Bait Taken — Golden Globe nominations

ger and peele
Thanks, Vanity Fair, for providing the ideal picture for today.

There are many building blocks of the internet, but the cornerstones are think pieces, offhand lists, and other hollow provocations meant to stir arguments and, therefore, briefly redirect web traffic. Engaging such material is utterly pointless. Then again, it’s not like I have anything better to do.

As preface, it’s important to note that the Golden Globes, for an awfully long time, have hovered somewhere between joke and embarrassment. I’m not even referring to their most egregious sins, such as the notorious bestowing of the Best New Star trophy to Pia Zadora in the early nineteen-eighties. It was just a few years ago that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association showered nominations upon dud The Tourist in a transparent effort to add the star power of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp to the red carpet. The same year, they found it in their hearts to also toss three nominations in the direction of instant camp disaster Burlesque. Hell, just last year, the Golden Globes were one of the few awards-giving bodies that felt Mahershala Ali was no better than a runner-up in the Best Supporting Actor category, instead lauding the hammy nonsense of Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals.

Despite my perpetually lowered expectations, today’s Golden Globe nominations contain a few omissions that strike me as especially grievous. indicative of a bias far more troubling than the organization’s usual propensity for questionable star worship. Further acknowledging that our culture’s extended #metoo moment can grease up the slope sufficiently to make instances of misogyny — and other bigotry — appear when there’s other shortsightedness at play, it’s difficult to see certain omissions on the nominee list as anything other than outdated power structure complacency. In particular, the fact that the quintet of nominated directors includes five males, ranging in age from 47 to 80, is perplexing given that 34-year-old woman is behind the best-reviewed film of the season.

The other notable absentee director is Jordan Peele, whose Get Out is arguably 2017’s signature film. While there was some controversy around the title that the filmmaker himself categorizes as a social thriller being submitted to the Golden Globes as a comedy, the simplest (and most dismaying) explanation is an aversion to the film’s challenging content around race. Similarly, the absence of The Big Sick from categories in which it should be a shoo-in (because why divide the film awards in to separate sets of comedy and drama categories if not to make room for something like the The Big Sick) seems fishy, most easily chalked up as a weird discomfort around cultural difference within U.S. cinema. I can certainly conjure up benign explanations for these various snubs, based on my overly-studied knowledge of the ebbs and flows of Oscar season, but I find those absolving theories less convincing than the possible influence of sickening prejudice. These are exactly the sort of buzzy films and creators the Golden Globes usually salivate over.

There’s enough diversity to be found elsewhere in the nominations to mount a counterargument to my consternation. That’s true. I acknowledge that. But I also stand by my simmering outrage and my mounting worry that we are about to see gifted filmmakers obscured from the this page in the cinematic history book because priority is given to familiar men, despite the little fact that women filmmakers are responsible for two of the most impactful movies of the year, despite the emergence of unique creators offering strikingly new perspectives.

Academy Awards, please do better.


La La Lapse: The Do-Over Oscars



Going into last night’s Academy Awards ceremony, I thought there was a good chance we’d all see something historic. But I surely never believed I would anything like that in my lifetime of devoted Oscar-watching.

By now, even those who went to bed early know about the unprecedented blunder that saw an incorrect winner announced for the night’s biggest prize. After pulling the card that was supposed to have the Best Picture winner printed on it, presenter Warren Beatty fumbled around in what initially seemed like schtick (Faye Dunaway, by his side, even playfully chastises him), double-checking the empty envelope and glancing off-stage for help that wasn’t forthcoming. He showed the card to Dunaway, as if in explanation, and she instead gamely tried to salvage the moment she was understandably misreading, shouting out the title she saw before her without noticing Emma Stone’s above it.

Though there are provisions in place for such an occasion, it took a remarkable amount of time before the mistake was corrected. Three separate acceptance speeches were delivered from the stage before La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz — the first to speak in the fleeting moment he and his colleagues all lived their imaginary happy ending — took charge from the stunned, tentative figures actually in charge of the awards show and made the startling announcement. “This is not a joke,” he insisted. “Moonlight has won Best Picture.”

If nothing else, at least the persistent, foolish urban legend about Marisa Tomei getting her Oscar in a onstage error that everyone kept quiet about should now be put to rest.

The tumult of the moment threatens to obscure just how momentous the win was. A decade after the Academy seemed to skittish to bestow Best Picture upon a love story between two cowboys, they lauded an uncommonly beautiful movie about the identity struggle of a young black man gradually coming to terms with his homosexuality. It’s a little painful that Barry Jenkins didn’t also claim Best Director — as opposed to Spotlight‘s Best Picture win without a corresponding directing prize last year, it cannot be argued that Moonlight wasn’t bolstered by distinctive, inventive direction  — but he has a screenwriting Oscar with his name etched into it. His filmmaking efforts were not ignored.

While this is roughly akin to speaking of what a resoundingly fine night out was provided by the Ford’s Theatre production of Our American Cousin until that unpleasantness in the balcony, I was generally impressed with the instincts brought to the Oscars by producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd. At least that’s true of the elements that were unique to the Academy Awards as opposed those that were dragged into the Dolby Theatre by host Jimmy Kimmel.

The ever-shifting backgrounds, the well-chosen (and, it seemed, slightly longer) clips to showcase the acting nominees, the video packages on favorite influences leading into onstage presenter pairings, and even the length, pacing, and deployment of the Best Original Song nominee production numbers all demonstrated sharp instincts. (All that noted, the ridiculous error of showing an image of a still-living producer to accompany the name of a deceased costume designer in the In Memoriam segment can be laid at the producers’ feet in a way the Best Picture mistake cannot.) Best of all, the clip packages preceding the four acting awards did what the Oscars have been all too loathe to do in recent years: celebrate their own sterling history and make the case for why these awards matter most. These thespians aren’t just getting trophies. They are joining a pantheon. As has been noted before, the way they will someday be described in the first line of their obituaries in set.

The caveat in my praise is simultaneously minor and mighty. Seemingly the first choice of no one but the network that both airs the Oscars telecast and offers him gainful employment, Kimmel was adequate at best. His main error was the insistence on using bits that work on his late night talk show, but don’t really have a place at the Academy Awards. Although the strained Oprah-Uma bit has become the accepted shorthand for the dire Oscars hosting gig of Kimmel’s idol, David Letterman, the main problem with that bygone production was Letterman’s belief that generously integrated his own greatest comedy hits was the correct approach. Instead, the Top Ten List and Stupid Pet Trick hurled spike strips under the tires of the Academy Awards. Kimmel duplicated that misjudgment, with Mean Tweets, one of his inane pranks, and the dreadful inside joke of his fictional feud with Matt Damon repeatedly springing forward with the aggravating regulatory of overly noisy cuckoo clock that runs too fast.

I’ll gladly add my name to any petition demanding the prohibition of late night talk shows from awards show duties. Since that’s not likely to occur, it would do these various Jimmys and Jameses well to remember that Johnny Carson never performed Carnac from the Oscar stage.

The show could be great. Instead, it’s too often strains to be more than good for longer than a segment or two at a time. Given that, I’m grateful that this year’s — no matter the reason — was damn well memorable.



From the Archive: My Ballot, 2006


The other day, I provide my list of the twenty performances from 2016 films that I would have submitted on an Oscar ballot had I been given the opportunity to do so. This is an exercise is wishcasting that I have been indulging in for an absurdly long time. In online platforms alone, it has been over ten years of offering my haughty views of which performers were most deserving of awards consideration in any given year. Since ten is a nice round number, I thought I’d drag out my anointed score of acting titans from the film year 2006, originally posted in my first online home, complete with the original commentary, without tempting finesses to make me look more prescient than I was. At least I managed to go four-for-four in predicting the actual winners.

1. Helen Mirren, The Queen
2. Ellen Page, Hard Candy
3. Luminita Gheorghiu, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
4. Kate Winslet, Little Children
5. Penelope Cruz, Volver

Despite my previous griping about the uniformity of the various critics’ awards this year, I have to wholeheartedly agree with the consensus pick. This is in part because the performance is that good, but also due to the field being that weak. Honestly, Ellen Page is the only other performance that I consider even close to Mirren’s work in The Queen and I’m pleased that she was one of the only people to wrest an award from the Dame’s hands this year (albeit from a critics’ organization pretty far down the food chain). Mirren will win tonight, and it will be the most deserving acting award of the night.

1. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
2. Clive Owen, Children of Men
3. Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brick
5. Kazunari Ninomiya, Letters from Iwo Jima

Hey look, me and the Oscars agree on Ryan Gosling and that’s it! Just wait until we get to Supporting Actress. I haven’t bothered with Blood Diamond, but that must be a helluva performance if it’s better than the tightrope anguish of Dicaprio’s work in The Departed. Among the many sadnesses of Children of Men neglectful treatment during the awards season is that Clive Owen’s masterfully reserved performance has gone under-appreciated. Having finally seen Gosling’s lived-in edginess in Half Nelson, I’m pleased as can be that he got invited to come clap for someone else. I’ve already typed my piece about Gordon-Levitt, so I’ll just note the great empathy Ninomiya earns as the Japanese soldier who embodies the cultural shift in perceptions of glory and self-sacrifice in Eastwood’s good World War II this year. As for tonight’s likely winner Forest Whitaker, I think it’s a supporting performance rather than a lead (he’s completely absent for a good twenty to thirty minutes in the middle of the film), and I don’t think he really deserves a nomination in that category either.

1. Vera Farmiga, The Departed
2. Lily Tomlin, A Prairie Home Companion
3. Claire-Hope Ashitey, Children of Men
4. Maribel Verdu, Pan’s Labyrinth
5. Meryl Streep, A Prairie Home Companion

Among the Oscar nominees, I like the work of Rinko Kikuchi in Babel, but I think that’s largely due to the fact that her storyline is the only one that had any feel of truth to it. As much as I do like all of the performances here, the only person here who really had a chance to make it the big dance was Farmiga, and I’m not entirely sure how Warner Brothers botched the acting categories so badly with The Departed. It would be so much nicer if Streep were being honored for the charming flightiness of her performance in Altman’s closing work than the amusing single-note novelty of The Devil Wears Prada, but I’ll concede that I’m more curmudgeonly about that performance than most. By the way, I also think that Maribel Verdu shoulda been a contender for Y Tu Mama Tambien. Maybe if she gets around to working with the least talented member of the Three Amigos, she’ll actually get some deserved recognition. Bitter? Yeah, a little bit. As to the way tonight will actually play out, Jennifer Hudson remains a lock. Certainly the Dreamgirls soul train isn’t charging as hard as everyone assumed it would be, but the Babel performers will split, and its way too early to give Cate Blanchett her second. That leaves the ten-year-old and they’re not prepared to do that yet again, are they? If they are, expect that stupid yellow bus to win Best Picture. Back to Jennifer Hudson, I think that’s really a lead performance, and I don’t think she really deserves a nomination in that category either.

1. Michael Sheen, The Queen
2. Danny Huston, The Proposition
3. Michael Caine, Children of Men
4. Mark Wahlberg, The Departed
5. Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Listen, I know Danny Huston never had a chance for the wild inspiration of his work in the The Proposition and the Academy is going to foolishly prefer the more self-consciously serious work of Michael Caine, but they couldn’t have shared some of that Queen love for Sheen’s work, which is just as fine as Mirren’s? For tonight’s ceremony, smart money stays on Murphy to win, although the money that’s been moved over to Alan Arkin isn’t so dumb. I don’t especially like Alan Arkin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine because, like almost everything else in the film, it feels too cutesy and familiar, but there’s nothing wrong with an Oscar having Arkin’s name engraved on it. We can just all pretend it’s actually for The In-Laws or something.

Twenty Performances, or The Folly of Working Without Annette

Last year’s most deserving winner of an acting Oscar alongside her prize.

As per tradition, I follow my countdown of the top ten films of the year by turning my attention to the acting that most enthralled me while the previous calendar was still tacked to the wall. The guidelines I set for myself are simple: I draft up the version of a nominating ballot I would submit were I a member of the Academy’s Acting Branch, ranking the five performances in each category and forcing myself to be assiduously honest. That means setting my own sentimental preferences and occasionally ignoring the strategic category shifting that takes place. Both of those factor into the category that will lead us off.


1. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
2. Amy Adams, Arrival
3. Emma Stone, La La Land
4. Viola Davis, Fences
5. Ruth Negga, Loving

Bening delivers the best acting performance of the year, regardless of category. Adams might be second in that broader designation. Their shared absence from the category is almost painful for me. I guess I can take some solace in the likelihood that the two actresses that follow are likely winners on Sunday night, though I maintain Davis belongs in lead rather than supporting for her work in Fences. (When she nabbed a Tony for the same role, it was in the category that is the equivalent of lead actress.) So that covers my category shifting. As for the sentimental preference that I put aside: while Natalie Portman’s justly lauded work in Jackie just missed my cut, I feel more regret about my inability to make room for Hailee Steinfeld’s exquisite adolescent agony in The Edge of Seventeen. This is the year’s strongest acting category.


1. Colin Farrell, The Lobster
2. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
3. Denzel Washington, Fences
4. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
5. David Oyelowo, The Queen of Katwe

I knew there was never a real hope that Farrell might be invited to participate in the Best Actor sweepstakes, but I think his acting in The Lobster is marvelously crafty. Except for Oyelowo’s sterling turn in the underrated The Queen of Katwe, the rest are familiar performances from this awards season. After looking like a sure win for Affleck for months, the conventional wisdom was dealt a blow by Washington’s upset in the category at the SAG Awards. Most now see this as a race strictly between the two of them, but I think the Academy is going to be reluctant to give Washington his third Oscar. (He would become only the eighth performer with that many acting award from the Academy.) I think that gives the edge back to Affleck, but I can actually conceive of the two purported front-runners splitting the main vote enough for a third nominee to surprise. If that happens, it’s surely Gosling and La La Land likely makes all sorts of Oscar history. Not only is Best Actor one of the categories the film would need to win to have a shot at breaking the record for most wins in a single night, but if Gosling triumphs, La La Land undoubtedly becomes only the fourth film in the annals of the awards to win both lead acting Oscars, Best Picture, Best Directing, and a screenplay honor. Glad as I am to have my theorizing on the record, I wouldn’t move my chips off of Affleck’s square.


Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Elle Fanning, 20th Century Women
Naomi Harris, Moonlight
Lupita Nyong’o, The Queen of Katwe

Gladstone won a bunch of critics’ awards for her understated, tender work in Certain Women, but she was sadly never really part of the Oscar discussion. Williams is nearly as strong in Manchester by the Sea. It’s remarkable that she doesn’t have an Oscar yet.


Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Alden Ehrenreich, Hail, Caesar!
Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight
Tom Bennett, Love and Friendship
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Since it feels right to slot Gladstone in the supporting category for serving as the co-lead of one-third of a film, the same theory applies to Rhodes in Moonlight. This category is no lock for Ali, but I do think he’ll justly prevail. Ehrenreich is a close second for me, and I wish the studio had taken advantage of his industry prominence as the pending Han Solo to give a hearty push to his comic turn as Hobie Doyle. Bennett’s is another gleaming comedic performance that deserved more year-end affection than it got.

Well, La La-Di-Da: Reflections on the Oscar Nominations


Here’s the sad truth about the set of actors who comprised last year’s set of Oscar nominees, stirring the Oscars So White hashtag lament: it was less a reflection of Academy voters’ collective prejudice and more an ailment brought on by the entertainment industry’s general lack of commitment to diverse voices. In traditional Oscar fodder films, including the independent features that crossed over thanks to celebration among the critics, there were ultimately few viable options that would have corrected the lamentably lily white band of contenders. (Two years ago, when the Academy failed to nominate David Oyelowo’s powerhouse performance as Martin Luther King Jr. in Ava DuVernay’s masterful Selma, it was an altogether different matter.) That there are six nominees who can be identified as black actors (and, let’s not forget, another of Indian descent) isn’t some case of affirmative action on the part of voters. It can be attribute to the fact that movies such as Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight got made, and — importantly in the equations of Oscar affection — became solid successes in the second half of the year.

Caveats offered, the shifts in skin color across the honored performers is worth celebrating, especially in Best Actress in a Supporting Role, where three-fifths of the nominees are women of color, and one of them even played a groundbreaking NASA mathematician instead of a nobly beleaguered wife or drug-addicted mother. (This is a problem of gender more than a problem of color. At least it seems we may have finally progressed past annual celebrations of hookers with hearts of gold.) The long Oscar season will undoubtedly provide additional moments that justifiably stir cynicism, but today may be a good time to simply allow the Academy’s diversity efforts in recent years to take a respectful victory lap.

Onto other thoughts:

–In joining Titanic and All About Eve in the Academy records book with its fourteen nominations, La La Land shifts from prohibitive favorite to stone cold lock for the top prize. Assuming that’s how this plays out, Damien Chazelle’s film will become the fourth Best Picture winner in six years to have some sort of plot connection to the entertainment industry. Maybe it’s time for them to shake up the voting rolls to combat this trend.

–If La La Land winds up collecting trophies with the same near-exhaustive thoroughness of its two notable predecessors, it will wipe away a couple of moments that I think Academy voters would have otherwise found irresistible. Certainly, it is long overdue for a black director to claim the prize in that category, but, no matter how wonderful Moonlight might be, it’s almost inconceivable that Chazelle watches someone else win. And the longstanding suspicion that Kenneth Lonergan’s reward would come in the screenplay category can probably be set aside. Finally, how the Academy must long to give Lin-Manuel Miranda an Oscar while Hamilton is still the hottest ticket in the world. Any other year, his Moana song would win. That’s not going to happen during the extended coronation of an original musical as this year’s pinnacle of cinema.

–At least the Academy rejected studio reasoning and moved Moonlight into the Adapted Screenplay category (correctly, I think). Jenkins will undoubtedly become an Oscar-winner there.

–The strength of La La Land also probably settles the one acting category that still held some suspense, especially the nomination list sadly omits both Annette Bening (it would have been her fifth nod without a prior win) and Amy Adams (also thus far unrewarded, it would have been her sixth time contending). I never completely bought into Natalie Portman’s chances to become a two-time winner for her strong work in Jackie, and the film’s meager showing today (three nominations total) suggests she won’t be much of a factor. Meryl Streep will probably get her fourth statues someday, but it won’t be for the froth of Florence Foster Jenkins. For both Ruth Negga and Isabelle Huppert, the nomination is the accomplishment. The fool who dreams is winning this one.

–So Leonardo DiCaprio will hand Emma Stone an Oscar. Elsewhere that evening, expect Alicia Vikander to present Best Actor in a Supporting Role to Mahershala Ali, Mark Rylance to present Best Actress in a Supporting Role to his fellow multiple Tony-winner Viola Davis, and, perhaps to her dismay, Brie Larson will welcome Casey Affleck into the ranks of Best Actor in Leading Role winners.

–Streep is now up to twenty career acting nominations, a record no one is likely to catch. With today’s announcement, both Denzel Washington and Jeff Bridges have reached seven acting nominations, and Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman have each achieved their fourth (though it sure feels like the latter two have more than that).

–I’m still grouchy that Ava DuVernay’s striking direction of Selma was overlooked a couple of years ago, but I take some consolation that her exemplary 13th is among the Best Documentary (Feature) nominees. I’d place my chips on her winning, too, though in doing so I’m counting on enough voters to agree with me that O.J.: Made in America — which fantastic — is a television nonfiction limited series masquerading as a feature film. That may not be the safest bet.

–Mel Gibson? Really, Directors Branch? It’s like they’re trying to give Casey Affleck cover. For those upset about the continuing presence of Ben’s little brother as a front-runner on this year’s award’s circuit, don’t worry, Constance Wu has got your back.




oscars 2016

At least the Oscars still have a capacity to surprise. Thankfully, those surprises sometimes mean they’re moving in the right direction, that there’s a prevailing need to try and get it right, to make certain that the sheen remains on the most prestigious award in film. Alicia Vikander has the kind of breakout year in which she can make the claim of providing exemplary support in a number of films, so she wins the award the corresponds with that achievement, the title etched on the base of the trophy far less significant than the four digits that place it in time. Mad Max: Fury Road is an undeniable feat in the kinetic visual possibilities of filmmaking (it’s also so much more than that, of course, but there can be reasonable disagreement about its deeper resonance), thus it cleans up in those categories, despite the presence of The Revenant, the sort of pushy period epic that would have bullied its way to wins in many prior years. Given the choice between the sentiment of Sylvester Stallone playing Rocky Balboa for the umpteenth time in forty years (albeit playing him very well, probably better than he ever has before) and one of the great actors of his generation in an exceptional, understated performance full of beautiful minor notes, Academy voters made Mark Rylance an Oscar winner.

These sharp, unexpected turns also lead to a roster of winners that collectively make for an odd year. Fury Road has the most Oscar wins, with six, comfortably outpacing any other single film, and yet it didn’t land a victory in any of the categories that would be considered major. Spotlight makes for an admirable choice as Best Picture, but there’s the supreme oddity of its anointment accompanied by only a single additional win during the night, in the Best Original Screenplay category. Much as I appreciate the shift from the years of heavily synchronized award distribution, when a consensus on Best Picture was arrived at early and the outcome of nearly every category in which it was nominated became a foregone conclusion, this spreading of accolades feels more scattershot than thoughtful. At its most perplexing, it even starts to seem like a voting membership at war with itself.

The ceremony itself is similarly hobbled by an inner turmoil. Last night continued the recent trend of the Oscars show wandering in tight, anxious circles, desperate for a point of view. Chris Rock was an able host, simultaneously blessed and burdened with a controversy that arced right into his wheelhouse. He addressed it well enough in the opening monologue, including a couple moments of admirably pointed challenges to the assembled Hollywood power structure, but couldn’t quite pull off the necessary trick of getting past it. The evening was full of bits that didn’t really land, from Stacey Dash’s lazy cameo to the girl scout cookie shilling, which too overtly recalled Ellen Degeneres’s pizza delivery stunt from two years ago, both in its base execution and its needless recurrence later in the night. And the filmmakers behind Room, arguably the Best Picture nominee most in need of the added attention the Oscars can provide, deserve to be livid about the contemptuous “comedy” Sacha Baron Cohen perpetrated in introducing it as a contender for the top prize.

That partially stems from a hollowness that has dogged the awards for years, and that I’ve already complained about repeatedly in this space. There remains a fierce reluctance to let the awards be the awards, to accentuate why the Oscars matter more. It’s clear enough in the faces of the winners, but the show itself undercuts the value of the awards at every turn, rushing winners off the stage with impatient orchestral swells, as if embarrassed at the very purpose of the night. In presenting the Oscar for Documentary Short Subject, Louis C.K. did a more effective job of conveying the life-changing value of winning this prize than every bit of the rest of the night’s pageantry combined. That he did so while being far funnier than anyone else who crossed that stage and also subtly jabbing the monumental levels of unchecked privilege held by the entertainment elite before him only means that Cheryl Boone Isaacs should have immediately corralled him backstage to begin the wooing process for next year’s hosting gig.

Beyond that, I’m baffled at how poorly the show is assembled, purely as a piece of programming. If there must be a succession from Star Wars droids (which stirred my cynicism until the camera captured young Jacob Tremblay popping out of his seat to get a better look, his movie mom, my hero for the night in more ways than one, peeking back at him to see his excitement) to those hideous Minions to Buzz and Woody from Toy Story, why do it ninety minutes into the broadcast, around 10:00 p.m. on the East Coast, well after every little kid who might be watching has already wandered off to feign sleep while playing video games under the covers? With the whole of storied movie music to chose from, why play people on and off stage with pieces to which they have no connection, as if the cues were determined by hitting shuffle on Hollywood’s iPod? I don’t think its too much to ask for the Academy Awards to actually be excitedly engaged with the cinema it celebrates.

Arguably one of the boldest choices didn’t arrive until the closing credits, when Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” played over freeze-frames of the evening’s highlights. If, say, Rock had entered to that song, with uncertainty about how he’d grapple with the #OscarsSoWhite movement still hanging over the room, it would have been a statement. As it was, pumping out over airwaves, satellite feeds, and cable lines after most weary viewers had already turned off their televisions, “Fight the Power” was just another oldie.


Twenty Performances, or Infinite Best


Following tradition, the epilogue to the countdown of the top films of the year brings me to a consideration of the most exemplary acting performances of the same span of time. If I’d been in possession of one of Actors Branch Academy Awards nominating ballots, knowing then what I know now, this is how I would have filled it out.


1. Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
2. Michael B. Jordan, Creed
3. Matt Damon, The Martian
4. Steve Carell, The Big Short
5. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Besides Damon, I diverge pretty strongly from the Academy in this category, though that’s partially due to my decision to slot Ruffalo into lead instead of supporting for his tricky, engaging character work in Spotlight. I long ago resigned myself to the fact that Segel’s outstanding performance as David Foster Wallace was going to be one of this year’s afterthoughts, but I’m perplexed all over the place by what the awards community did and didn’t chose to celebrate. Carell gives exactly the sort of colorful performance that copped him an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, only this time more smartly considered and with less hollow hamminess. Similarly, I get that Sylvester Stallone gets the sentimental vote for Creed, but even the most distracted viewing of that film should make it clear where the most compelling acting is taking place. Of course, Sunday night’s almost certain winner in this category will be Leonardo DiCaprio, finally getting the hardware in his fifth attempt in an acting category. I think he should have one of these already (two actually: for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Departed, though he wasn’t even nominated for the latter as the Academy inexplicably gave the nod to his mediocre work in the same year’s flatly lousy Blood Diamond), but his acting in The Revenant is just one more bad part of a bad movie. The Onion offered the perfect counterargument to the pending victory. Fassbender just misses the list for me, and it pains me to leave him off.


1. Brie Larson, Room
2. Elisabeth Moss, Queen of Earth
3. Lola Kirke, Mistress America
4. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

This is the one and only acting category in which I’m in agreement with Academy voters on the winner, barring a fairly major upset. It may be the sort of role that has Oscar glory built right into it, but Larson somehow manages to bring added poignancy to it. I have mixed feelings about Room, largely because it winds up as needlessly less than its source material. Larson reverses that, bringing more to the part than she was given. Other than Larson and fellow Oscar nominee Ronan, my selections are a jumble of performances that were never all that likely to gain traction in awards season, although I can’t quite figure out why Theron’s status as an Oscar winner didn’t stir some chatter of her as a potential nominee once it became clear that Fury Road was a film they’d need to take seriously.


1. Liev Schreiber, Spotlight
2. Christian Bale, The Big Short
3. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
4. Emory Cohen, Brooklyn
5. Seth Rogen, Steve Jobs

The supporting categories are both fairly weak this year. I’m rounding up, for example, to get Rogen into that fifth slot. Then again, I am pleased that there are two Freaks and Geeks alumni on my ballot. If only Linda Cardellini were getting better big screen career options than thankless wife parts. Following the theme of my bafflement over which performances are being singled out for accolades in the year’s most celebrated films, I think Schreiber’s turn as Marty Baron is clearly the most fascinating piece of character-building in Spotlight. On Sunday, Stallone probably wins in this category, even though the Academy has been a little less driven by sentiment in their voting in recent years. It’s difficult for me to ignore the standing ovation he received at the Golden Globes.


1. Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
2. Julie Walters, Brooklyn
3. Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak
4. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine
5. Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

This is the major category at the Oscars that could land on just about any of the five nominees, including Vikander. Too bad she was nominated for her solid lead performance in a drab drama instead of her crafty, nuanced supporting turn in Ex Machina. Were I placing a bet, I’d probably put my money on Rooney Mara, though I wouldn’t do it with a whole lot of confidence. I’ll say this for my quintet of nominees: this would make for a far more entertaining batch of Oscar clips that what we’ll actually get in this category on Sunday night.