Monday, June 25, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2007

The Contenders:

Viggo Mortensen: Eastern Promises
Tommy Lee Jones: In the Valley of Elah
George Clooney: Michael Clayton
Johnny Depp: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Daniel Day-Lewis: There Will Be Blood (winner)

What’s Missing

2007 was a fine year for actors, exemplified by about half of the nominations. Off the top, I’d have preferred to see Tommy Lee Jones here for No Country for Old Men, rather than his actual nomination. In the “never nominated” world I’d include Thomas Jane in The Mist and Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz as well as Charlie Cox in Stardust. Casey Affleck has rightfully fallen out of favor, but he’s awfully good in Gone Baby Gone, while a film like The Man from Earth was probably too small to get any notice for David Lee Smith. Since the winner of Best Actress was a non-English speaking actor, the nomination for Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was probably a longshot. Another odd longshot here is Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, a film that was widely admired while Hirsch was generally ignored. Along the same lines, James McAvoy didn’t get a great deal of play for Atonement; neither did Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Savages. While I like a lot of these possibilities, the ones I would push for are Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac, Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl, and Richard Jenkins in The Visitor (although he did get nominated the next year).

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I think like a lot of people, I’ve more or less had my fill of Johnny Depp. That shouldn’t affect how I look at 2007, but it might be impossible for that not to happen. My favorite part of Sweeney Todd is Alan Rickman, not Depp or Helena Bonham Carter, and beyond that, I didn’t love the film that much. Depp is fine in the role…and that’s it. He’s fine in the role. With the people who were ignored here, I can’t imagine why Depp was nominated aside from the fact that in 2007, a lot of people really liked Johnny Depp.

4. I like George Clooney well enough, but I don’t have a really strong opinion on Michael Clayton. It was a good enough movie while I was watching it, but Clooney has done much better and more important work in his career. Much like Depp, I think this is a function of Clooney’s general popularity at the time and the fact that he’s generally well-liked. It’s not a deserved nomination in my opinion. Clooney is fine; the role is fine. But there were better performances in better roles from this year.

3. I said at the top that I think Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for the wrong film, and that’s the case. That might, in fact, be why I’ve moved him all the way up into third for his role in In the Valley of Elah, which seems to be a fine performance in a good role in a completely forgettable movie. Honestly, based on the other two nominations, even with a nomination for No Country for Old Men, Jones would probably still end up in third place for me, but it would feel like a much better third place.

2. So let’s talk about Eastern Promises and Viggo Mortensen. I think I can say that had Eastern Promises been released in just about any other year of this decade, Mortensen would have been my choice for Best Actor. This is not just the fact that I like Viggo Mortensen (which I do). This is a tough and muscular performance, one that has traces of the force of many of his other performances but with a huge helping of violence. It’s an exploration of walking in deep shadow while attempting to maintain a sense of justice, and Mortensen is just about perfect.

My Choice

1. But, sadly for Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Day-Lewis was in There Will Be Blood in 2007, and I don’t think that there was any way possible for someone else to win this Oscar. Truth being told, I’d love to see Viggo Mortensen walk across the stage and claim one, but in 2007, there was no one going to stand in the way of Day-Lewis getting a second Oscar. Having Paul Dano to play against him didn’t hurt, but Day-Lewis takes this screenplay by the throat and rules over this movie like a goddam monarch. This could only be his Oscar.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree with everything except your top two, including that TLJ was up for the wrong performance.

    DDL was as good as he could possibly be in There Will Be Blood but I hated that movie and that character which wouldn't preclude him from either a nomination nor a win but the entire enterprise just didn't work for me.

    But then I wasn't that crazy about Eastern Promises either however Viggo is my choice to win.

    Gyllenhaal (a consistently strong performer who the Academy seems reluctant to acknowledge-so much good work and only one nod) and McAvoy would definitely make stronger nominees than either Clooney or Depp. I also think Russell Crowe in "3:10 to Yuma" and Trevor Wright in the small indie "Shelter" were worthy of consideration.

    1. I did consider Mortensen for the win. It's a significantly unpleasant movie. If memory serves, I called it the most depressing and horrifying happy ending movie I've ever seen. But he's fantastic in it.

      I thought about Russell Crowe, but I don't love the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. I really would love to have seen Gyllenhaal here, but I think he's frequently skipped over for some reason. I'm a little iffier on Gosling, but he's very good in Lars and the Real Girl.

  2. Somehow, I've not seen Eastern Promises or In the Valley of Elah, so I can't really comment on them other than to say that TLJ was phenomenal in No Country. DDL was better in There Will Be Blood and would probably be my winner, as well. I really like Sweeney Todd, but like you, I'm not crazy about Depp's performance. I have exactly the same feelings as you about Clooney and Michael Clayton.

    Of your "missing," I'm a big fan what Richard Jenkins did in The Visitor and Casey Affleck in Gone Baby Gone. Jane and Pegg were really good in their roles, but I can't say I would nominate either. I've actively avoided Lars and the Real Girl because I find the "Real Girl" creepy as hell.

    Amalric in Diving Bell would have been a great nom. I wasn't thrilled by McAvoy nor Atonement and I hate nearly everything about Into the Wild so no way would give Hirsch anything.

    Some I really liked that you didn't mention:

    Don Cheadle in Talk to Me (he was phenomenal in this sadly overlooked movie)
    Kevin Costner in Mr. Brooks
    Ethan Hawke in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
    Will Smith in I Am Legend (I know, everyone now hates this movie)

    1. Will Smith would be an interesting nomination. I think he's probably the best part of a weak film, but in a lot of respects, he's the only thing in a weak film. I don't love the film, but in truth, none of the three versions of the book have really gotten it right. Kevin Costner is a really interesting possibility. Mr. Brooks didn't ping the radar when I went through this, but I love the suggestion.

      You can pretty easily skip In the Valley of Elah, but Eastern Promises is one to track down. It's brutal and ugly and probably the best of more modern Cronenberg.