cast for a specific nomination. It’s always unfair for children to be in direct competition with adults, which is unfortunate for the tremendous work of Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit. Was The Irishman too much of an ensemble for a nomination for Robert De Niro? Quite possibly. Parasite was very much an ensemble, but I think I can make a strong case for Song Kang-ho. Both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson can make a case for The Lighthouse, and that fact may well have cancelled them both. There are two people who should definitely be here, though. The first is Ewan McGregor with his excellent work in Doctor Sleep, probably ignored because of its horror roots. The other is George MacKay in 1917, a great performance in a critical darling.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I like Adam Driver, and I like him in most of the movies I’ve seen. Marriage Story is a massive exception. This is a very unpleasant movie, and Driver plays a very unpleasant character. I’m sure that he did exactly as he was told, but damn if this isn’t a movie that I find unpleasant on every level. It has to be a truly exceptional performance for me to want to vote for someone who is so unlikable, and while Driver’s performance is a good one, there’s absolutely no reason he should be here.

4. I am similarly a very big fan of Jonathan Pryce and would love to see him get a lot more official critical acclaim. But I don’t know that I would have nominated him in The Two Popes. Pryce, as always, is reliably good in the role and the movie is absolutely his from start to finish. The truth, though, is that a very large part of what makes Pryce good in this role is the work of Juan Minujin, who plays the younger version of the Pope. Without that performance, we’re much less likely to accept the reality that Pryce’s performance presents to us.

3. I have long been of the opinion that Joaquin Phoenix is in need of an Oscar, and I’m very pleased that he’s finally got one, but I would have loved this to have been for a different role. Don’t get me wrong; Phoenix is the best part of Joker by a long shot, and Phoenix is very good in this role. It’s nice that he’s won, but we should have been talking about Phoenix as winning for Her or The Master rather than this. Sadly, it feels like a career Oscar for a good performance rather than a true win for a great one.

My Choices

2. Let’s not dive into my personal prejudice against Quentin Tarantino. Let’s not dive into the fact that, as is often the case, Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar a few years ago for a very good performance in a career of great ones. DiCaprio’s work in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is quite possibly his best work on camera. He’s almost always good, but here, he brings a real weight to the character and a believable pathos. He’s not my ultimate choice, but if someone picks him, they’ll hear no complaints from me.

1. But my choice is for Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory. Banderas has had a very interesting career and a varied one. He started in the sort of action hero-esque and hunky romantic foreign dude and has progressed in so many ways. He’s able to make fun of himself and play with that original image (Puss in Boots, for instance) and expand into high-class genre film. With Pain and Glory, Banderas shows himself to be a complete actor, someone capable of doing things that 40 years ago would have seemed impossible for him. It’s a hell of a performance, and he should have been rewarded for it.

Final Analysis


  1. I have yet to see Antonio Banderas' performance in Pain & Glory which is in my watchlist. Yet, the performance that everyone overlooked is August Diehl in A Hidden Life. That was a performance of absolute grace and humility in playing an Austrian farmer who asks big questions about what the Nazi does and ends up being beatified by the Vatican for his actions. It's a film that really says a lot of what we Americans have been going through in the past few years. I think it's Malick's most accessible work since The New World.

    1. It won't surprise you probably that I haven't seen A Hidden Life, but that it's already on the list of movies I should watch.

  2. Phoenix winning this actually offends me. It should've been Adam Driver. Honestly all the other nominees deserved this more than Phoenix. This isn't even in his top 10 best performances. *heavy sigh*

    1. We'll clearly disagree on Driver. I think it's the performance of his that I never really want to see again. Some of that is the movie, but some is the character as well.

  3. I still need to see Banderas and Pryce in these roles, so I can't comment on them. Not a huge fan of Once Upon a Time, but I agree Di Caprio is amazing. I know it's come to be divisive, but I'm leaning towards Phoenix right now. We've spoken before about our shared distaste for A Marriage Story, so I'll leave it at that.

    You're so right about all the actors who delivered the goods in ensemble pieces so they probably shouldn't be nominated. Ewan McGregor is an interesting one to me. I thought he was good, but only the third best thing in his own movie behind Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran.

    I still need to see The Lighthouse.

    All the yesses to Roman Griffin Davis. Others I'd consider:

    Others I would consider
    Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems
    Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name
    Shia LaBeouf in The Peanut Butter Falcon (issues aside)

    1. Your suggestions are ones I still need to see. I've just never pulled the trigger on them, although I've thought about all three.

      I'll be doing Best Actress next week. You can bet we'll be talking about Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran.