Monday, April 13, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2006

The Contenders:

Leonardo DiCaprio: Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling: Half Nelson
Forest Whitaker: The Last King of Scotland (winner)
Will Smith: The Pursuit of Happyness
Peter O’Toole: Venus

What’s Missing

There were some fine performances in 2006, but there are also a lot of movies from this year (like Pan’s Labyrinth where the main male performance was supporting. Still, there are a lot of places we can go here, including putting James McAvoy next to Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland. Foreign language performances are often given short shrift in acting categories, which makes nominations for Ken Watanabe in Letters from Iwo Jima, Song Kang-ho in The Host, and Ulrich Muhe in The Lives of Others longshots, although all three (especially Muhe) deserved consideration. Longshots based on genre include Nathan Fillion in Slither, Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat (not my choice for a movie, but it’s a committed performance), Michael Shannon in Bug, and rather sadly Clive Owen in Children of Men--who I think would be nominated these days since science fiction has started to get a lot more Oscar respect. Spike Lee doesn’t really get a great deal of Oscar love, which leaves out Denzel Washington and Clive Owen (again) for Inside Man. Babel didn’t really have any true lead performances. Edward Norton and The Illusionist was overshadowed by the vastly inferior The Prestige, while 10 Items or Less was probably too small and flew under everyone’s radar. A case could be made for Gordon Pinsent in Away from Her, although he could be more supporting. I am a bit surprised that no one was nominated from The Departed, because there are several options, and it would have been a better nomination for DiCaprio.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I consider myself a fan of Peter O’Toole, and I think it’s nearly criminal that he never won a competitive Oscar with eight(!) nominations, but Venus would have been no better than a career win in the guise of a competitive one. As much as I like O’Toole, he has no business in this list in a year that has as many snubs as this one. It might be the only time I’ve thought he didn’t really deserve the nomination that he’s gotten. Honestly, being worthy seven out of eight times is a hell of a good record.

4. If we’re going to nominate Leonardo DiCaprio for a Best Actor role in 2006, I’d have much rather seen him nominated for The Departed, a film where he holds his own against a huge cast of excellent actors, than Blood Diamond, a decent film where he tries to sound like an Afrikaner. Really, his performance here is fine, but he’s not specifically better than Djimon Hounsou, and the accent is kind of painful. Leo deserves better nominations, and so do we as the audience.

3. Will Smith is one of those actors who is almost always immediately likable on screen. It’s difficult to dislike him (and because of that, he really needs to play a solid villain one of these days). That’s definitely his role in The Pursuit of Happyness, and it’s one that he fills well. We want him to succeed because we like him and we believe in him. The truth is that this is a good performance, but it also feels like one that was crafted for an Oscar nomination. It has all the hallmarks of pointing at itself and saying, “Look! I’m important!”

2. I like Ryan Gosling’s performance in Half Nelson in large part because it goes against type for him. He often gets by (or has gotten by) on his boyish charm and good looks, and while that’s at work a little here, it’s not all that is working in this film. In fact, my biggest complaint here is not that Gosling got this nomination, but that Shakira Epps was overlooked for her equally good and moving performance. That’s not to take away from Gosling, but to suggest that despite the actual winner (and mine), the Academy still has some race problems.

My Choice

1. There is no one who deserved this Oscar more in 2006 than Forest Whitaker for his accurate and brutal portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. This is not a movie I want to watch again (I’ve seen it twice), and while there are moments of horror in it that stick with me, it is Whitaker who makes the film as powerful as it is. His performance is one for the ages. I’ve been a Forest Whitaker fan for years, and for as good as he often is, he has never been better than he was here. He was not just the right choice, he was the only choice.

Final Analysis


  1. Personally, I would've gone with Ulrich Muhe for The Lives of Others though I have no problem with Forrest Whitaker winning the Oscar for The Last King of Scotland.

    1. Muhe would be my second in an open field, and not a distant second.

  2. What an underwhelming lineup! LOVE Peter O'Toole but I hated Venus and as disappointed as I was each time he lost before I'm that happy that he didn't win this time out.

    The only nomination I thought warranted was Whitaker's. He wouldn't be my winner in an open field, I'd go with Clive Owen, but he is chillingly good.

    For who else would have made more sense in the nominations I'll mention Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking, Toby Jones in Infamous, Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine and Richard Griffiths in The History Boys.

    1. Clive Owen is not much of a favorite of mine, but it's hard to deny he had a great 2006. I considered Greg Kinnear, but I think he might be more supporting. Same for Steve Carell.

      It's a disappointing collection of nominations for a potentially very good year.