Monday, March 30, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2005

The Contenders:

Heath Ledger: Brokeback Mountain
Philip Seymour Hoffman: Capote (winner)
David Straithairn: Good Night, and Good Luck.
Terrence Howard: Hustle & Flow
Joaquin Phoenix: Walk the Line

What’s Missing

There are plenty of possibilities for nominations for 2005, some of which I fully endorse and some of which I will mention so that I don’t get beaten up for skipping them in the comments. We can start with a couple that I probably don’t really endorse. These would begin with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in Brick, a film that evidently everyone else in the world likes more than I do. I love Serenity, but I’m not sure Nathan Fillion really deserves to be here, especially because that movie works so much as an ensemble, also true of George Clooney in Syriana (and Oscar agrees, considering that he won in a supporting role). I would be willing to discuss Patrick Wilson in Hard Candy and Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta, but in both cases, their strong performances were completely overwhelmed by the tremendous work of their costars. This is also true of Matthew Macfadyen and Pride & Prejudice. A film like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will never get Oscar love, but both Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer are great in it. Similarly, Christian Bale isn’t going to get Oscar recognition for Batman Begins no matter how good he was in it. Ali Suliman and Daniel Auteuil for Paradise Now and Cache respectively are outside of Oscar’s normal wheelhouse. I think I can make cases for Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point and for Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener. I’d love to see Jesse Eisenberg here for The Squid and the Whale. I’d really like to see Viggo Mortensen here for A History of Violence.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I liked Walk the Line well enough, but I can’t say that I’m entirely enthralled with Joaquin Phoenix in it. It’s a fine performance, but given what the man is clearly capable of doing in front of the camera, it doesn’t really rank that high in terms of his career performances. Perhaps I’m not fair in judging this against his other roles rather than against the ones he’s actually competing against, but Phoenix has deserved a lot of nominations more than this one, and this one didn’t deserve to win.

4. Terrence Howard is intensely unlikable in Hustle & Flow, which shouldn’t count against him in terms of where he places. It also shouldn’t count against him that I had absolutely no interest in the music in this film and that the film is really just about the music and nothing more. And yet here we are. I didn’t love this movie much, and while Howard is probably the best thing in it, it turns out that this is a very small movie about very small people. It’s not just the music—I didn’t care about it in Straight Outta Compton, either, but I loved that movie.

3. How to rank Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain? It’s a damn good performance, and one that was I’m certain quite difficult. But it’s not the towering performance that I think this Oscar (and Best Actress) really requires. As good as Ledger is, he is matched in every scene by Jake Gyllenhaal or Michelle Williams. As an ensemble cast, it’s a great one, and Ledger is a huge part of that. But I can’t separate him from his costars, and that’s going to be a problem getting above third place.

2. Of these five movies, Good Night, and Good Luck. is almost certainly my favorite, but David Straithairn, as much as I generally love him, is only coming in second. This is not a knock on Straithairn, who I think is brilliant in this role. It says more about the final nomination that he’s wound up in second place. I could be persuaded in a lot of other years to give this to Straithairn, although much of what makes this movie work is the strength of the entire ensemble. He’s a very solid runner-up for me, and in this year, that’s close to a win.

My Choice

1. There could be no other choice that Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. Hoffman is an absolute force of nature in this film, and the performance is devastating. He manages to find Capote’s mannerisms and odd voice and phrasing, but makes the performance about so much more than just the obvious quirks of the character. It still pisses me off that Hoffman is gone and gone in such a stupid and selfish way. Capote shows us what he was capable of doing, and serves as a reminder of exactly what we’ve lost through his untimely death.

Final Analysis


  1. I have no arguments about Philip Seymour Hoffman winning as it was the right choice though for me personally, I would've gone with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Brick which is a film that I really love a lot. I agree with you on Viggo Mortensen as he was severely overlooked for that performance. I would make a case for Lou Taylor Pucci for Thumbsucker, Guy Pearce for The Proposition, Daniel Autiel for Cache`, and Steve Carrel for The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

    1. I really didn't like Brick that much. I know I'm very much in the minority on that, but very little of it worked for me.

      I'm also very much in the minority in that I have yet to watch The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

  2. While I was rooting for Ledger to win during the actual ceremony I can't say that I felt that the Academy made a bad choice with Hoffman. He is superlative. I would have been happy with any of your top three winning, and won't have squawked too much if Phoenix come out on top though I would replace him if I could but it is a very good performance.

    If it were up to me I'd leave those top three and pluck out Phoenix and Howard and replace them with Jake Gyllenhaal who may not have as much screen time as Ledger but is still a lead in Brokeback (and that would make room for the overlooked Clifton Collins Jr. in supporting) and Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence. Though I am terribly tempted to put Matthew MacFayden in Mortensen's place.

    1. It's a potentially very strong year. I think Mortensen really deserves a nomination in this year--he's had a lot of very strong performances, but A History of Violence is a very memorable one.

  3. This was a solid year for this category. I think your picks are completely fair. Ledger would've received my vote, and Mortensen absolutely should've been there.

    1. Ledger wouldn't be a terrible choice. My issue with him winning would only be how much his performance depends on Gyllenhaal's.