Friday, May 8, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2009

The Contenders:

Jeff Bridges: Crazy Heart (winner)
Jeremy Renner: The Hurt Locker
Morgan Freeman: Invictus
Colin Firth: A Single Man
George Clooney: Up in the Air

What’s Missing

2009’s list of nominees is certainly odd, and I’d love to make some wholesale changes to them. Oh, I’d probably keep a few, but certainly not all of them. A movie like Ninja Assassin isn’t going to get any Oscar love, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and Rain would be a fun nomination. The same is true of Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying, a film I think is much better than its reputation. I didn’t love The Blind Side, but I can’t deny that Quinton Aaron was very good in the lead role. Ben Foster had a great year with both The Messenger and Pandorum. Woody Harrelson could be considered for the former and Dennis Quaid for the latter. District 9 was a surprise nomination for Best Picture, and I think I can argue Sharlto Copley for Best Actor. In the Loop was an ensemble cast, but I’d love to see Peter Capaldi here; ditto for Brad Pitt and Inglourious Basterds. Foreign movies, as always, are a longshot nomination, especially for horror, but Song Kang-ho should be considered for Thirst. Bill Murray and Robert Duvall would be interesting choices for Get Low. I think a case could be made for Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man. The big miss, though, was Sam Rockwell in the career-making and defining Moon. And before someone says Watchmen, it’s far too much of an ensemble for me to make a choice.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. Far be it from me to not give Morgan Freeman his due, but when I watched Invictus, I was struck by the fact that Freeman was nominated for this role. Don’t get me wrong—I consider myself a Freeman fan, and like everyone his is one of the voices I think of when I think of narration. But honestly, while he’s fine in this role, this is one of those nominations that feels like it was for the fact that he was playing Nelson Mandella. I’m not saying anyone would be nominated (like, Sinbad probably would be ignored if he’d played this role), but anyone competent was going to be nominated for the role with a decent performance.

4. I genuinely like The Hurt Locker. In truth, I like most of Kathryn Bigelow’s movies, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that I liked this one. I don’t dislike Jeremy Renner in this role, either, except to say that I don’t find Renner himself to be that memorable in the role. I remember great swaths of this movie, but it’s the movie itself and the adrenaline or the need for adrenaline that I remember more than anything else. Renner is fine, but I feel like he should have made more of an impression on me than he did.

3. I have nothing against Colin Firth as an actor. It feels like his nomination for A Single Man was a warm-up for him to win the following here. The problems I have with this movie come from the movie itself and the rather surprising and weird ending. This is one of those performances where I have trouble separating a good performance from a movie that I really didn’t like very much. It’s hard for me to be objective about a movie that made very little of an impression on me one way or the other.

2. The biggest problem I have with Crazy Heart is the fact that, like many a movie that has come before it, the plot insists on giving us a May/December romance that is supposed to be charming and just ends up creepy. That said, I understand the win for Jeff Bridges, who is very good in this role. There’s a lot to recommend it, and ultimately, I understand exactly why the Academy went the way they did. It’s another case where I like the performance, not so much the movie or the role in question.

1. This means that based on the five nominations, I’m giving this to George Clooney for Up in the Air, which is a much better movie than I thought it was going to be. I went into it with no real expectations and left with some surprise that Clooney was this capable of playing this kind of dramatic role. Clooney, I think, is a better actor than a lot of people give him credit for being, and this is evidence. That said, if I can open the field up, I’m still going to nominate Clooney, but I’m not going to give him the statue.

My Choice

Moon was a small movie that flew under a lot of radars and it shouldn’t have. It’s the kind of performance(s) that make someone a star in the sense that it’s the kind of performance that gets people noticed by the people that matter. Sam Rockwell has certainly had a dandy career since he starred in Moon. This was a role designed to show someone at his absolute best, and Rockwell should have been recognized.

Final Analysis


  1. For me, Colin Firth should've won that year though I have no problem with Jeff Bridges winning the Oscar.

    Yet, I feel that it really should've gone to either Sam Rockwell or Tahar Rahim for A Prophet. Also should've been in the list are: Ben Whishaw-Bright Star, Jim Carrey-I Love You Phillip Morris, Michael Stuhlbarg-A Serious Man, Peter Capaldi-In the Loop, Mads Mikkelsen-Valhalla Rising, Joseph Gordon-Levitt-(500) Days of Summer, Steve Evets-Looking for Eric, Ben Foster-The Messenger, Matt Damon-The Informant!, Andre Dussollier for Wild Grass, Johnny Halladay for Vengeance, and Willem Dafoe for Antichrist.

    1. As tends to be the case, I'm behind on a lot of these movies.

      I freely admit that my putting Firth as low as I did was in part because I don't care for the movie (or the ending) at all. He's being punished for that. All things told, though, I'm probably happier with him having a win here than for The King's Speech...but I'll hit that soon enough.

  2. Jeremy Renner had what I thought was a memorable role in the excellent "Wind River," a movie that has stayed with me since I saw it a couple years ago.

    1. I don't have an issue with Renner as an actor. He didn't make a massive impression on me in The Hurt Locker.

  3. Jeff Bridges should have an Oscar no question just not for this retread of the burnt out rocker finding his way back trope. He's good, he's almost always good, but I would have rather seen him win for another performance. But that's a frequent feeling when it comes to Oscar.

    I didn't like Hurt Locker but that was more because it was disturbing and unnerving. I realize it was attempting to show the unvarnished truth of the situation and I respect it for that but you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to watch again. That said Renner gave an intense, committed performance, I'd probably nominate him but he'd be my last place finisher.

    On the other hand I loathed everything and everyone in Up in the Air and found zero redeeming value in it. All those people were detestable human beings and we're supposed to feel good because Clooney decides to be a little less of an odious maggot? Hard pass!

    I was indifferent to Invictus and Freeman in it. Like Bridges Morgan Freeman is almost always excellent but I wasn't overly enamored of this particular piece of work.

    That leaves Colin Firth who out of these five was my choice at the time of the ceremony and remains so now. A Single Man has problems but his work within it is top flight. But in an open field he wouldn't be my winner.

    I couldn't agree more about Sam Rockwell and Moon! Talk about a snub. I went into it not really expecting too much but he delivered a riveting performance. He's my runner-up.

    So with Renner, Firth and Rockwell in my other two slots would go to Colin Farrell (who was worthy of a supporting nod in Crazy Heart) for the intense Triage and Cristian Mercado in the Peruvian ghost story Undertow. He plays his deeply conflicted fisherman with infinite grace and delicacy, one of my favorite performances of the decade. He'd be my winner by a mile.

    1. Perhaps I should revisit The Hurt Locker, something I'm not averse to. I'll look into Undertow.