Our build up to the Oscars on Sunday continues today with a look at Best Actor. Our choices of who we think should win have some nice diversity in this installment.

The nominees:

  • Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
  • George Clooney in Up in the Air
  • Colin Firth in A Single Man
  • Morgan Freeman in Invictus
  • Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Jared kicks us off:

    The talent in this group is undeniable.  Four of them have put up such consistently amazing performances, playing a variety of roles demanding depth and range, it is almost scary.  And that’s no disrespect to Renner, who, this year at least, can hang with any one of them.

    If George Clooney were the type of guy to hold a grudge, he’d probably be egging Mira Nair’s house about now.  Because, as the story goes, after Nair’s Amelia tanked (honest-to-goodness, I typed “crashed and burned” before realizing how awful that would be to say), Fox Searchlight bumped up Crazy Heart‘s release date to get a horse in the Oscar race.  And that’s how Clooney went from a front-runner to an also-ran.  And one of the reasons I enjoy Oscar season.  Oh, to get back to the point, this is just George Clooney doing the same thing he’s done in just about every movie over the past decade, right? He’s quite good at it, of course.  But it is starting to feel a bit stale.

    I tend to conflate actor with character.  I think everyone does, to be honest.  Except I thought Jeff Bridges’ character in Crazy Heart was about as broadly-drawn as they come.  An alcoholic, down-on-his luck country singer who sleeps with any woman in sight?  No way!  He does as good a job with it as anyone could, but the buzz to me rings more of the Academy deciding it is time someone has paid enough dues to get a win (this is Bridges fifth nomination, and he hasn’t won in the past).  The film is about as “good” as Crazy Heart, but Jeff Bridges in The Open Road is what everyone thinks he is in Crazy Heart.

    Jeremy Renner was very very good in The Hurt Locker.  Not really sure that’s up for debate.  I think with an Oscar Scene (TM) or two, he would have had a great shot at taking this thing down.

    I’m not sure I would have put Morgan Freeman this high at first thought, and I wrestled with how he compared to Renner. Ultimately, though, it is Morgan Freeman.  I do believe I’d say I liked him more than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child.  Sue me.  Sure, it was partially an impersonation.  But Freeman humanized Nelson friggin’ Mandela.  That’s a job well done.

    It is entirely conceivable that I have a man crush on Colin Firth, if the concept made any sense.  I’ve watched four movies starring Colin Firth with 2009 U.S. release dates, and I’ll be darned if he doesn’t play entirely different characters in each one.  Here, Firth is working from a mediocre script, yet somehow manages to breathe life into his character.  Never flashy to begin with, Firth packs a ton of emotion into every movement of his character’s battle to let his reserve prevent emotion from coming through.  It isn’t my favorite performance of 2009, nor is it my favorite Colin Firth role.  But as always, he manages to be quietly fantastic.

Adam pulls for a guy who wasn’t nominated:

    Will Win: Jeff Bridges

    Actually, I agree with Jared’s assessment of Bridges role and nomination. Go read his piece if you want more…

    I Want to Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

    Yes, I realize he’s not nominated, and the movie he was in pretty much flopped, but DAMN can this guy act. Jared talked about Day-Lewis earlier a couple months ago, and I agree with his assessment. The guy is a chameleon and the intensity and range he can bring to a role is staggering. However, since he can’t win, I’m rooting for Jeremy Renner. He did a decent job and I’d like to see a non-Hollywood-heavyweight win.

    Dark Horse: Morgan Freeman (once again, not being racist)

    I love me some Morgan Freeman, but the nomination is for Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman…not for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela (that, and they are petrified of Clint Eastwood – as everyone should be – and need to make up for no Directing nomination). I personally thought he put on a pretty great performance, but not necessarily Oscar worthy.

    Ranking:

    1. Jeremy Renner
    2. Colin Firth
    3. George Clooney
    4. Morgan Freeman
    5. Jeff Bridges

    Grouches Critiques:

    Unfortunately for the -3 people reading this, I have no comments for this section. At the time I am writing this, only Jared has written his post and, unfortunately, I completely agree with his assessment (as stated above).

    Random Notes:

    Strong talent, mediocre performances for most.

Brian has a similar take:

    I too am rather impressed with this group — there’s not one nominee that causes me to scratch my head or ponder what the Academy was thinking or want to stab myself in the eye. This is an improvement. Even Morgan Freeman, who was quite good even while the script called for him to do his best impersonation of Yoda, is a reasonable nomination. A) He’s Morgan Freeman and B) He’s playing Nelson Mandela and C) He’s actually good at both those things.

    Speaking of actors being very good at being themselves, George Clooney. He’s really good at doing the roles he does, and he seems to just be an awesome person in general. I liked Up in the Air, as did all the Grouches I think — and Ryan Bingham was a fantastic character that was tailormade for Clooney. I liked Jared’s gamesmanship analysis — but see, thats not how Clooney rolls. How awesome would it be if he played a vicious villain in a future role? Like what if he did Christoph Waltz’s character in Basterds — that would be fantastic. I too have gotten off point — Clooney is great, but just not enough for my nod.

    Jared has a major man crush on Colin Firth. A Single Man is one of those instances when I have hard time separating his strong performance from a mediocre, dare I say subpar film. I have vague remembrances of his portrayal of a closeted gay man still mourning the tragic death of his lover — but the scenes that stick out in my mind are Julianne Moore’s failed Oscar-bait overacting, Nicholas Hoult’s monotonous cherubicity (yes, I made up that word) all blanketed by Tom Ford’s obnoxious direction. That was part of the point, too, I’d guess in having Firth as the stoic character (the “strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano would say.) But in a year with other, more enrapturing performances like Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man and, of course, Matt Damon in The Informant, it doesn’t make the cut.

    As for Bridges, Jared’s analysis is truly spot-on. I’m going to take the same cop out as Adam and tell you all to read that. If you read Mark Harris’ New York story on this year’s Oscar campaign, then you’ll get the fuller story on how this definitely is the Career Achievement award for Bridges. Which is too bad, as I’ve loved him in other things (The Contender, Big Lebowski)

    If you’ve read this far, you’ll see that I’ll be pulling for Jeremy Renner. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role — he has the charisma and the badassery to pull off playing SGT William James. Considering he’s relatively unknown, I’m sure that other actors could have been considered — but no one, not even the modern everyday infantryman Matt Damon, would have brought the calm and coolness of Clooney with the internal pain/crazy that you’d see from a younger Daniel Day-Lewis. Really just a bravura performance that carried the whole film on its shoulders.

And John goes in an entirely different direction:

    Let me first cast judgment on this category. 2009 was a strong year for actors. I highlighted some great ones here. It’s not uncommon for one’s favorite candidates to not get nominated, but it is a little interesting that so many of mine seem like they should have been in the conversation but weren’t. So this is a fine slate but it kind of leaves me thinking of what might have been.

    Freeman is commanding in Invictus but I feel like he’s hampered by the material. He does a fine Mandela but he doesn’t get to do much but give cliched motivational speeches so he doesn’t get to exhibit much range. Speaking of hampered by material, I think the same can be said for Firth. At least we know he’s very good at long, boring conversations that try your patience. But I think it’s a performance that’s hard to buy into if you don’t buy into the film.

    Renner is terrific in The Hurt Locker. I love his intensity, sometimes verging on insanity, contrasted with his level-headed leadership when dealing with an over-his-head subordinate. The film takes some weird plot directions that left me a little unsettled, but Renner sells them to the extent that they didn’t really bother me until the film was over.

    Bridges is the best part of Crazy Heart. Is that saying a lot? Probably not much. But I think the picture is absolutely nothing outside of a good song without him. He gives a broadly-drawn character depth and empathy.

    But there’s one very clear winner here, and that’s George Clooney. Yes, the suave, self-assured character he plays at the beginning of the Up in the Air is standard for him, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. It’s in his subtlety where he really shines; compare this performance to the over-the-top smooth characterhe played in the Oceans movies. Here there’s a perceptible softening as the film goes on and a shift in the character that very easily could have been overplayed but was not. He also has the magnetism to really lead a film.

    Jared says this is a character he plays all the time, but check out what he’s done in the last decade. Most of his roles are significantly more zany or animated. What this is like is his role in Michael Clayton. Which, by the way, was terrific and Oscar-nominated.

    Snubs: Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man at least got some traction. But Peter Sarsgaard in An Education somehow did not. And I’ll say it til the world goes deaf: Matt Damon gave the best performance of the year in The Informant!

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