Friday, February 3, 2023

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 2021

The Contenders:

Javier Bardem: Being the Ricardos
Will Smith: King Richard (winner)
Benedict Cumberbatch: The Power of the Dog
Andrew Garfield: tick, tick…BOOM!
Denzel Washington: The Tragedy of Macbeth

What’s Missing

There are a number of interesting possibilities for Best Actor to improve on what is honestly kind of a lackluster collection of actual nominations. This is a case where I’d probably get rid of most of the slate we have. I’d be tempted to include Ethan Hawke in The Black Phone, but his performance is clearly more supporting than anything else. I’d also love to bring up Peter Dinklage in Cyrano, but he doesn’t have the voice to pull off a role in a musical. Oscar’s dislike of science fiction leaves Timothée Chalamet out in the cold despite a very good performance. As a Guillermo del Toro fan, I’m almost obligated to bring up Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley; I’m no Cooper fan, but this really is a solid performance. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Hidetoshi Nishijima in C’mon C’mon and Drive My Car respectively are very good in subdued and subtle roles. With all of this, though, there are three performances that I think most deserve to be on the dais. The first is the towering performance of Jason Isaacs in Mass, which is likely too controversial to get much notice. Second is Dev Patel, unfairly overlooked for The Green Knight. Last, but definitely not least, is the towering performance of Udo Kier in Swan Song, far and away the best thing in his storied career.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I don’t like saying this about an actor whose work I genuinely like, but Javier Bardem feels like a stunt nomination. His performance as Desi Arnaz in Being the Ricardos is fine, good even, but that’s it. There are times when Oscar like to play a greatest hits medley, and in this case, nominating Bardem for an award he clearly wasn’t going to win feels like just that. While some of my favorite performances of this year were in small movies, to ignore Dev Patel for this performance feels incomprehensible. Again, the performance is fine, but there’s no reason he should be here.

4. Next off the list is Will Smith, with his performance in King Richard, which ultimately won the statue. Again, this is not a bad performance, but Oscar-worthy? The biggest problem here is that Richard Williams is without question the least interesting person in the film. That’s not Will Smith’s fault, of course, but it does make the nomination feel strange. Make this a movie about Venus and Serena Williams, and maybe Smith merits a nod for Best Supporting Actor, but as it stands, I hated spending time with this character, and that’s a hard sell for me.

3. Andrew Garfield had a good year, with both tick…tick…BOOM! and The Eyes of Tammy Faye getting a lot of critical attention. He could have been nominated for either, although as supporting in the second film. He may have had the best year as an actor in 2021, but this wasn’t close to the best performance. That said, it’s still a pretty good one. My biggest problem with it, and I admit that this is entirely my hang-up, is that I don’t like the character he’s playing. Also, isn’t it strange that this is the third nomination for this category based on a real person?

2. For some time, Denzel Washington would have been my pick for this award. It’s hard to determine how to handle Shakespeare with the Oscars, though. It immediately feels like pandering, going to some of the greatest dramas in history, and things that have that air of posh respectability to boot. But Washington is very much in his element in The Tragedy of Macbeth. To be fair, this is my favorite Shakespeare, but it’s also one that is easy to screw up. This is a great performance in the middle of a great production, and I wish more people would see it.

1. Generally speaking, I don’t have a really strong opinion on Benedict Cumberbatch, or as I like to call him, Blueberry Coffeecake. However, there is no denying that his work in The Power of the Dog genuinely is some of the best in his career and the best of 2021. This is a nuanced performance that is so nuanced that it’s not obvious right away. There is a subtlety that builds here, and as the film progresses, the real strength of his work becomes apparent. My actual vote will go somewhere else, but this would be a strong contender in a completely open field, and of the actual nominations, he’s the clear choice.

My Choice

Hand me the reins of this category, and I’m keeping the top two and I’m adding the last three from my final paragraph above. I think I can make a strong case for all five of those performances. Washington would be on my list, but probably fifth. Cumberbatch would likely come in second or third. Dev Patel would probably slide into fourth, and it would be Jason Isaacs who would flip-flop with Cumberbatch for the positions of place and show. Udo Kier’s work in Swan Song is that good. It’s career-defining, and for a career as long as his, that is truly magnificent.

Final Analysis


  1. Oh, the Oscars FUCKED UP BIG with that choice. Willy-Will made an ass of himself that night. All because of a dumb joke towards his wife who really humiliated him in front of the world since she had been cheating on him and such. If it was me, I'd keep on laughing and tell her "oh come on! It's a fucking joke! We all know you have hair issues but it's not that bad. There's people who have it worse and you're the one making a big deal about bitch! You're the one that's been sleeping with every man and woman out there and humiliating me in front of our friends and family! You're the one trying to defend Lori Laughlin's dumb-ass daughter!"

    Man, those Smiths are a bunch of fucked-up people. You have 2 kids who have nothing to offer to the world except bad music and bad acting.

    Udo got robbed! Udo would've basically bitch-slapped both of them and send their asses back to that lame-ass overpriced mansion of theirs.

    1. The whole thing was so unpleasant and weird. I don't watch the ceremony anymore, and events like that make meglad I don't. It's worth saying again and again--these posts are not a celebration of Oscar, but a reckoning.

      Smith's been good in other movies, but he didn't belong on the dais here.

  2. Cumberbatch should've won, IMO. As soon as Smith punched Rock, someone should've ran back there and scribbled his name out on the envelope.

    1. Of the nominations, I agree completely. I think Smith has done some good work in the past, but he didn't deserve this Oscar, and the punch just doubled-down on the stupid.