The 2016 Academy Awards won’t have much suspense when it comes to the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. Most of the uncertainty and thrills will be saved for the Best Director and Best Picture races. However, both of the lead acting races appear to be locks.
So this is a probably a terrible year to write a piece like this. But hey, this is the first time The Comeback is covering the Oscars. And Best Actor and Best Actress are the two biggest awards to hand out, other than the ones going to Hollywood’s top movie and filmmaker of the year. Even if there’s not much of a case to be made for anyone winning besides Leonardo DiCaprio and Brie Larson, whose respective victories are all but official, the other eight actors and their performances certainly deserve recognition. After all, they were nominated for Academy Awards.
Here is how both categories stack up by ranking each of the nominated performances. Power rankings for the Oscars? Sure, something like that. No one is a loser here. All 10 nominees should feel like winners.
5. Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years: Rampling winning wouldn’t be a popular choice in light of her comments that the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was “racist against whites.” She certainly deserved a nomination, portraying a woman who discovers that her husband isn’t the man she thought he was during their decades-long marriage. And her career is incredibly accomplished. But the competition in this category is far too tough.
4. Cate Blanchett – Carol: Blanchett is in Meryl Streep territory, where virtually anything she does is worthy of a nomination. At one point, when Carol was viewed as a prestige Oscars contender, perhaps Blanchett might have been a favorite. Blanchett’s performance as a woman who has a secret lesbian relationship in the 1950s was typically impressive, but audiences not engaging with the movie hurt her chances at winning.
3. Jennifer Lawrence – Joy: How many people knew what Joy was about until after it was released? Maybe 20th Century Fox couldn’t sell a story about the inventor of the Miracle Mop, whose creativity, business savvy and drive made her a huge success. To Lawrence’s credit, this movie may not have even been made or gotten a big release if she wasn’t in it. That’s a testament to her star power and probably why she received a nomination.
2. Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn: If I was making the choice, Ronan would win Best Actress. Brooklyn was one of my favorite movies of the year, largely because of Ronan’s portrayal of a young woman who leaves Ireland to make a life for herself in America. But she has aspirations beyond eventually becoming someone’s wife, and eventually she has to make a tough choice between her heritage and identity. Her growth as a person is amazing to watch. Unfortunately, it’s just not the right year for Ronan to win.
1. Brie Larson – Room: Larson is a lock to win this award, nabbing all of the honors from critics, film societies and Hollywood guilds. It’s not entirely true to say she carries Room, since the last third of the film becomes Jacob Tremblay’s story. But for most of the film, Larson is entirely believable and compelling as a young woman who’s had her life taken away from her by a kidnapper and rapist, and has been planning a long game for escape with her child. Keeping up an encouraging face as a mother, while also dealing with the devastation and disorientation of losing seven years to captivity, is a complex performance Larson pulls off wonderfully. Whatever she does next will be worth watching.
5. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs: Perhaps the best thing you can say about Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs is that he looks absolutely nothing like the Apple founder, yet after 10 to 15 minutes, it no longer matters because he’s become that character. Any actor who can handle Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue deserves a hand. But Fassbender tears into it, making an unlikable man strangely compelling because he’s just so damn brilliant.
4. Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl: I didn’t think Redmayne should have won Best Actor last year over Michael Keaton, but I understood why Oscars voters checked him on their ballot. Actors are often going to be recognized for transforming themselves on screen, especially when portraying a debilitating physical condition. Redmayne again reshapes himself as artist Einar Wegener, who has always identified as a woman and becomes Lili Elbe. Ultimately, the nomination is the award for his performance.
3. Matt Damon – The Martian: Damon should probably be higher on this list. If he didn’t have to contend with DiCaprio, I’d argue Damon would win Best Actor. (And The Martian would be a stronger Best Picture contender.) So why isn’t he ranked higher? Damon carries his film; at times, he’s virtually the only thing on camera and is utterly funny and charming under circumstances that might drive others to consider suicide. But compared to the other nominees, Damon’s performance is the least transformative — even if he might be in the better movie — and thus seems less impressive.
2. Bryan Cranston – Trumbo: If there’s a dark horse who can upset DiCaprio, it might be Cranston, who’s beloved for his work on Breaking Bad and shows how capable an actor he is by playing someone completely different from Walter White in screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Throughout the story, he’s arrogant, vulnerable, dashing, broken and redemptive, and Cranston plays all sides of the character wonderfully. Plus, Hollywood seems to enjoy movies about itself, and Trumbo covers an important era in its history. But I’d argue that Cranston is in the worst movie of the five nominees and that hurts his chances. That is, if he had any chance at all against Leo’s Destiny.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant: Apologies for the lack of suspense or any attempt at originality. But you know how this will go. You knew before clicking on this article. (And thank you for doing so.) Best Actor absolutely belongs to DiCaprio. This is his year. I disagree with those who feel he should have won this award already, though you could make a case for his performances in The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street. (And why wasn’t he nominated for The Departed?) But there’s no eye-popping performance from Jamie Foxx or Matthew McConaughey to contend with this time around.
DiCaprio did what we all want to see in an Oscar-winning role; he put himself through hell for his movie. He froze his ass off and ate raw bison! At least Damon got to eat potatoes on Mars. Plus, he’s the lead actor in a film that could win Best Picture. Leo is a lock. Those aren’t fun to pick in columns like these. But to argue otherwise would be a phony exercise. His Oscars after-party will surely be phenomenal.