To many of the people that tune into award shows, this is the most important category, perhaps the second most important after Best Picture. I don’t necessarily agree, firstly because it under-values the Best Actress category, but mainly because acting is just one part of the filmmaking pie. It’s certainly a very visible part, but it’s still just one part.
- Joseph Gordon Levitt- 50/50: More than anyone in this batch of nominees, Joseph Gordon Levitt is playing an everyman, at least from my perspective. It’s harder than you think to bring something to a role that in many ways could seem just like someone you really know, but Levitt really brings a heart and soul to the film he’s in. He makes you like and sympathize with his character, while still acknowledging some flaws he has.
- Jean Dujardin- The Artist: If I were going to compare Jean Dujardin to any other contemporary actor right now it would probably be John Hamm. Like John Hamm he has a certain timeless quality to his face, one which maybe isn’t really reflective of what people looked like earlier in the twentieth century, but which is certainly reflective of what movie stars looked like in a bygone era. He uses that certain movie star look in order to feel like a really authentic presence in The Artist, and he has great comic timing to boot.
- Peyman Moaadi- A Separation: Peyman Moaadi isn’t always playing the most likable person in the world in A Separation, but he isn’t playing an unlikable person either, and a big part of why he succeeds in the role is that he walks the line of likability so well. He plays a stubborn, but caring man who’s trying to get justice as he sees it, and he has a certain prideful dignity to his performance that makes his character believable even when he’s doing things differently than many people would do in certain situations.
- Michael Fassbender- Shame: Michael Fassbender is a badass. Anyone who saw X-Men: First Class Knows this. He’s clearly someone I wouldn’t want to get in a fight with. That element of physical strength and outward confidence is needed for his role in Shame, but it’s also a role that requires an actor who is fully capable of seeming absolutely weak and vulnerable at certain moments and Fassbender is completely unafraid to show this side of himself as well.
- Michael Shannon- Take Shelter: Michael Shannon is an actor who sort of specializes in playing crazy people, and within his oeuvre of crazy this is probably the Mona Lisa. Part of the reason for this is that we’re never really sure that Shannon’s character is crazy; in fact he seems perfectly rational for almost the entirety of the film and never becomes “mentally ill.” He’s more like an everyman who is put through a crazy situation.