It is easy to criticize the Academy for its choices.  Like any organization, they are going to make unpopular decisions.  And as with any vote, the most deserving person or film isn’t guaranteed victory in the least.  But part of the genesis of this project is the idea that it isn’t fair to ridicule a winner without seeing all of the other nominees.  So, we watched all the nominees.  Quixotic?  Maybe.  Fun?  Almost always.  Here’s what we thought of the Best Actor category:


Now this is a lineup. Three top-notch, brilliant performances and two other very good ones. By Academy standards this slate is a home run and it’s probably the best set of nominees in any category this year. It’s also very impressive to see so many really great, memorable performances in one year and easily my favorite three of 2008 are recognized here.

I think all the easy barbs to fling at Brad Pitt are misdirected. Yes, he doesn’t appear in person until 50+ minutes into Benjamin Button. Yes, much of what we see of him is actually special effects. Yes, he’s a little emotionally distant. But even if that wasn’t him being filmed as Benjamin crouches under the kitchen table with young Daisy that’s still his voice acting and his facial expressions, albeit heavily altered by computers. I think tone issues can be traced back to other problems in the film rather than Pitt, who does a very good job carrying the sprawling narrative. Frank Langella is also quite impressive. I’m too young to be well acquainted with Richard Nixon’s mannerisms but Langella is terrific just as a movie character (and, yes, it seems his Nixon impression is very good). It’s a role that could very easily be overplayed and I think he reins it in in the right places while maintaining some fun dramatic flourishes.

Now on to the superstars. It’s so very hard to choose between the three. I’m leaning one way now but I’d be very pleased for any of them to win. The nomination I’m the single most happy about is Richard Jenkins’s since he was on the bubble for an awesome performance. Jenkins carries The Visitor, so much so that it noticeably lags when he’s off screen. It’s one of those quiet performances I like a lot where a lot is expressed with little emotion. His early moroseness feels complete and his slow emergence occurs naturally. This is just one of those roles that unfolds perfectly.

Even though I’m going in a different direction with this post, I admit to sort of wanting Mickey Rourke to win. I love The Wrestler and wish it was getting more recognition. Plus it really is a great personal story for Rourke that would be great to see through to completion. I like when an actor freely admits that the Oscar means a lot to him and he’d have a great acceptance speech. And, oh yeah, he did a terrific job acting as well. He drew me into the movie completely and really made me care about his character without glossing over his flaws. Dude also actually purposefully cut himself for real in a wrestling scene and that’s bad ass.

Sean Penn turns Milk into a great film. It has a lot going for it anyway, but with such a commanding central performance it soars. Penn is completely buried into Harvey Milk. It’s not just the distinctive voice but the way he carries himself and the incredible humanity he gives to the character. He imparts so much passion but isn’t afraid to show Milk being a little bit of a jerk at times. Whenever I see Penn as himself it shocks me that it’s the same person. A performance for the ages. Even if Rourke does win and everyone’s happy, I think Penn’s work will be remembered fondly for a long, long time.

Snubs: It’s hard to call anyone missing a “snub” (and I think I’ve been using the term fast and loose in these posts anyway). It’s really a great lineup. In my perfect world I would have Brendan Gleeson in there for his great work in In Bruges. I would have also at least put Robert Downey Jr in the awards sphere for Iron Man even if maybe not in the top five.


Will Win: Sean Penn

    I am going to come right out and say it:  I am not a Sean Penn fan.  I’ll admit I haven’t seen a ton of his movies, but what I have seen him in hasn’t impressed me much.  I am not sure what all the hype is about.  That being said, he did a great job in Milk.  If/when he ends up winning, he’ll have deserved it.  Unfortunately, this will only serve to justify to other people his (over-rated) status.

I Want to Win: Mickey Rourke

    Contrary to my feelings against Mr. Penn are my thoughts on Mr. Rourke.  I am actually a big fan.  The depth and emotion (many times tightly controlled) Rourke portrayed as Randy “The Ram” in The Wrestler prove that whatever you may think of him, Mickey Rourke has the potential for greatness.  I would really like to see him win this award.  He was the front-runner for a long time, but I think pre-voting antics may regulate him to a second place finish – which is a shame.

Dark Horse: Frank Langella

    Frank Langella put on a terrific performance as the former president Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon.  While I enjoyed the film, it is one of the two weakest Best Picture nominees.  There has been a lot of buzz recently about Langella’s chances of winning the award, but I can’t help but feel that this is somewhat of a pipe dream – especially considering Penn and Rourke’s previous dominance in the other award ceremonies.

Random Notes:

    Anyone who reads our blog (all 2 of you) knows my affinity for In Bruges.  I would have loved to see Colin Farrell nominated, but I realize why he wasn’t.  I also would have liked to see Clint Eastwood nominated here.  He doesn’t deserve the win, but the fact that he carried Gran Torino to over $100 million, deserves some credit (and when I say “carried” I mean carried).  I really like Richard Jenkins, but I don’t think he belongs here this year.


A fine cast of characters, three of whom (Richard Jenkins, Frank Langella, and Mickey Rourke) are receiving their first nomination, Brad Pittt receiving his second, and Sean Penn had four prior nominations, winning once.  Also, a possibly interesting factoid is the each of the four acting categories in the Academy Awards held for movies released in 1995 featured a nominee from this year’s Actress (Streep and Winslet) and Actor (Penn and Pitt).  They all lost.  I’m pretty pleased with the nominees, my only quibble being Clint Eastwood’s exclusion.

My thoughts about Richard Jenkins are mirror those I had about Melissa Leo. I love the thought, just don’t agree with the execution, as The Visitor just didn’t do that much for me, and I didn’t think Jenkins had too great a role.  Maybe I’m just sad the film didn’t live up to The Station Agent.  After Jenkins, there’s a gap, then Pitt and Langella.  I’m a big Brad Pitt fan and I thought he was pretty solid.  He (and the makeup) did much to hide the fact that Ben Button wasn’t as interesting a character as he should have been.  Frank Langella was pretty great, and whatever success Frost/Nixon achieved was probably a direct result of the actor.  But he faced some stiff competition this year, and he needed to be on-screen a little bit more to take them down.

Most prognosticators have Penn and Rourke in a too close to call horse race, and I think that’s right.  I didn’t much care for Milk, but Penn shone so brightly it is hard to pass him over.  It is hard to imagine anyone being more a piece of meat than Rourke was in The Wrestler.  I’m going to take the coward’s way out and root for them to split the award.  I’ve vacillated so many times on who I want to win, even while writing this piece, that it doesn’t make sense to me to pick one for the sake of picking one.  Plus, they were both so good, it seems silly to suggest one was that much better than the other.


It’s coming down to Penn v. Rourke, and I loved both of them. But whether Rourke was actually “acting” or just being himself is immaterial, he should win the award, though I dont think he will.