A lot of people turn off award shows after they give out the awards to the actors and actresses. I guess you can’t blame them, after all it’s the actors who are front and center in a given film, and no matter how hard you try to convince them that the writers and directors have more influence it’s hard for them to look past what they see with their own eyes. It’s been a really strong year for this category and I had to leave off a lot of strong performers like Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jack Black, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Liam Neeson. Also, I didn’t get a chance to see The Sessions, so I can’t weigh in on John Hawkes’ acclaimed performance in that film.
- Denzel Washington – Flight: In Hollywood there are character actors and then there are movie stars. Awards usually tend toward character actors (and often rightly), but there is a certain artistry to putting together a great movie star performance and that’s exactly what Denzel Washington does in Flight. This is the kind of role that a character actor couldn’t have played, no one would have ever believed that someone like Paul Giamatti could behave the way this character does and get away with it for as long as he did, that’s something that takes intense charm and likability of the kind few other stars possess.
- Denis Lavant – Holy Motors: Denis Lavant’s work in Holy Motors is something to behold in part because it represents a style of acting that is rarely seen in this day and age. He doesn’t portray a “character” per se (well, technically he does, but that’s not important), instead he transitions through a series of makeups throughout the film and transitions into a variety of personas. The entire focus is on the actors physicality and mannerisms, not unlike what one would have expected to see from the silent masters like Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton.
- Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis has only been in five films since the turn of the century for the simple reason that he never fucks around. If he’s in a movie you can count on him giving a once in a lifetime transformative role that seems far removed from the mild-mannered Brit you see being interviewed every once in a while on talk shows. It was no surprise to anyone that he did exactly that in Lincoln, where a variety of bold choices were made in the creation of what may be the definitive take on the great emancipator.
- Joaquin Phoenix – The Master: We knew from his work on Walk the Line that Joaquin Phoenix was capable of some very strong work, but I’m not sure anyone was quite ready to believe that he was capable of anything quite as amazing as what we see in The Master. Phoenix has a certain old-school Rock Hudson look to him that I’d never quite recognized in him and he brings it to the fore-front for this post-war epic and beyond that he’s created a wild and unpredictable character which has you locked on the screen all throughout the film.
- Bradley Cooper – The Silver Linings Playbook: Before I saw The Silver Linings Playbook I really hated this guy. Like, really fucking hated him. He has a real douchebag aura to him in the Hangover movies and that also extends to the other crappy movies he’s in like Limitless. And yet, as he did with Mark Whalberg before him, David O. Russell seems to have seen something in the guy which I couldn’t and got a really fun performance from him upon which much of the film’s success rests. That shit’s amazing.