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I am not a member of the Academy. I am instead but a lowly professional economist. Which means not only do studios not send me dozens of screeners but every time I go to the movies I’m always wondering if it’s worth my money.

But today I am pretending I’m a member of the acting branch and casting my ballot for Best Actor.

Acting nominations are made by ranking up to five actors in each category. If the ballot’s number one choice does not have the support needed to receive a nomination, the ballot is counted instead as a vote for the #2 choice, and so on. There is no guidance as to how to separate between Lead and Supporting categories; that determination is left up to individual voters.

1. Matt Damon, The Informant!

Damon puts on the pounds and a mustache for this film, but it’s his complex performance and not the gut that make it so memorable. His squirrelly character is outrageous but not flashy and even though he’s exasperating we’re always able to empathize.

2. Peter Sarsgaard, An Education

I’m not sure whether this is really Lead or Supporting. If I had a ballot I’d put him in both categories just to make sure. He must walk a thin line as a character that’s both charming enough to win over a teenage girl – and the audience, to some extent – but also creepy enough to be trying to win over a teenage girl. At least Damon got a little recognition and a Golden Globe nod; the utter lack of respect this awards season for Sarsgaard is confounding.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

This film is essentially two hours of the world shitting on the main character so the man portraying him better be someone the audience wants to watch. The role calls for Stuhlbarg’s exasperation to forever increase while never overcoming his nebbishness and I think Stuhlbarg does a great job of keeping us all frustrated but empathetic.

4. George Clooney, Up in the Air

I’m always impressed by Clooney’s quiet performances. He’s one of those uber-famous, attractive Hollywood types that it’s easy to forget is damn good at what the does. He’s interesting in zany roles like in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Men Who Stare at Goats, but there’s so much talent in his subtle acting that requires a role like this one or in Michael Clayton to really display.

5. Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man

Not a conventional choice,but the man needs some recognition for his wonderfully awkward performance. I don’t think it’s easy to pull of bumbling faux machismo. Most comedies in this vein feel a little rough around the edges in the performances, like the punchlines don’t come across quite polished enough. No offense to the Jonah Hills of the world, but Rudd has the comedic chops and smooth delivery that are often lacking even in the comedies I love. Rudd was so great in this and Role Models and I hope he gets more and more leading roles.

Next on my list were Sam Rockwell for Moon and Michael Sheen for The Damned United.

After John’s reveal of his love for An Education, I figured I’d get the discussion going on one of the apparently few films this year where there’s at least some disagreement in our little group.  To first set the record straight, I didn’t hate the movie.  The cast, for starters, is pretty great.  Has a Bond girl, so that’s good.  Dominic Cooper lets me break out the Starter for Ten tag.  Olivia Williams lets me note that this season of Dollhouse has been really really strong.  But perhaps more to the point, Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard are both simply fantastic in their roles.  And Carey Mulligan, well, I defy anyone to not fall madly in love with her.

My problem with the film is that I don’t understand why it was a story that needed to be told.  The story is relatively simple without any particularly meaningful ending.  The dialogue, while crisp, isn’t memorable.  I’m not suggesting the movie shouldn’t have been made, rather that it didn’t leave me with any lasting impression.

Down the road, if I remember anything from An Education, it will be the cast.  I might recall not disliking the film, I suppose.  But I’m already left with a sort of vague indifference; I liked the movie because I like watching movies.  The script didn’t actively put me off the film, but it didn’t draw me in, either.  (But it is OK, Nick Hornby.  We are still tight.)

June 2020