Last Year's Winner - Lars Rudolph
A strange viewing year, and very different from last year; the Best Actor nominees were as a whole pretty weak this year compared to last year's competition, which featured stars like Nicholson, Russell Crowe, and Lino Ventura. Not sure why, but I only saw one great leading man performance this year; the rest of the nominees to follow are mostly filler.
Donald Sutherland - Fellini's Casanova
A hell of a performance in a hell of a bloated movie. I still haven't gotten around to seeing the Fellini doc where Sutherland describes his experience in this film, but it must have been one heck of a set. Sutherland dons gallons of makeup, charms the hideous folks of Enlightened society, and screws just about everything that moves in this movie, and somehow comes out looking good even as the weight of Fellini's vision often comes literally crashing down around him.
Konstantin Lavronenko - Izgnanie (The Banishment)
Lavroneko was good in Andre Zvyaginstev's stunning second feature, but is listed here mostly because he had one of the few serious male roles of the past year. Maybe it was the move in the direction of more experimental film and festival fare, but there was a surprisingly low amount of serious dramas based around the life of some dude. Lovrenko's Alex is caught up with a deeply complicated family life - both his own, and the one he thought he had left behind - and though he reacts more than acts, his stoic persona grounds a movie filled with deceit, manipulation, and violence.
Mihály Vig - Satantango
Sean may have been worried that 2008 would see a repeat of the Tarr/Kraznahorkai Couchies sweep, but Satantango wasn't quite the award hog that Werkmeister Harmonies was. Vig, for example, was excellent as the golden-toungued Irimiás, but didn't have the same emotional impact as Rudolph's Janos. Irimias is a great character however, and Vig sells the long monologues so well that even I was believing there were better things ahead. Sean may have wanted a more terryfying figure after the rumors we hear of Irimias (think Marsellus Wallace crossed with Kayser Soze), but Vig's character captured the spirit of hopelessness perfectly: in times of great desperation, even the ordinary looks like a saviour.
And the winner is...
Isaka Sawadogo - Exoticore/Induction
Star of two Nicolas Provost shorts, Sawadogo showed a tremendous range in the span of about 50 minutes. In Exoticore, his turn as lonely African immigrant (Sawadogo and his character are both from Burkina Faso) in Oslo captured not just the experience of physical isolation, but the more general way in which no matter how hard we try, true communication is impossible. As he tries to befriend co-workers and strangers alike, Sawadogo at first gives only hints at the rage which is coming. Though only a little over a half hour long, the character arc and development was more realistic and true to life than any other film this year.
In Induction, Sawadogo is pure terror: a big, strong (and mostly naked) black man who is going to come into your house, sleep with your wife, and emasculate your suburban white ass. More objet d'art than character, Sawadogo somehow speaks volumes about race, sexuality, class, and colonialism with only his actions. It's almost the complete opposite of his richly textured and realistic portrayal in Exoticore; Sawadogo probably would have won for either of these roles, but the combination of the two made it an easy call.