To recap, these awards are based on what Sean and I actually reviewed on the site in the past six months, so my apologies to Casey Affleck for Gone Baby Gone, Javier Bardem for No Country, and Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson for not reviewing your excellent work...maybe next year.
Best Actor in a Leading Role - Nominations
Russell Crowe - 3:10 to Yuma
Crowe was also quite good in American Gangster, though it was a crime that he and Denzel only appeared on screen together for a few minutes. Crowe, unlike a lot of Academy-favored actors who experience a peak few years followed by dreck (Hanks), Crowe has continued to craft fine characters in smart movies that fly beneath the radar (even Cinderella Man had it's moments.) 3:10 to Yuma is a perfect example; ostensibly a western shoot-em-up, Crowe turns what could be a one note bad guy with a heart (basically the character in the original) into a eccentric and aloof killer. I think Pitt was trying to do something similar as Jesse James (indeed, James and Crowe's Ben Wade share similar opinions of their gangs), but the effort was a little strained. Crowe's, as usual, seemed effortless.
Jack Nicholson - The Passenger
Ok, probably the first WTF? Yes, Jack's turn as the existentialist reporter on the run was made several decades back, but since Sean and I reviewed it this year, it counts. This was the first Antonioni film I've seen, and I wish more directors had forced Nicholson to hold back the personality a little. So many of the great scenes from this film work because we get to see what a great physical actor Nicholson is; bumming smokes to the natives on the outskirts of the Sahara, delicately switching out passports photos; a car chase even! To make things even better, Sean tells me the Nicholson commentary is great as well.
Justin Rice - Mutual Appreciation
Now, if you put these first three guys in a room, one would look kinda different. Yes, Justin Rice's turn as inchoate rocker Alan is not the stuff of award consideration, but if you only measure the vividness of the character and screen presence, Rice is up there with the big guys. Even in Andrew Bujalski's first film, Funny Ha Ha, Rice is only on screen for a few minutes but has a lasting presence. Rice's ability to convey the (unjustified?) optimism of Alan is impressive enough, but when you add the ability to sing and play all his own guitar parts, Rice creates an indelible portrait of the guy that all of us have known at some time.
Lino Ventura - Army of Shadows
And now for something completely different...To get an indication of how historical context can determine the experiences of a generation, look no further than the contrast between Bujalksi's disaffected hispters of the 21st century and the young men and women of the French resistance movement during the German occupation. While the former struggles to find a drummer for their new band, the latter are questioning how many of their friends are worth sacrificing in order to rescue another friend from a Nazi prison. Like most Melville films, Shadows is coldly intense, and Ventura's single minded Phillipe Gerbier is relentless. You know instantly that Ventura is all utilitarian, with no means unnecessary if it leads to eventual freedom. There are two scenes at least where Ventura's characterization enhances what was already a startling scene: 1) when he must kill a spy but realizes the gun will be too loud and 2) his set-up of a fellow prisoner in order to facilitate his own escape. Somehow, I can't see anyone else in this category pulling off these scenes.
And the Winner is...
Lars Rudolph - Werkmeister Harmonies
While some say the whale was behind the whole thing, and others say the whale has nothing to do with it at all, I say that Lars Rudolph was the real star of Bela Tarr's supremely odd tale of a crumbling city. While actors tend to be undervalued when a director has such an idiomatic style, in the case of Tarr, his marathon shots require commited actors. After all, if the camera is going to be focused on you for ten minutes at a time, you have to really subsume yourself to the character. Rudolph not only captures silent scenes like heating a can of soup, or doing his daily paper route, but he also embodies the hopes and fears of a generation in his wide, sympathetic eyes.
Sean and I spent time on the opening scene of Harmonies, but I just can't see a mainstream Hollywood actor pulling off this role. I envision a Hollywood version of the "Dance of the Sun, Moon, and Earth" as officially "touching" and the actor going overboard on how "different" and "odd" this scene would be, how "tender" the role. But for Rudolph, it seems the most natural thing in the world for a young paper boy to organize a dance of the town drunks at last call. As the stand-in witness for the audience in haunting scene after haunting scene, Rudolph brings home the frightening vision of Tarr and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai. I had a hard enough time watching some of these scenes, I can't imagine what it does to inhabit these characters as fully as Rudolph does.
Next up...Supporting Actress