Monday, March 20, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2012

The Contenders:

Denzel Washington: Flight
Daniel Day-Lewis: Lincon (winner)
Joaquin Phoenix: The Master
Hugh Jackman: Les Miserables
Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook

What’s Missing

There are plenty of movies from 2012 that I haven’t seen, some of which might well have performances that belong here. There are a number that I like quite a bit that would never see the light of day when it comes to Oscar. This year first of all featured a number of ensemble casts that are the sort that don’t get nominated as main roles. These include Cloud Atlas, Seven Psychopaths, The Cabin in the Woods, and especially Moonrise Kingdom. In the unlikely to be nominated category, we have Karl Urban in Dredd and Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe. Also in this category is Daniel Craig in Skyfall since James Bond films really don’t get any respect come Oscar time. Some people would suggest that Suraj Sharma should have been nominated for Life of Pi, and I can see that even if I don’t like the film that much. Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus is probably a longshot. The person I’d most want here is Jean-Louis Trintignant for his work in Amour.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’m dumping Hugh Jackman and Les Miserables right away. Jackman is fine in the movie, even good, but this hits right on one of my biases. I simply don’t like the story, even a version of it with a solid cast and a ton of production values. Jackman is actually pretty effective as Jean Valjean, and it’s one of his better performances. I would much rather see Jean-Louis Trintignant here. Jackman may be getting penalized because of my dislike of the source material. I accept that as a possibility.

4. Of the films that were nominated here, Silver Linings Playbook is probably the one I like the best. So what is Bradley Cooper doing in fourth place? Well, the other performances are better. Cooper is right on the edge of who I’d like to be nominated here. I wouldn’t be terribly upset if we’d had someone else here in his place. It’s a good role in that it shows the guy from The Hangover movies was capable of doing a lot more. Perhaps it just comes across as a little too manic for me.

3. I don’t normally want to push for a tie here, but deciding between second and third was the toughest decision I had here. I’m ultimately putting what I think is Joaquin Phoenix’s best performance in third, but it’s by a margin of a Planck length. I don’t know that I want to watch The Master again, but in it, Phoenix manages to offer up a performance of a person with virtually no positive characteristics and he does it with complete abandon. It’s both ugly and mesmerizing, and in a career of good performances, it ranks as one of his most gripping. It’s just not the year’s best.

2. Denzel Washington often plays good guys. Sometimes, he plays bad guys. In Flight, he does something that is pretty rare for him. His Whip Whittaker is someone who isn’t really good and isn’t evil in a traditional sense. He’s simply very troubled and completely consumed by his demons. Washington has a career of great roles and his work in Flight still stands out among them. In a lesser year, I’d have no problem handing him the statue. Sadly for him, 2012 just wasn’t meant to be his year.

My Choice

1. This is one of those odd years where I think Oscar managed to get the right answer. Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the greatest living actor right now and he has been for some time. His portrayal of Lincoln in the film of the same name is the single greatest performance on the screen, and he was the right person to win. Day-Lewis makes it look easy and makes his characters look natural. Better, he manages to give us the sort of Lincoln that we want the man to be. It may at least be partially myth making, but this is how we want to see Lincoln, and Day-Lewis did it the way it needed to be done.

Final Analysis


  1. Yep, I'd rank 'em the exact same way. If DDL hadn't been nominated, I would have loved for Denzel to win.

    1. I don't know that I will ever watch Flight again, but if I do, it will be for Washington's performance and for John Goodman's manic turn.

  2. There really isn't any way there could be another result. DDL is so comfortable in the role and rather than present a plaster saint or stick figure watching him you feel a sense of who Lincoln was as a man. It helps of course that he's not working in a vacuum but is surrounded by high quality performers all working hard to meet the level he sets.

    I'm not much of a Washington fan but of the other candidates his is the best work. I detested The Master, thought Silver Linings was pop psychobabble and despite being a Jackman fan and not minding the root story found Les Miz torturous. I love traditional book musicals but this type where every word is sung gives me the twitch like few other viewing experiences.

    As far as who's missing other than who you mentioned I thought both Richard Gere in Arbitage and Ewan McGregor in The Impossible were very good though I'm not sure nomination worthy. I've also heard that Denis Lavant is excellent in Holy Motors but I still haven't gotten to that film yet.

    But it's all academic since nobody was better than Day-Lewis. Wish he worked more.

    1. I frequently like Washington, and thought Flight was some of his best work. I can see hating The Master because the film is so intensely unpleasant. I haven't seen Arbitrage and aside from the special effects, I found The Impossible pretty forgettable, so Ewan McGregor never crossed my radar here.

      Day-Lewis may be so good because he does inhabit his roles so well and so completely. It might also be why he doesn't work as much as you and I might like. With Lincoln, he gives us the man, not a legend or something hagiographic, and yet he still makes the man larger than life. And yes, hell of a cast surrounding him.

  3. No arguments from me on this one. DDL was head and shoulders above everyone that year. Though none of them could win, there are a few others who could've gotten noms:

    John Hawkes in The Sessions
    Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Frank Langella in Robot and Frank

    1. The only one of your suggestions that I can comment on is Dwight Henry. I genuinely disliked Beasts of the Southern Wild. Henry was fine in it, but Quvenzhane Wallis was the only takeaway for me from the film.

  4. I'm with you here. Day-Lewis is the clear winner. However, I might possibly switch Joaquin and Washington. I liked Flight more, and I generally like Washington more, and I didn't really care for The Master... but that interrogation "don't blink" scene was outstanding, and a "masterclass" of acting (buh dum, psh). I'd give it to Joaquin over Washington for that scene alone. Also, despite not liking it, The Master and its performances stuck with me far more than any of Flight did.

    1. I can see that, and it's not something with which I'll take issue. As I said above, I put Washington second by the smallest of margins. If I wrote this post 100 times, I'd put Washington second 51 and Phoenix second 49.

  5. I'd elevate Jackman to second (I love Les Miz and Jackman was great), drop Washington to third, keep Cooper fourth and demote Phoenix to fifth (The Master is tiresome, and the performances could not lift the characters to people I would ever care for).

    Many other potential nominees (and I would swap in any two of them and take out Cooper and Phoenix): Gere for Arbitrage, Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock, both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena for End of Watch, Ryan Gosling for The Place Beyond The Pines, Tom Cruise for Rock Of Ages, and Steve Carell for Seeking A Friend for the End of the World.

    But no doubt about Daniel Day-Lewis as the stand-out performance of the year!

    1. As is often the case, I haven't seen a lot of the movies you mention here, so it's hard to comment, although I've heard a lot good about a lot of these performances.

      That said, I think if we nominated everyone we could think of, most of us would still hand it to Day-Lewis.