It frequently seesaws as to whether the Best Actor or Best Actress field is the stronger in a given year, and this year Best Actress is definitely stronger. In fact, while my Best Actress lineup required painful cuts, I kind of had to struggle to fine five male lead performances that felt particularly strong and award-worthy this year. Still, there was definitely some competition at the top this year.
- Denzel Washington – Fences: The role of Troy Maxson was originated on Broadway by none other than James Earl Jones, but Denzel Washington created his own version of it for a recent revival and has now brought that performance to the screen with Fences. In his performance Washington emphasizes Maxson’s arrogance and swagger, you can really see the younger more roguish version of his character that’s hidden below the surface at times, but this just disarms you for when things start to “get real” later in the film.
- Ha Jung-woo – The Handmaiden: It kind of pained me to leave the two great lead performances from The Handmaiden by ladies out of the Best Actress race this year. The fact that the film’s male lead made it while they didn’t says more about the amount of competition in the Actress category and the lack of completion in the Actor category than it does about their relative talents. In the film Ha Jung-Woo plays a suave conman who needs to give an aristocratic front while being a common lowlife underneath.
- Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea: Casey Affleck has not always been a favorite actor of mine and I don’t know that he’s really the rangiest of actors. Like his brother Ben, he needs to be cast in just the right role in order to succeed (and that type of role is kind of the opposite of what his brother would excel at), but when he does find that perfect role as he did in Manchester by the Sea he can really do amazing work. In the film his work is subtle but goes to some really deep places and really conveys the character’s sorrow.
- Luis Gnecco – Neruda: Though Neruda is largely being advertised as a Gael García Bernal film, he does not play the title character (whether or not he plays the lead is… complicated). That distinction goes to Luis Gnecco, who plays Pablo Neruda during the height of prowess. Gnecco certainly seems to look like Neruda and he also manages to convey a sort of intellectual mischievousness that’s very fun to watch. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it certainly made me interested to learn.
- Ralph Ineson- The Witch: Ralph Ineson is probably best known for playing tiny parts in “Game of Thrones” and in the Harry Potter series, but in Robert Eggars film The Witch he is finally given the showcase role that he deserves. Playing a man riddled with religious conflict who begins the film arrogantly but proves to be much weaker than he wants to be, Ineson conveys his personal struggles well and his gravely voice gives the film an interesting aural flavor.