Friday, June 12, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2016

The Contenders:

Viggo Mortensen: Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington: Fences
Andrew Garfield: Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling: La La Land
Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea (winner)

What’s Missing

So let’s talk about 2016 and the Best Actor category. This was a difficult one, but also an interesting one because it was just before the #MeToo movement. And, as is often the case, Oscar did a terrible job in the nominations. Dev Patel earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Lion, but I think a case can be made for Best Actor. Ben Foster was robbed in Hell or High Water, but he was likely supporting as well. Foreign language possibilities include Peter Simonischek in Toni Erdmann and Kwak Do-won in The Wailing. It’s also worth mentioning Gong Woo in Train to Busan, who probably didn’t really deserve a nomination based on the role, but I do love the movie. Staying in the horror genre, John Goodman would have been an interesting choice in 10 Cloverfield Lane, and while The Autopsy of Jane Doe isn’t a film to attract Oscar’s attention, both Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox were great. There were a couple of other duos worth mentioning—Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in Swiss Army Man and Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys, although none of these would be in serious contention given Oscars typical choices. Joel Edgerton might deserve a look for Loving, as might Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake. Michael Keaton was clearly the best part of The Founder. And while Oscar would never go there, I’d love to see Sam Neill here for Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I don’t have a serious problem with Ryan Gosling. Actually, I rather like him in a lot of roles. I really disliked him in La La Land, though, because he’s completely wrong for the role. I don’t have huge asks when it comes to a musical. What I expect is that the lead actor is capable of singing on tune and dancing more accurately than a pregnant yak. It makes absolutely no sense to me that someone is going to make a musical that will require the leads to dance and sing, and the lead male role goes to someone who can do neither.

4. I might be penalizing Andrew Garfield for the role and the movie when it comes to his location on this countdown, but Hacksaw Ridge is all kinds of problematic. It’s so clearly and obviously a Mel Gibson movie. How can I be sure without verifying it? Because Hacksaw Ridge has two main plot threads: religion solves everything and the Japanese Army in World War II was no better than sadistic butchers. Garfield is fine, but there’s no reason he should be here and no reason the movie is worth seeing.

3. I feel more or less the same about Denzel Washington in Fences. It’s a fine performance and the movie is decent, but it’s also very clearly a movie that was based on a stage play. The movie looks and feels like a filmed stage play, and Washington walks through this as if he is on a stage somewhere and expecting to hear some applause. There’s nothing really wrong with the film except for that. I half expected a curtain call in the middle of the credits, and wouldn’t have been terribly shocked if we’d gotten one.

2. I’m a little sad that Viggo Mortensen hasn’t nabbed an Oscar yet despite a few worthy nominations. It’s possible he’ll get one someday, but I don’t know that Oscar really believes he has the overall gravitas to be Best Actor winner. However, Captain Fantastic might have been his best chance to date. It’s a good role and he’s good in it, in every weird, countercultural moment. It’s probably not that often that this would be a winner from me in any year, but I like the nominations and would be likely to keep it.

My Choice

1. It’s honestly a shame that Casey Affleck had turned out to be such a miserable human being, because his work in Manchester by the Sea is impeccable. This is a hard role to play well—to offer just enough emotion to function, but Affleck handles it with a grim and effective determination. If only he wasn’t such an evidently objectively bad person, this would be a lot easier. Sometimes, the bad guy wins, and in truth, it really was the best actor performance of the year.

Final Analysis


  1. Personally, I would've gone with Dave Johns for I, Daniel Blake though the Oscars did make the right choice with Casey Affleck. I'm with you on Hacksaw Ridge as that's a film I couldn't take seriously and I hated how Mel Gibson portrayed the Japanese as it is clear he doesn't understand context.

    I would've had Charlie Hunnam in consideration for The Lost City of Z w/ Robert Pattinson as supporting. I also agree with you on Sam Neill for Hunt for the Wilderpeople though it's really more supporting than lead. Dev Patel really should've been lead instead of supporting.

  2. If I make my own list of nominations, I think I'm keeping the top two and definitely adding Dave Johns.

    Sam Neill probably is supporting, but with all of the category fraud that happens (see Dev Patel), I'm never sure who belongs where. Same with Ben Foster mentioned above--whichever category that performance belongs in, the dude got robbed.

  3. Have you seen Ben Foster in "Leave No Trace"? Amazing performance, and an incredible movie.

  4. Nocturnal Animals is maybe more of an ensemble piece with 4 co-leads, but I would support both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon being nominated for Best Actor.

    1. I really, really need to see that one of these days.