Jean Dujardin: The Artist (winner)
Demian Bichir: A Better Life
George Clooney: The Descendants
Brad Pitt: Moneyball
Gary Oldman: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
It would be difficult for me to say that I dislike any of the nominees for Best Actor 2011, but it would also be a lie for me to say that I’m over the moon about any of them. Most seem like good performances that struggle to be considered great. There are a few from the year that I’d rather see in place. Michael Fassbender’s turn in Shame might be the gutsiest performance of the year, and I loved Antonio Banderas in The Skin I Live In. I’m not generally a fan of Owen Wilson or Matthew McConaughey, but they were brilliant in Midnight in Paris and Killer Joe respectively. Ryan Gosling had a two-fer in 2011 with both The Ides of March and Drive. Since there are a lot of 2011 movies I haven’t seen, I imagine there will be many suggestions in the comments below.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. This feels like one of those years where everybody should be in third place. I’m probably punishing Gary Oldman by putting him last simply because of all of these films, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the one that nearly put me to sleep when I watched it. I think I liked it better in the moment than I do in my memory, but I recall it being a film where everyone sits around and thinks at each other really hard. Sure, he’s good, but I’d take any of my list above over his performance here.
4. I tend to like a lot of Brad Pitt’s movies and I rewatched Moneyball within the last month. It’s a fine movie, and Pitt does a fine job in it. But much like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it’s a movie where everybody thinks a lot. Despite this, it’s actually pretty entertaining, but Pitt doesn’t honestly have a lot to do except make a few decisions that happen to be the right ones. Pitt has gotten nominations in the past that I think were warranted. This one wasn’t even though it’s a good performance and in spite of how entertaining this is despite being about statistics.
3. I don’t hate the nomination for George Clooney in The Descendants even though I probably wouldn’t nominate him for the role. While he is definitely the focus of the film, this is closer to an ensemble cast than all of the other movies listed for this award. In that respect, Clooney, while definitely the lead, gets a great deal more help than the other nominees. I was surprised at how much I liked The Descendants, and much of that comes from Clooney, but there are too many others from this year that I’d like to see here more.
2. I really liked The Artist when I watched it, and that initial fascination with the film faded quickly and faded hard. I haven’t had the desire to go back and watch it again, since I can get much of the same story from Singin’ in the Rain and with that, I get singing and dancing. Jean Dujardin is undeniably good in this film, and I understand precisely why he won. The Artist was very much the flavor of the month, released at the right time and hitting award season at the right time. But that’s not a fascination that lasts, at least for me.
1. That leaves me with Demian Bichir and A Better Life, which might be the only nomination of the five that I could be convinced to keep in an open field. The genius of Bichir’s performance is that it would have been incredibly easy for this to turn into melodrama in a heartbeat, and he keeps that temptation firmly at arm’s length. Bichir plays the role perfectly, avoiding making the character something less than he is or something unbelievably noble. He’s real, and honestly, for this award and this year, that’s enough to end up on top, at least temporarily.
The honest truth is that I would pick pretty much anyone in my first paragraph over all five of the nominations we have, with the possible exception of Demian Bichir. I think it could be pretty convincingly argued that Michael Fassbender had the best performance of 2011, at least for actors. Ryan Gosling, with two very good lead performances, had the best year, though. I’d be happy with either one of them winning, Gosling for Drive should he be nominated. But if this is for the single best performance, that belongs to Fassbender.