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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actor, 2009-2010)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2009

Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

George Clooney, Up in the Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man

Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Analysis:

SAG matched 5/5.

BAFTA matched 4/5. No Freeman.

BFCA matched 5/5 out of six nominees.

The Globes matched 4/5. No Renner.

This was one of the easiest categories to pick. Pretty locked all the way through.

Bridges won everything but BAFTA, which went to Colin Firth.

Everyone knew where this was headed.

Crazy Heart is a movie that was such a runaway winner here, it took me a few years to really understand it. I’ve always really liked the film, but I never quite ‘got’ the performance when it happened.

Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed up country singer and alcoholic, who has resorted to playing bowling alleys. One day he meets a single mother and she becomes a sort of redemptive figure for him, causing him to both reevaluate his life an also have some sort of a resurgence, creatively, as he gets to know her and her son, and also gets some help from a former protege of his who is now a watered down mainstream country star.

Bridges is really fucking good here, and I guess it took my own maturation to truly see what was so great about this performance. Time is the great equalizer, and now that the better part of a decade has passed, I completely get it. There’s a worn-in feeling here, and there’s something about age and experience that you just can’t fake. And everything about this performance feels authentic, even though you can’t see the wheels spinning the way you can with other actors. He’s really wonderful in this movie.

Up in the Air is what appears to be the apex of Jason Reitman’s career. He had a great introduction in Thank You for Smoking, a fantastic sophomore effort in Juno, for which he got little of the credit, and then it culminated in this, which I think is his best film. And then it’s been downhill to the point of obscurity from there. Which is one of those weird things.

George Clooney plays a man whose job is to fire people. He travels around the country, shows up at workplaces, and tells people they’ve been fired. He’s a man who can do this without any emotional attachment. Because he has no emotional attachment in his life. And we watch as he’s tasked with training a new employee, Anna Kendrick, who has developed a software through which people can be fired remotely, saving the company expenses on travel. He also has an ongoing affair with Vera Farmiga, who also travels a lot and coordinates her schedule to match his. All of this causes him to start questioning his existence and wondering if his loner-ness is something that he actually wants.

Clooney is really great here, and at the time, he was my vote in the category. I bet if I went back, I might still like him enough to take him over Bridges, but honestly, I think he ends up a solid second choice more than anything. I think this is the lesser of his three, odd-numbered year nominations, after Michael Clayton in ’07 and The Descendants in ’11. He’s terrific here, but I think he ultimately winds up as a second choice, and probably even less on pure performance. We’ll see though. This whole category is (insert title here).

(By the way, I’m fucking hilarious.)

A Single Man is Tom Ford’s directorial debut. Which is odd to say.

Colin Firth plays a gay professor whose longtime partner died in a car crash some months prior. And the film takes place over the course of a single day as he plans to commit suicide, being unable to cope with the loneliness of being alone. And we watch him make contact with the people in his life as he plans to end it all at the end of the day. It’s a real fucker of a movie. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

Colin Firth is really fucking good here, and a lot of people would vote for him. And I understand that. I don’t love the performance enough to take him, but he does do a really solid job here. He might be third, even second on performance for me. He’s really fucking good. I need to go back and rewatch this. And maybe when I do, I’ll like him enough to throw him up there in contention. But this isn’t something for me at this moment in time.

Invictus is Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela. An event people had called for since about 1995. So there was no way this was not gonna be nominated.

The film is about Mandela fighting to get the Rugby World Cup to be played in South Africa, and then his team’s improbable run to victory in that very event.

The film is pretty good. Mostly it’s a sports film, where Morgan Freeman gets to show up as Mandela and give a rousing performance. Mostly he skates by on his uncanny resemblance and superior acting skills. I can’t say there’s a whole lot here for me to love. I think the material lets him down. But oh well. It’s such an obvious nomination that I don’t feel any real passion toward it. He ends up fifth for me in the category, even though I might take him fourth for a vote. But even that’s questionable. Either way, at least three people would get voted for over him, and I think the fact that it’s Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela obscures the fact that this is just a decent performance in a decent movie and nothing more.

The Hurt Locker. Oh yeah. I completely forgot about this nomination. Jeremy Renner, man. Remember when he did some daring work and wasn’t just the for-hire generic action guy when your big star doesn’t want to be in the movies anymore/they want to phase them out?

The movie is about bomb diffusing experts in Iraq. Renner plays a man who is so cavalier at his job that you assume he has a death wish. Turns out, he’s just really fucking good and unorthodox.

I’ve yo-yoed on this performance for five years now. Five years ago, I thought he was okay but came along with his film. Two years ago, he was my #1 and the vote. Last year, he was a second choice and I wasn’t sure. Now — I have no fucking clue. I think… I think his charm and ability to find quiet moments for the character help him, but I also think the film doesn’t give him anywhere near the room to delve into his character’s psyche at all until the final moments of the film. And I think that really hurts him. I think right now he ends up middle of the pack for me, with me needing to go back and look at this one again next time I do this. We’ll see, though. I haven’t quite made up my mind yet on this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I don’t think this is a particularly strong category, but I do think there are good performances in it, if that makes sense.

Freeman, I think, is bogged down by a not so great film and is hurt by Eastwood’s refusal to do more than three takes for a given scene, which just makes the whole performance feel uneven. Plus he’s not really the lead of his own movie, which also hurts. It’s not for me. He’s off first.

I think… this is interesting, bceause my rankings and how I’d vote are two different things. I’d take George Clooney over Colin Firth, but I think Firth gives the better performance. So I don’t know. I wouldn’t take Firth, so he comes off next. Clooney, I think, coasts a bit on his natural charm, which slightly undercuts his weightier moments later in the film, that do work. He’s hovering around a second/third choice at the moment, which means I wouldn’t take him this time.

The choice now, is between Jeff Bridges and Jeremy Renner. And since one of them gives me some pause, and I’m okay with the other one, my choice is gonna be Jeff Bridges. The character works for me totally throughout the film, whereas I think Renner doesn’t always completely work for me. So I’ll take Bridges and feel okay about it.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
  2. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  3. Colin Firth, A Single Man
  4. George Clooney, Up in the Air
  5. Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Rankings (films):

  1. Up in the Air
  2. The Hurt Locker
  3. Crazy Heart
  4. Invictus
  5. A Single Man

My Vote: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

Recommendations:

The Hurt Locker is an essential film. A Best Picture winner and generally regarded as one of the best movies of the past decade. No film buff should pass it up.

Up in the Air is a wonderful film. Not essential, but a very high recommend. I’m worried time will forget this one a bit, but for now, it’s a wonderful film that should be seen by all film buffs.

Crazy Heart is only essential for Oscar buffs, but also a high recommend as a film. Really entertaining. Great stuff out of Jeff Bridges, and a quietly good performance by Colin Farrell, who didn’t need to do this part but still was great. Really recommend this one.

A Single Man is a really great hidden gem. Solid to high recommend, very lovely work. Not for all, but quite a great film. Definitely worth checking out.

Invictus is okay. Eastwood, Freeman, Damon, Mandela. What more do you want? It’s okay, worth a watch, but nothing you need to rush out and see.

The Last Word: Bridges is a great choice. Clooney wouldn’t have held up for this, Renner wouldn’t have particularly held up. Freeman would have looked good on paper but been a weak choice on performance. And Firth would win the year after this for a more consensus role and a bigger (and better, to me) film. So I think they made a good choice with Bridges that holds up just fine. All time it’s about average, but it’s still a good choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2010

Javier Bardem, Biutiful

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

James Franco, 127 Hours

Analysis:

SAG matched 4/5. They had Robert Duvall for Get Low instead of Bardem.

BAFTA matched 5/5.

BFCA matched 4/5 out of six nominees. No Bardem. And they had Duvall. and Gosling for Blue Valentine. (How often is Ryan Gosling always the seventh man out for a nomination so many times?)

The Globes matched 3/5. No Bridges, no Bardem.

I remember this year. Duvall had the nominations, but Bardem was the smart choice, since you heard that people were campaigning hard for him. This would would have been a 4/5 at worst or a straight 5/5. I may have even guessed. I forget.

Firth swept everything here.

Biutiful is Alejandro Inarritu. Which I don’t think everyone knows. Wanna hear the mark of a great director? The man’s made six feature films. Four in English, two not. The two non-English language films, this and Amores Perros, were both nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Of the four English ones — two Best Director Oscars (The Revenant and Birdman), a Best Picture (Birdman), a Best Screenplay (Birdman), another Best Director and Picture nomination (Babel) and the other one was 21 Grams, which got a pair of acting nominations and was all over the awards circuit. Pretty goddamn impressive.

In this film, Javier Bardem plays a man who finds out he is dying. And when that happens, his life falls apart. Not that he had a whole lot before this. He runs a sweatshop, his estranged wife is bipolar, and his sons are a handful. And then when he finds out he’s dying, he tries — it’s kind of like Ikiru. He tries to actually do something good for a change. And each time he tries to do that, only bad things seem to happen.

Bardem is really good here, but I constantly find myself underwhelmed by foreign language performances at the Oscars. I don’t know. Some people I think want to think of them as better than they are because they’re not in English. I always felt I tend to automatically go the other way, though now I’m able to be much more objective about them. I haven’t seen this performance in a few years, but I remember it as being really solid, but definitely not something I take. He’s probably third on performance for me and fourth for a vote. Wouldn’t take him, and that’s all that matters.

True Grit is the Coen brothers’ remake of the 1969 version that won John Wayne his Oscar. And dare I say — it’s a much better film.

A girl’s father is murdered and she sets out to track down and murder his killer. She hires Rooster Cogburn, a drunken Texas Ranger, to help her find the man, Tom Chaney. They meet up with LaBoeuf, a US Marshal, who is also after Chaney, albeit alive. And the pair make their way across country, looking for this man. And it’s fucking wonderful.

Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, a one-eyed mean son-bitch drunk who is getting older and can’t do the things he used to be able to do. And it’s wonderful, especially in the final scene where he has to travel Maddie to safety. It’s such a poignant performance that works so, so well. He never could have won, for two reasons. They’ve never awarded the same character twice at the Oscars (not even Henry VIII or anything like that. Not in the same category, anyway. Though maybe not even ever), and he won the year before this. But, since my only purpose here is to discuss the best performance — he might be as high as third for me. Maybe fourth all things considered, but he feels like a solid third choice for me that I wouldn’t take but I sure as shit like a lot.

The Social Network is about the founding of Facebook.

Don’t pretend like you haven’t seen it already.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg. A role for which he is perfectly cast.

The star of the movie is Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, but shit, man, is Eisenberg great here. He’s so good I’d consider him a second choice, even though I’d never want to vote for him. He plays a brilliant, egotistical young man, and it works. It totally works. Completely deserved nomination, but I would not vote for him at all.

The King’s Speech is such a great film I feel like I have to apologize every time it comes up because despite knowing how good it is I forced myself to hate it during the entire Oscar season because I felt it unfairly won Best Picture.

Colin Firth plays King George VI, who had a horrible stutter. He tried every form of therapy to cure this, and now he’s forced into the position of actually having to rule the country, after his brother abdicates in order to marry an American divorcee. Now he has to rule, despite being unable to form a proper sentence most of the time. And he meets up with unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue, who manages to help him overcome his disability (and his fears).

Firth is really fucking good here. It’s not the best performance that ever won the Oscar, but it definitely works. I also don’t like anyone else to take over him, so he’s probably gonna be a bit of a compromise choice. Which works, since a lot of people felt he should have won the year before this, so it feels like an all around “okay.”

127 Hours is about a dude who goes extreme biking or whatever in the desert and gets himself caught up between a rock and a hardplace for (insert title here). And in order to not die, he has to cut his own arm off.

James Franco plays the dude who cuts his arm off. Spoiler. No, he’s not playing the boulder.

He is the only person on screen for the majority of the film, and I think he does a decent job with the role, but I don’t much care for the performance at all. It might have something to do with me not caring for him much as an actor, but that’s my own bias that I have to live with. For me, though, he’s fifth on performance because I just don’t think it amounts to a whole lot. The film doesn’t fully work for me either. It’s just pretty good, whereas I think in better hands (acting-wise), it could have been great.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: There’s not a whole lot going on here for me. Franco is a no go all around. Bardem I wouldn’t take even though he’s good. Bridges I love, and I love his film, but he’s no more than a third choice. Definitely wouldn’t take Eisenberg even though I love the performane and his film. Which leaves me with Colin Firth, who is really great in a film that’s really good. He’s the one I’d take and not feel bad about, so I’m cool with it. I think he does a really terrific job and I find a lot of nuance in the work each time I go back to it. So I’m happy being able to take him, even though you put this performance a year in either direction and I probably don’t take him.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  2. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  3. Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  4. Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  5. James Franco, 127 Hours

Rankings (films):

  1. True Grit
  2. The Social Network
  3. The King’s Speech
  4. 127 Hours
  5. Biutiful

My Vote: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Recommendations:

The King’s Speech and The Social Network are both essential. I’m mentioning them in the same sentence for a reason, and they both must be seen. They’re both great, they’re both — well, one is Fincher, and his movies are essential. And the other is a Best Picture winner. You need to see them, and you know you need to see them.

True Grit is a Coen brothers movie, and if you don’t consider all of those essential, then you’re doing movies wrong.

127 Hours is fine. I don’t love it, but it’s solid. Definitely recommend as an experience. But I don’t think it’s remotely essential or something I’d recommend very highly. It’s just good.

Biutiful is Alejandro Inarritu, and his feels are pretty essential. Sure, the non-English ones are less essential to more casual film buffs, but still, why would you skip this man’s movies?

The Last Word: Colin Firth was a great choice. About average historically, but very solid all around. Bridges had one and didn’t need another. Bardem wouldn’t have held up. Franco would have been an awful choice. And Eisenberg wouldn’t have held up. They made the best choice here.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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