Friday, August 7, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2018

The Contenders:

Willem Dafoe: At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek: Bohemian Rhapsody (winner)
Viggo Mortensen: Green Book
Bradley Cooper: A Star is Born
Christian Bale: Vice

What’s Missing

I’m not a fan of this set of nominations. There were so many options that were better here. This is also a year where Oscar’s continual race problem reared its ugly head once again. We can start with nominations that would never turn Oscar’s head. This can start with Tom Hardy in Venom, followed immediately by Emile Hirsch in Freaks. It’s probably also true of John Krasinski in A Quiet Place. Jeff Bridges is an Oscar favorite, but Bad Times at the El Royale might not have been what Oscar was looking for. I found First Man a bit sterile, but I’m really surprised Ryan Gosling wasn’t nominated. I mentioned above that this is a year that highlights Oscar’s race problem, so let’s talk about an entire slate of non-white actors. In truth, Henry Golding is probably more supporting in Crazy Rich Asians, but he’s very good in the role. Sorry to Bother You is almost certainly too gonzo for Oscar’s wheelhouse, but it’s only a matter of time before Lakeith Stanfield wins an Oscar for something. If Beale Street Could Talk belongs to KiKi Layne, but we can talk about Stephan James. Oscar is also not ready to talk about nominating superhero performances, which is going to leave out Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther. The big insult, though, is that for a film about the Black experience in dealing with the Klan, it’s white guy Adam Driver who scores a nomination and not BlacKkKlansman’s lead, John David Washington.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. This is a frustrating year, because only one of the actual nominees feels like it belongs above third place. I’m fortunate that my family doesn’t read this blog, because I’d be pilloried for suggesting that not only did Rami Malek not deserve to win for Bohemian Rhapsody, he’s in last for me and shouldn’t have been nominated. It may not be Malek’s fault, though, and I’m partially convinced that he was nominated and eventually won because he managed to speak through that ridiculous set of prosthetic teeth. This was a major disappointment.

4. Bradley Cooper is fine in A Star is Born, but he’s no better than fine. This is Lady Gaga’s film from stem to stern, which is a little depressing given just how little she is given to do. She’s a tremendous talent and virtually nothing is asked of her. And even with that, Cooper takes a back seat to everything she does. I don’t love this story, and I’m equally ambivalent on Bradley Cooper as an actor. I wouldn’t have nominated him, and in my world, A Star is Born gets a lot fewer nominations in general.

3. It’s not Christian Bale’s fault that Dick Cheney is a loathsome human being, and it’s not Bale’s fault that Vice falls victim to Adam McKay’s quirky directing. Bale is a fine actor, and I’ve liked a lot of his performances, but there’s a lot about Vice that I don’t like. It’s probably unfair of me to blame Bale, because a lot of the problem is probably out of his control. That said, I don’t really like the movie and I don’t really like the performance that much. I liked Bale in this more when I saw it; I’ve cooled on it a great deal since then.

2. The fact that I like Viggo Mortensen is almost certainly a large part of why he’s ending up in second place for a decent performance in Green Book. But it’s again reminiscent of Oscar’s race problem that in a movie about racism, the white guy gets nominated for Best Actor while the actor of color gets nominated for (and wins) Best Supporting Actor. I could have mentioned Mahershala Ali above as well. Mortensen does his best, and he does it well, but I’m still not sure I would nominate him, even if he really does deserve an Oscar at some point.

1. Willem Dafoe’s performance in At Eternity’s Gate probably had the least chance of winning this Oscar, but of the nominations, it was the one clearly most deserving, and the only one I would keep in an open field. In fact, the biggest issue is that Dafoe is probably twice as old as Van Gogh was when he died, and that does tend to affect the viewing. But beyond that, Dafoe is excellent in every moment. In fact, Dafoe is better than the movie itself, which has a number of problems. Dafoe, though, absolutely isn’t one of them.

My Choice

There are a lot of places I can go here, and while I’d love to be talking about John Krasinski’s performance and as much as I’d love to live in a world where Tom Hardy could be nominated for his bonkers performance in Venom, we are where we are. In that perfect world, I’d give this to Lakeith Stanfield for a completely committed performance in a role that really required it. Barring that, John David Washington takes this for a performance that perfectly balances the seriousness of what was happening with the absurdist comedy of that reality.

Final Analysis


  1. I would've preferred Willem Dafoe for At Eternity's Gate which I liked a lot while I think the race would've been more interesting with John David Washington instead of Rami Malek. Malek wasn't bad but that film was just... BLECH!!!!

    One performance that I feel was seriously overlooked but not surprised that it didn't get any attention is for Matt Dillon in The House That Jack Built as that is just a career-defining performance as Dillon was just menacing but also intriguing to watch in how he views art and murder.

    1. As is often the case, esepcially with more recent years, I haven't seen the movie you mention. One of these days, I'm going to go back through all of these posts and list out everything recommended that I haven't seen.

      I'll look for that one--I tend to like Matt Dillon as a general rule.

  2. The nominations list was very clunky, and Malek unfortunately carried the win due to the music's popularity. Some other noteworthy performances that caught my eye:

    Dev Patel in Hotel Mumbai
    Clint Eastwood in The Mule
    Ben Foster in Leave No Trace

    1. I haven't seen those three. I think Ben Foster was robbed of a supporting nomination for Hell or High Water.

  3. Haven't seen Dafoe's or Malek's performances, yet. Of the other noms I like Cooper's best, but I've been a fan of his, so take that how you will.

    Mortensen was good in his role, but it's a problematic role in a problematic movie. That this won BP over all the other movies about race that year speaks volumes about Oscar's race problem. It's clearly the safest and most comfortable one for white people.

    I'm cool with a John David Washington nom, but Stanfield would probably get my win. Like you said, a totally committed performance in a role that demanded it.

    Of superheroes that year, Hardy was far better than Boseman, who was relegated to a supporting role in his own movie. Not sure I would nom either, though.

    I know the Academy cares nothing about purely physical performances but man, what Tom Cruise did in Fallout is worthy of recognition in my eyes.

    1. Green Book's win reminded me of Driving Miss Daisy winning in 1989. It was the safe racism movie, and the dangerous and vital racism movie--Do the Right Thing--couldn't even swing a nomination for Best Picture. Driving Miss Daisy is still safe and no longer interesting. Do the Right Thing is still a movie that asks important questions.

      I take your point about Boseman. Hardy's performance, in that respect, is along the lines of Lakeith Stanfield. It required complete commitment, and he provided it.