Academy of One: Best Actor in a Leading Role 2015

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.

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’d like to start this week by addressing a controversy. The year 2015 was an excellent year for film and for pushing the boundaries of performance by elevating it to the scope of great art. Yet, instead of celebrating the diversity of acting pool of 2015, the voting body of the Academy chose to play it safe.

In their minds this was Leonardo DiCaprio’s year, so everyone else was just going to be an also ran. They ignored many deserving performances by people of color in favor of giving the spots to four other white men. The rest of the categories followed suit and for the second year in a row, #OscarsSoWhite trended on social media.

Without getting too much into politics, (I very highly recommend you seek out some great podcasts on the subject including two of my very favorites, Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood and Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period) I can say without hyperbole that these films I will highlight were just not seen widely enough by the voters and thus were ignored through ignorance or outright distastefulness. There are other reasons (racism) that come to mind, but are nearly unprovable.

So, who were the nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Bryan Cranston - Trumbo

  • Matt Damon - The Martian

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

  • Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs

  • Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl

I, for the most part, The Danish Girl, being the exception, enjoyed these movies and I think that these performances are exceptional, but I was a little irked that four of my favorites were left out.

For your consideration, here are four men… well, two men and two boys, who I think also deserved their names read in contention for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

  • Abraham Attah - Beasts of No Nation

  • Tom Hanks - Bridge of Spies

  • Michael B. Jordan - Creed

  • Jacob Tremblay - Room

Many times critics of certain performances will go back to the same argument time and again, that the actor is up for an award for only one scene of powerful dialogue or extreme emotion, but that argument is absolutely invalid when one watches Abraham Attah. From frame one to the last, he is Agu and he is astounding.

I won’t hide my love for Tom Hanks. I think he is one of the best actors of all time and with this role he very much earns his “everyman” status and raises the discourse of human empathy. I loved watching his negotiation tactics as he brought two superpowers to heel.

There is something to be said for the powerful physical nature of acting and Michael B. Jordan is such a physical presence on screen. His character is always fighting and always trying to prove himself worthy. The way he constantly moves because he can’t let the doubt in.

A child actor is often relegated to the moppet or a glorified prop for the plot, but Jacob Tremblay is able to turn his role as the narrator of this story into the emotional core of the film. He is our wish for everything to be O.K and he pulls it off effortlessly.

So, can any of these actors break through the barrier and claim their rightful spot? I believe whole-heartedly that two of them can, but first, we need to eliminate two of those already nominated. Here’s that list again.

  • Bryan Cranston - Trumbo

  • Matt Damon - The Martian

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

  • Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs

  • Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl

I know exactly which two should go and as heart breaking as it is, I’ll be removing Bryan Cranston and Matt Damon from the list.

Bryan Cranston is a great actor. We’ve seen that on display in his incredible body of work on television and that’s what this role feels like. A continuation of his body of work on television, but it’s not in any real way a stand out performance.

I think Cranston has just become a victim of the hubris that comes with making a film about old Hollywood. The Academy loves old Hollywood. They love when their peers tell their story and so I think this vote was more a vote for Dalton Trumbo than it ever was for Bryan Cranston.

I really hope one day, he will be back in this spotlight for a role that has no nostalgia, but real grit and power like we’re used to seeing from his television work.

Matt Damon is an actor that has been criminally overlooked more times than I can remember, but lately, I’m guessing in an effort to rectify that fact, he’s been getting recognition for roles that aren’t incredibly strong.

There’s no denying that Damon’s performance is witty, charming, heart-breaking, and cheer-worthy, but in the larger context of performance in 2015 it’s just not up to par.

All right, so who are the two I picked to place into the now open slots? That’s an easy one.

  • Abraham Attah

  • Michael B. Jordan

So, what does our nominee pool look like with these new additions. Here they are in alphabetical order.

  • Abraham Attah - Beasts of No Nation

  • Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

  • Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs

  • Michael B. Jordan - Creed

  • Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl

Now, does Leonardo DiCaprio retain his big win in the light of new challengers? Short answer, no.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a great actor. That is an indisputable fact despite what my jealous 10 year-old self would tell you. Yet, what did he do in The Revenant that was so ground breaking?

You’re shouting, “He ate bison liver!” “He crawled through frozen tundra!” “He slept in a horse carcass!” “He floated down a freezing river!” That’s right. He did all of those things, but what did he do with the character that another actor couldn’t do? What mental character journey did this character go on?

The arc of this character moves simply from survival to survival as part of seeking revenge. He has no moral objections, he has no questioning of his motives, he has no one to challenge his resolve. It’s man vs. nature pure and simple, but there’s nothing to challenge his human nature.

Eddie Redmayne develops a character arc from confusion, to enlightenment, to transformation, and acceptance. Michael B. Jordan takes his cocksure young boxer from arrogance, to humility, to empathy, to mutual respect. Michael Fassbender brings to life a creator with a chip on his shoulder and a God complex. He makes him into a vindictive player of games all the way to a man, who seems humble on the outside, but knows he’s bested everyone who stood in his way. By the end of the film he command the God-like obedience of his inferiors. Yet, I will not choose any of these men, instead..

My choice, my Best Actor in a Leading Role, Abraham Attah plays a boy with an innocent and beautiful heart who is ripped from his docile world. He is conscripted, broken down, indoctrinated, and ingratiated. He becomes something that that young boy he was would only see as a monster and he knows it. Attah’s performance builds and builds and builds into a nightmare and when it’s finally time and he is finally taken back and brought into the world again, he is broken. He is all that he has seen and it is tragedy.

It’s a performance that will never leave me. It’s so exquisite and based on such horrors that I hesitate to call it entertainment, but I will call it what it is, which is performance art of the highest caliber.

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 Best Actor in a Supporting Role nominees of 2015.

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