Below is my entry to LAMB’s Devours the Oscars column. Check out all of their Oscars 2017 posts here.
When the Oscar nominations were announced a few weeks ago, it seemed like Casey Affleck was a lock to win Best Actor for his searing work in Manchester by the Sea. But in a pleasant change of pace for the Oscars, most of the major awards are relatively open. The only real lock is Supporting Actress (Viola Davis, get it), with the other big categories are stuck in two, or even three, way races. Here I’ll take a look at Best Actor – what I think of each performance, and their chances at winning – before concluding with a few snubbed performances I would’ve love to have been nominated.
Affleck has dominated nearly every discernible Best Actor prize this awards season, right up until the Screen Actors Guild awards, when Denzel Washington pulled a bit of an upset. Why the change?
As is often the case when a famous person is having a moment (see: Nate Parker, Bryan Singer, etc.), old rumors of bad behavior are brought up, which can hinder a person’s chance for success. For Affleck specifically, two co-workers sued him in 2010 for sexual harassment. Both matters were privately settled out of court, leaving the public to wonder and scrutinize. I hadn’t heard of these lawsuits until mid-2016, when the press started having a field day with them. Affleck has stayed quiet on the matter, but perhaps the lawsuits will hurt his Oscar chances. Or, will the predominately old, white, male Oscar voting crowd pay the lawsuits any mind? As of this writing, something tells me Affleck will still win. For what it’s worth, he’d get my vote. His performance in Manchester by the Sea destroyed me and has yet to leave my mind. It’s the kind of grim, unconventional work the Academy doesn’t award enough, so for those reasons, I’d love to see Affleck win it.
I like to think Garfield’s nomination for Hacksaw Ridge is the Academy’s mea culpa for snubbing him for The Social Network in 2010. But really, Garfield is simply riding the Hacksaw Ridge train here. The (old, white, male) Oscar voters really enjoyed the film, but it’s unlikely to win anything. I liked Garfield’s work fine (though he was much better in Silence), but his spot could’ve been occupied by a more deserving performance.
Every year I hold out for a Brody. In 2002, Best Actor was a dead heat between two seasoned vets. Jack Nicholson was going to be the first performer to win three Best Actor Oscars (here for About Schmidt), or Daniel Day-Lewis was going to win his second Best Actor Oscar (for Gangs of New York). Rather infamously, Nicholson and Day-Lewis split the vote, which resulted in Adrien Brody’s surprise (but so well deserved) win for The Pianist. If Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington split the votes this year, then Ryan Gosling could take it. He also has the full weight of the La La Land train behind him. Not likely, but it could happen.
On Oscar night, Viggo Mortensen should put his feet up and sneak sips of red wine between telling inside jokes with all the adorable kids from Captain Fantastic. When a film only has one nomination (and that nom is in an acting category), it’s very unlikely for the performer to win. Plus, Captain Fantastic is too small a film for the majority of Oscar voters to notice. I’m thrilled Mortensen was nominated, but the nomination is his award.
Don’t get me wrong, if Washington wins Best Actor, it isn’t because of settled lawsuits or #OscarSoWhite backlash. It is because Washington gives one of the best performances of his career in Fences. The man is on fire in the film. Ruthless, vile, argumentative fire. It helps that his co-star, Viola Davis, is a lock to win, and that Washington directed the movie himself. Again, right now, I call the race a near even split between Affleck and Washington, with Affleck just edging out a win.