Not as much of a mixed bag as the Best Actress category, but a couple of these are head and shoulders above the rest.
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
I can’t emphasize enough how much I love Bryan Cranston. He is an unmitigated brilliant actor. I can also not emphasize enough how much I disagree with this nomination. It’s a goofy performance. I suppose it’s meant to be? Maybe? I really don’t know. Was Dalton Trumbo a big ol’ picnic ham? I didn’t know him. I can’t say. But I do wonder if the direction of Jay Roach was too much of an influence. Roach is best known for directing the Austin Powers trilogy and both Meet the Parents/Fockers movies. In the former Mike Myers’ hammy performance is fun and campy. The latter is so insanely stupid it makes me want to throw a cinder block through the screen. Trumbo is somewhere in between. I couldn’t tell you how many times I rolled my eyes during Trumbo. All I can figure is the glory of Breaking Bad was still hanging all over Cranston when the Academy cast their ballots.
Matt Damon, The Martian
While this was a little bit of a surprise (guys like Hanks, Keaton and Caine seemed more likely), Damon earned this one. Besides doing the heavy lifting throughout the entire film, he does most of his scenes solo. There’s no other actor to respond too. It’s all him. It doesn’t have the gravitas the Academy usually likes to reward and he isn’t going home with the Oscar, but he deserves the recognition.
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
It’s hard to think this isn’t Leo’s year. This isn’t by any means the best performance of his career. If he finally wins on Sunday night it won’t be because he reached a level of acting he hasn’t in the past. In fact, he was better in The Wolf of Wall Street, Blood Diamond and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? But this year his competition isn’t as fierce. Some have complained that he didn’t have much dialogue so he didn’t do much acting. That’s just ignorant. Acting isn’t just about delivering lines. The performance encompasses much more than that. DiCaprio gives an astounding physical performance and while he doesn’t say much in the movie he said a hell of a lot more than Jean Dujardin did in The Artist when he won for Best Actor in 2011.
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Michael Fassbender is definitely Leo’s stiffest competition this year. In contrast to DiCaprio’s taciturn role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is a fire hose of verbiage. Screenwriter Sorkin is known for his dialogue heavy scripts (see: The West Wing, The Social Network), Steve Jobs takes the cake and Fassbender delivers flawlessly. And it isn’t just memorizing an encyclopedia’s worth of dialogue (after all, acting isn’t just about delivering lines) it’s the depth of character he conveys in doing so. It would be easy for the slick script to take center stage but Fassbender expresses the humanity, or sometimes lack thereof, of the Apple co-founder. Fassbender gave a riveting performance earning his second nomination in the last three years.
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Redmayne is a fine, talented actor but the reigning champ won’t repeat. While I was hoping sentimentality might push Michael Keaton to an Oscar win last year for Birdman, Redmayne deserved to win. I’m not sure if the Academy is still riding high on the wave of his performance in The Theory of Everything, but he’s only “good” in The Danish Girl. I never believed him as “Lili.” He was about as convincing as a woman as Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent. It didn’t help the film was dripping with clichés and lazy story devices. Good performance. Nothing remarkable.
PREDICTION: This is pretty much a done deal. It’s DiCaprio’s year.
Check out my other predictions here.