The best actor field is usually packed but this year it was actually quite weak. In fact my list of nominees is 80% different from the Academy’s and yet I still kind of feel like both lists are just as lacking. Still, there is some great work to honor here even if none of it really feels over the top great so I don’t want to take anything away from the nominees.
- Tom Courtenay- 45 Years: Charlotte Rampling has been getting a lot of acclaim for her work in 45 Years, and rightfully so, but her co-star does just as much work in the movie and seems to be getting noticeably less attention for it. Courtenay is a bit older than Rampling and his character is a bit more… prone to senior moments… but he isn’t senile and Courtenay finds a very good balance in which his character seems a bit out of it but not too much.
- Chen Daoming- Coming Home: Chen Daoming is not an actor who has been widely acknowledged in the west and I’m not exactly sure how famous he is in China. The last time we saw him in a Zhang Yimou film he was playing the fairly villainous emperor in Hero but here he plays a much different character, a very warm and loving husband and father who was separated from his family by the cultural revolution.
- Leonardo Di Caprio- The Revenant: Leonardo Di Caprio is one of the few true megastars left and it’s probably notable that he hasn’t been in a box office failure since J. Edgar, an accomplishment made more impressive by the fact that he did it while avoiding reducing himself to playing superheroes and the like… sort of, his character here is actually pretty close to being a superhero himself (call him: “Survivalman”) but the source of his power doesn’t come from being bitten by a radioactive bear (well, not a radioactive one) but from rage and angst that Di Caprio conveys quite well.
- Géza Röhrig- Son of Saul: Acting isn’t necessarily front and center in Son of Saul but the visceral journey it takes you on wouldn’t be as effective if you weren’t able to empathize with the plight of its central character. Röhrig actually isn’t really a professional actor, he’s something of a reniciance man who plays music, writes poetry, and works as a Kindergarden teacher in New York, but you wouldn’t know it from watching his performance here which really conveys the borderline madness that the character has come to because of his circumstances.
- Michael Caine- Youth: I like it when Michael Caine shows up in Christopher Nolan movies in fifteen minute intervals as much as the next guy but I also feel like we’ve been missing out on what this legendary actor is capable of when he’s given a little more time to work with. His character here isn’t wildly removed from his usual range but he seems really game to finally be in a lead role and he really brings the dignified emotions in a handful of key scenes in order to teach the young actors out there what’s what.