Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscars 2015: Best Actor and Best Actress

Saoirse Ronan in "Brooklyn"
On Thursday, we looked at Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Now, we're moving on to the lead dogs.


BEST ACTOR

NOMINEES
Bryan Cranston—Trumbo
Matt Damon—The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio—The Revenant
Michael Fassbender—Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne—The Danish Girl

WILL WIN
DiCaprio. For those of you out there whispering about a potential Bryan Cranston upset, you're nuts, unless he secretly swiped his audition reel for Trumbo and replaced it with his work on Breaking Bad.


SHOULD WIN
This is a fine group of performances, though in a year loaded with high-caliber acting work, it's a fairly lackluster field. Cranston is perfectly pleasant in Trumbo, but there's little memorable about his growling imitation of the writer. Redmayne does compelling work in The Danish Girl, but he doesn't disappear into the role—it always feels like a performance. (It doesn't help that his co-star outshines him, as was the case last year with Felicity Jones.) And while DiCaprio's portrayal in The Revenant is certainly committed (or hadn't you heard?), it's a showy and ultimately shallow piece of acting. I don't begrudge him his first Oscar—he's certainly earned it by now—but it's disappointing that he'll be taking home the trophy for one of his lesser efforts.

Thankfully, Damon and Fassbender both deliver superlative star turns. The Martian is such a crowd-pleasing movie that it's easy to overlook the subtlety of Damon's performance, which stealthily mingles comedy and pathos, a ceaseless battle between desperation and determination. But Fassbender is even better. He makes Steve Jobs a mesmerizing monster, but he also allows shafts of sunlight to slip through the cracks, as though by accident. The result is a figure who is simultaneously aggressive and defensive, strenuously trying to prevent emotion from interfering with his cold, cruel calculus. As a man, Jobs was imperfect; the same can't be said of Fassbender's performance.


THE MANIFESTO'S IDEAL BALLOT
Matt Damon—The Martian
Jesse Eisenberg—The End of the Tour
Michael Fassbender—Steve Jobs
Tom Hanks—Bridge of Spies
Géza Röhrig—Son of Saul

Jason Segel received most of the acclaim for The End of the Tour, but it's Eisenberg who gives the movie its wounded, wistful soul. Hanks makes heroism seem marvelously ordinary. And Röhrig, in his debut performance, is a revelation, shouldering Son of Saul's oppressive weight with preternatural ease.

The Manifesto's ideal winner: Michael Fassbender—Steve Jobs.




THE MANIFESTO'S IDEAL BALLOT: SECOND TIER
Jason Bateman—The Gift
John Cusack—Love & Mercy
Chiwetel Ejiofor—Z for Zachariah
Tobey Maguire—Pawn Sacrifice
Channing Tatum—Magic Mike XXL

Cusack is heartbreaking. Ejiofor's heart gets broken, which is even more painful. Bateman is fascinatingly repugnant as a man who is both more and less than he seems. Maguire conveys both fury and intelligence. Tatum will have you give him a standing ovation.

Also deserving: Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight (for being committed for the first time in ages); Michael B. Jordan for Creed (for being as committed as he always is); Jack O'Connell for '71 (for making me repeatedly ask myself, "Wait, that's really the guy from Unbroken and Starred Up?).


BEST ACTRESS

NOMINEES
Cate Blanchett—Carol
Brie Larson—Room
Jennifer Lawrence—Joy
Charlotte Rampling—45 Years
Saoirse Ronan—Brooklyn

WILL WIN
Larson. She isn't quite as sure a thing as DiCaprio, but with no real challenger emerging, she should feel plenty comfortable, especially given that she's already won at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild.


SHOULD WIN
Holy hell. Now this is a quintet. Blanchett is her typically fantastic self in Carol, allowing eddies of doubt to swirl around her towering strength. Larson is hypnotic in Room, quietly conveying the depths of her unfathomable plight without ever resorting to pandering. Joy is something of a mess, but Lawrence is its supremely steady center. Rampling delivers a performance of impeccable integrity, chipping away at her character's resolve in infinitesimal increments.

But my favorite of the five is Saoirse Ronan's devastating, joyous turn in Brooklyn. It's an astonishing performance, tender and triumphant, and one that reduced me to a puddle.


THE MANIFESTO'S IDEAL BALLOT
Nina Hoss—Phoenix
Brie Larson—Room
Rooney Mara—Carol
Melissa McCarthy—Spy
Saoirse Ronan—Brooklyn

Hoss is riveting as a woman trying helplessly to reclaim her identity. Mara counters Blanchett's fire with her own remarkable poise and exquisite vulnerability. McCarthy is always funny, but in Spy, she's playing against type, with spectacular results.

The Manifesto's ideal winner: Saoirse Ronan—Brooklyn.




THE MANIFESTO'S IDEAL BALLOT: SECOND TIER
Alison Brie—Sleeping with Other People
Sarit Larry—The Kindergarten Teacher
Jennifer Lawrence—Joy
Teyonnah Paris—Chi-Raq
Alicia Vikander—The Danish Girl

Brie brings both heart and humor to one of the year's most overlooked films. Larry is wonderfully inscrutable as an obsessed educator. Paris, aka "Dawn from Mad Men," is the human fulcrum on which Chi-Raq pivots. Vikander is no supporting player in The Danish Girl, delivering a persuasive and poignant performance.

Also deserving: Emily Blunt for Sicario (for still taking chances); Anne Dorval for Mommy (for holding together a film that threatens to split at its seams); Ronit Elkabetz for Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (for her unyielding dignity); Greta Gerwig for Mistress America (for making a fool of herself, again); Maika Monroe for It Follows (for imbuing a horrifying movie with real emotion); Elisabeth Moss for Queen of Earth (for going for it); Bel Powley for The Diary of a Teenage Girl (for introducing herself).


Up next: a look at the Best Director field and at a gratifyingly unpredictable Best Picture race.

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