Academy of One: Best Actor in a Leading Role 2011

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

I could likely write what I’m about to write as an introduction to all of the acting categories for this year and it’s something I have brought up in passing in these posts, but I’m going to really dig into it here as it pertains to several films of 2011.

I want to champion the idea of people telling their own stories. By that I mean, why aren’t people of color and LGBTQ+ people aren’t entrusted with the direction of their own experiences?

There are moments in A Better Life that could have come across differently had the director known of the hardships of Latin American migrants from personal connections or experiences.

There are moments in The Help that would have been better served, more valued, if a person who lives with racism in their life and has the experiences of their family to draw upon. It also could have been better served and more impactful if told only from the point of view of the maids.

There are moments in Albert Nobbs that simply can’t be understood or properly interpreted by someone of cisgender (that’s a person whose identity corresponds with their birth gender).

Yes, white, straight, or cisgender people have every right to tell the stories they want to tell and to do their best to interpret them, but I think they’re missing that deep, impactful truth in the situation. The truth that they can be told, but will never experience themselves.

I will get off my soapbox for a while so I can delve into the nominees as they currently stand.

  • Demian Bichir - A Better Life

  • George Clooney - The Descendants

  • Jean Dujardin - The Artist

  • Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  • Brad Pitt - Moneyball

A worthy group of actors to be sure, but I think I have a few men waiting in the wings that could cause a ripple in this list. Here are my suggestions.

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 50/50

  • Ryan Gosling - Drive

  • Ewan McGregor - Beginners

  • Peyman Moaadi - A Separation

  • Owen Wilson - Midnight in Paris

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a name you should get used to seeing as we travel further back. He has been able to toss off his child stardom and develop a career of varied and nuanced roles. 50/50 includes one of his best. He stars as a man in his twenties diagnosed with cancer. It’s daring and heart-breaking as much as it is uplifting and very funny.

Ryan Gosling had a hell of a 2011. He starred in three very different films and knocked all of them out of the park. Drive is the superior performance though with Gosling’s portrayal as a calm, stoic protagonist with a volatile and violent dark side that rears its head when the people he loves are threatened.

Portraying grief on screen can be difficult, but I think Ewan McGregor’s layered performance in Beginners is a very nuanced take. He’s able to show the wallowing, the acceptance, and the attempts to move on with a great amount of veracity in every facial expression.

Peyman Moaadi plays a man who holds his cards very close to his chest and would rather have his way than any other, but when he’s left to deal with the enormity of his father’s Alzheimer’s he’s finally able to drop his composure and experience the overwhelming stress he doesn’t allow others to see.

Often the protagonist of a Woody Allen film is the stand-in for Allen himself. They take on his mannerisms, his neurosis and his pretensions. Owen Wilson is able to adopt that persona, but also keep the whimsy of his own acting style better than any actor who’s jumped into that role before him.

O.K., let’s take a look at the list and see if any of the original nominees could stand to step down.

  • Demian Bichir - A Better Life

  • George Clooney - The Descendants

  • Jean Dujardin - The Artist

  • Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  • Brad Pitt - Moneyball

All right, I have two in mind from this list who could go. First up, I pick Gary Oldman.

Many of you cinephiles out there may be cursing me at this point because surprisingly enough, this is Oldman’s first and only Oscar nomination of his long and storied career. Yet, I feel like, as his most understated performance, it’s far too understated, like comatose levels of understatement.

Half of the performance, Oldman is just listening to other characters tell him things. He’s figuring it out in his head, sure, but he’s really not helping the story along in my mind.

To those of you ripping your hair out at my decision, I have plenty of other ways to reward Oldman down the line. Don’t you fret.

The other actor getting the axe is Brad Pitt. This is another performance of understatement to the performance’s detriment. There’s no emotion. The only way he can seem to sell his emotion is by hitting or throwing things. His facial expression doesn’t change and his vocal patterns don’t deviate very much. It’s just not Pitt’s best performance, even of 2011 (more on that soon).

Now that I’ve eliminated two, I have two in mind from my list to add to the nominees.

  • Ryan Gosling - Drive

  • Peyman Moaadi - A Separation

Here’s what the field looks like with my additions.

  • Demian Bichir - A Better Life

  • George Clooney - The Descendants

  • Jean Dujardin - The Artist

  • Ryan Gosling - Drive

  • Peyman Moaadi - A Separation

So, the question is now, does the sort of hammy mugging of Jean Dujardin continue to delight? Short answer, no.

For me, nothing beats out George Clooney for his superb work as the “backup” parent in The Descendants.

He’s able to balance the humor and the pathos of the script with ease. Matt’s not the best guy in the world, but he’s doing his best and Clooney on the brink is when he can give his best glances, glowers, and looks. The scene that sells it completely for me, though is the final scene Matt has with his wife.

After all the revelations, the amateur sleuthing, and the hard conversations with family and friends, Matt leans down and says goodbye. He lets go of Elizabeth and his notions about what family is. He needs that moment to thank her for showing him what’s most important going forward. It’s the culmination of the film and a beautiful scene that Clooney sells perfectly with some touching tears.

It’s the kind of performance that can easily go too far one way or the other, but Clooney’s able to keep it grounded, funny, and sympathetic the whole time.

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the nominees for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

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