Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Oscars: My Picks for Best Actor

The Best Actor race: per usual, its one of the most crowded competitions of the year. However, since November, the competition has become more seperated, and with the exceptions of a few confusions (Is Dev Patel a lead or supporting actor?), the front-runners have been established. Here are my selections for the nominees. BEST ACTOR Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino - Supposedly, this is Eastwood's last on-screen role, as he will focus more on directing in the future. And, surprisingly, not only has Eastwood only been nominated for an acting Oscar twice (for 1992's Unfogiven and 2004's Million Dollar Baby), but he won neither one (Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx did, respectively). As grumpy war veteran Walt Kowalski, Eastwood delievers a profane, steely performance that also recalls the badass roles he used to take as Rooster Cogburn, Dirty Harry, and Blondie. Though he would be unlikely to win (again), a nomination would be fitting way to send off this acting legend. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon - Langella has a lot on his side to help him land his first Oscar nomination. For one, he's been nominated for just about every other major award imaginable, and his invite to this ceremony is long overdue. Then, he is portraying Richard Nixon, one of the most complicated and fascinating real-life characters that Hollywood can't help but love (in fact, Anthony Hopkins recieved an Oscar nomination in 1995 for playing Nixon in Nixon). Langella fully embodies the role, and while detractors may point out that he does not physically resemble Nixon enough, he nails the speech and mannerisms, and brings an iron resolve to the man who would be a crook. And as a kicker, he is reprising his role from the stage version upon which the movie is based, and he won a Tony for it. All of this adds up to Langella being a lock for this year's nominations. Sean Penn, Milk - The Academy loves Penn. He has so far racked up four nominations, with one win (2003's Mystic River), even for the critically drubbed I Am Sam. But this year, Penn is not only a front-runner to win, but is also deserving of it for his true, fully-realized, tragicomic performance as slain San Fransisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to hold public office in the United States. Penn plays Milk as a crusader who is determined to make a change, not for just himself and the gay community but for everyone. He oozes charisma, making you understand why people followed him and supported him. Penn is also a lock for portraying the open homosexuality of Milk, engaging in intimate love scenes with James Franco's Scott Smith (why playing a gay character is still considered "a brave feat" still puzzles me, but more on that another time). Expect to see Penn in this category again. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - He's become the center of the tabloid universe since his rise to fame in the early '90s, and is currently one-half of Hollywood's must powerful couple, Brangelina (interestingly, both Pitt and Angelina Jolie are strong contenders for Oscar nominations this year). All of this fame has somewhat eclipsed the fact that Pitt is also a great actor, and his body of work has usually been less praised than his body. He's been nominated before (for Supporting Actor for 1995's 12 Monkeys), and he should return to the ceremony this year after his engaging performance as Benjamin Button, a man who ages in reverse. In a role that required plenty of make-up and digital effects, Pitt was never consumed by them, always setting forth Button's humanity and emotions. Carrying the whole movie on his shoulders and never letting it crush him, Pitt is certainly deserving of nomination #2 this year. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler - Here is a story that seems like only Hollywood could create: a man is at the top of his field, but when he falls victim to substance abuse and personal problems, he falls from grace, only to attempt a comeback years later that results in success. This is the story of The Wrestler, but it is also the true story of Mickey Rourke. In a role that converges with his own life, Rourke brings incredible vulnerability to Randy "The Ram" Robinson as he tries to reconnect with his career, his daughter, and his life. Expect Rourke to land his first career nomination for this role, as not only does the Academy love a comeback story, but he delievers one of the very best performances of the year. Tomorrow I'll post my Best Actress picks.

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