Thursday, June 5, 2014

Oscars of the Aughts: Best Actor, 2000

Take a look at the Best Actor category of 2000, and you'll see some remarkable performances paired with some interesting trivia. For example, winner Russell Crowe was one of the hottest actors in Hollywood at the time, and his win came in the middle of three consecutive Best Actor nominations between 1999 and 2001 (after which he wouldn't be nominated again as of 2013). His win also marked the last time that a film won both Best Picture and Best Actor until The King's Speech did so in 2010 (that film, for which Colin Firth won, also starred Geoffrey Rush, who's among the 2000 nominees). Ed Harris directed himself to a nomination in the midst of a period where he was an Oscar favorite, but couldn't muster a win (he still hasn't). Javier Bardem received his first nomination, a surprising inclusion for playing controversial Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in the tiny Before Night Falls. And let this sink in: 2000 marks the most recent Oscar nomination for Tom Hanks, as of 2013. That's incredible.

Here are the nominees:

*Russell Crowe, Gladiator

In retrospect, Russell Crowe is the perfect match for the role of Maximus, a former Roman general who falls into slavery and fights for his freedom by becoming a, well, gladiator. Though his career hadn't really suggested it yet, this proved he could be a leading man, and he carried Ridley Scott's risky endeavor on his perfectly capable shoulders. Crowe excellently balances Maximus' wounded pride and seething anger, and his desire to topple the empire that has taken so much away from him. What makes his performance exceptional, though, is how he elevates the role beyond a mere action hero and makes it into a man who is conflicted and utterly human. It's no wonder he won for this one.

Geoffrey Rush, Quills

The one thing that everyone can agree on when it comes to Geoffrey Rush: the man is an enormous ham. In Quills, however, he plays the Marquis de Sade, the infamous French author of erotica who was sentenced to spend his life in an asylum, and the role couldn't be more perfect for his brand of acting. To that end, Rush is a delight, gleefully chewing into the Marquis' heightened personality and generally chewing the scenery. It would be distracting in just about any other film, but given how flabby the rest of the film is, his performance is wholly entertaining and captivating. It's a performance that's certainly watchable - and he almost single-handedly saves the film - but given the competition, it pales in comparison.

Tom Hanks, Cast Away

Up until 2013's Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks' performance as Chuck Noland in Cast Away was by far the greatest in his career (something about water really brings out the best in him, I guess). Of course, it helps that a large chunk of the film sees him alone onscreen, only interacting with the environment around him and a volleyball named Wilson. But it's a testament to Hanks' talent that he sells a relationship with inanimate object as emotionally and compellingly as he does. But, of course, his performance goes beyond the film's stunning second act, excellently conveying Chuck's struggles to readjust to society after being alone for so long. It's a truly phenomenal performance, one that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field.

Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls

Once upon a time, Javier Bardem was a relative unknown to American audiences, much more well-known in his native Spain than overseas. His performance as exiled Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's biopic Before Night Falls, however, changed that. Bardem was rightfully praised for this performance, never shying away from the emotional and physical demands of the role, and in his hands Arenas comes to beautiful, tragic life. This was an incredible way to introduce himself to international audiences, but as great as this performance was, it was only a glimpse of what he was truly capable of.

Ed Harris, Pollock

There's a long history of actors directing themselves to Oscar nominations, and Ed Harris joined that list with Pollock, his biopic of artist Jackson Pollock. As great as Harris is as an actor, his performance here just doesn't completely work. It's not necessarily that the performance is bad; Harris does fine work, and he does capture Pollock's intensity. The problem is that, just like the film around it, Harris' work is messy and underwhelming. It's unfortunate, especially considering how passionate Harris was about making this project, that this just isn't a particularly great performance.

My ballot:

1. Tom Hanks, Cast Away
2. Russell Crowe, Gladiator
3. Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls
4. Geoffrey Rush, Quills
5. Ed Harris, Pollock

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