MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

It’s Raining Men: Which Men Should Get Oscar Nods… and Which Men Shouldn’t

Published under Oscar Outsider.

This week, we only asked our Gurus to vote on Best Picture, but as the resident Oscar outsider, I’m still working my way up to that category. I’ve delved deeply into the various adapted screenplays I was most interested in, and have covered the women quite extensively, so this week I’m focusing my mental energies on a topic I’ve been neglecting: the men. And just to clarify up front: this is a discussion of who I think most deserves to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor categories, not who I think the Academy, in all its collective wisdom, is likely to put there. There are others who are far better at playing the Oscar ponies than I am, and I’ll let them have at that game; meanwhile, I offer you the following thoughts on which actors most deserve a shot at going home on Oscar night with a naked golden man in their arms.

Best Supporting Actor

The actor who most deserves to be in the running for Best Supporting and isn’t (or at least, isn’t perceived to be) is Eddie Marsan for his searing performance as Scott, the angry driving instructor in Mike Leigh‘s Happy-Go-Lucky. Marsan’s acerbity as Scott provides the perfect counterbalance to Sally Hawkin‘s chipper, charming performance as Poppy, the primary school teacher with the heart of gold. A strong supporting performance is more than just the talent the actor brings to the screen; it’s about how that role impacts the overall film in a meaningful way. Without Marsan to bring the thunderclouds to Poppy’s sunny day, there would be little conflict or reason for Poppy to go down the subtle paths of introspection she travels in the film. Every scene with Scott and Poppy in that car together is flawlessly timed and executed, Marsan and Hawkins play off each other expertly, and the penultimate blow-up scene near the end is startling in its ferocity, coming as it does in an otherwise light-hearted film. Marsan’s performance brings exactly the right notes of discord to the film to make it interesting and engaging, and it’s surprising that, for all the critical love Marsan has gotten for his performance, he’s not getting pushed for an Oscar.

I get that Miramax is in a bit of a spot here, with both Happy-Go-Lucky and Doubt in contention for Oscars, and that given the names of the talent involved, they’re focusing their energy more on Doubt. But I strongly disagree with Philip Seymour Hoffman (much as I like him both generally and in Doubt) being in contention for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for what’s clearly the lead male performance in a film. Marsan’s supporting performance is outstanding, and while he’d be up against tough competition in Heath Ledger, the clear front-runner, he deserves a shot at the gold.

Another performance getting overlooked in Best Supporting Actor category is George Clooney as Harry Pfarrer in the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading. I’m really at a loss as to why Burn After Reading has gotten such a lukewarm response from the critical community; for me, it’s one of the Coen’s best darkly comedic films, and I suspect that if it wasn’t for the excellent No Country for Old Men making such a strong showing last year, response to Burn After Reading might have been very different. Perhaps the ensemble nature of the film has hurt the chances of any one or two players to be noticed for some Oscar love, but Clooney is at the top of his comedic game here. The scene right after his Harry Pfarrer surprises Brad Pitt‘s affable doofus Chad hiding in the closet is, in and of itself, a perfectly timed, darkly comedic gem; combined with his performance overall, he should be right up there in the running, not off the charts altogether. I get that Oscar prognosticators and Academy voters tend to lean more heavily towards drama than comedy — which I always find a bit befuddling, as I think strong, smart comedy is much harder to write than strong drama — but Burn After Reading has a talented ensemble cast at top form, and Clooney in particular should be a stronger contender than he is at the moment.

Lastly in the Best Supporting Actor category, there’s another strong supporting male performance that’s being greatly overlooked as we head closer to Oscar: Liev Schreiber‘s excellent turn as Zus Bielski opposite Daniel Craig as Zus’s older brother, Tuvia, in Ed Zwick‘s Defiance. Schreiber has been tearing up the stage for years now, taking home a Tony award in the revival of David Mamet‘s Glengarry Glen Ross, but he’s not found an on-screen role big enough for all that talent — until the role of Zus. All Schreiber’s fiery passion and considerable talent are poured into this role, and he’s the perfect foil to Craig’s Tuvia. The real-life paths the brothers took provides a great dramatic structure for the film: Where Tuvia opts to fight the Germans by saving as many Jews as possible through armed resistance, Zus chooses to abandon the Bielski partisans for a, while to go join the Russian army and kill as many Germans as possible. Schreiber was ideally cast as Zus, and his performance is largely what drives the film. It’s well worth consideration for Oscar gold, and I hope the Academy voters will recognize it.

Best Actor

Much of the talk in the Best Actor category has focused on the battle between Sean Penn for Milk versus Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. While both actors turn in fine performances worthy of consideration, Richard Jenkins‘ excellent turn in The Visitor, a small, quiet, expertly crafted film, has gone largely unnoticed by Oscar prognosticators. Jenkins plays Walter, a sad-sack college professor mired in depression and the routine of teaching the same class with the same syllabus for years while ostensibly working on his latest book. When Walter has to go to New York City to present a paper he co-authored, but really knows nothing about, he goes to his long-empty city apartment to find it occupied by Tarek and Zairab, a young immigrant couple. As Walter gets to know Tarek and Zairab, and Tarek introduces the buttoned-up Walter to the joys of drumming, Walter slowly comes out of his shell and finds a whole world he’d shut himself off from opening up to him again.

Jenkins’ performance as Frances McDormand’s boss in Burn After Reading has garnered more critical buzz, but excellent though he is in the Coens’ film, his finely tuned performance in The Visitor carries the film, and he deserves an Oscar nod for this role.

Another male lead performance I’m surprised isn’t getting more Osar buzz is Benecio del Toro‘s role as Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh‘s epic film Che. As the iconic revolutionary figure whose face launched a thousand t-shirts, del Toro drives the film through its four-and-a-half hour running time; regardless of what you think of the politics of Che Guevara, del Toro is fantastic in the role, bringing the son-of-privilege-turned-revolutionary-hero (or villain, depending on your perspective) to life in a remarkable performance that, to my mind, is head-and-shoulders above many of the other roles vying for the five Best Actor slots.

Also getting rather lost in the shuffle is Brad Pitt‘s lead performance in David Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which looks like it may get overlooked in the wash of talk about the film’s technical achievements in creating a lead character who’s born an old man and ages backwards. Underneath all that makeup and CGI magic, though, is Pitt’s nuanced portrayal of Benjamin, who struggles to find his place in a world where he’s both old and young. I’ve sat on writing about this film since I saw it, because it offered so many things to ponder, not the least of which is Pitt’s performance, which is among his best ever in a career of strong, largely overlooked lead roles.

Fincher, when he spoke about Pitt at the Telluride Film Festival following a screening of 20 minutes of Benjamin Button clips, talked about how he loves working with Pitt because people tend to get so caught up in Pitt’s movie-stardom and personal life that they forget what a talented actor he is underneath all that glitz, glamour and gossip. In movie after movie, Pitt consistently brings his talent to the table, and he’s only been nominated for an Oscar once, way back in 1996, for Twelve Monkeys. It’s high time Pitt got some recognition for his work from the Academy, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button seems the perfect vehicle for him to earn his second Oscar nom and a shot at Oscar gold.

Lastly in the Best Actor category is a career-high performance by Jeff Goldblum in the high-minded Adam ResurrectedAdam Resurrected is not an easy film to watch; like director Paul Schrader‘s Mishima, it’s an abstract piece of filmmaking, filled with symbolism and bizarre moments, but it stays with you, and its brilliance resonates throughout, bolstered strongly by Goldblum’s fascinating performance as Adam. This is one of those rare films where the performance itself is so great that the film is worth seeing even if you’re not a fan of Schrader’s directorial style; I can’t imagine anyone but Goldblum pulling off this role in the way he has here. Goldblum was great last year in Fay GrimHal Hartley‘s follow-up to Henry Fool(one of my favorite films ever) as a slick CIA guy, but his turn in Adam Resurrected completely knocked my socks off and left me reeling for days.

At the moment, MCNs Gurus have two actors sitting above Jenkins, del Toro, Pitt and Goldblum in the Best Actor category who, in a perfect world, would not be in the running compared to any of these performances. Leonardo DiCaprio, as Frank Wheeler in Revolutionary Road, does an able-enough job given what he had to work with, but the material was so flawed that it largely detracts from what his performance could have — and should have — been. Frank Wheeler is a complex literary character, a man so completely lacking in self-awareness that his life would be be a comedy, had author Richard Yates not chose to frame this story as a tragedy. Frank, as written by Yates, has layers and layers of emotional complexity which the author constantly peels back and reveals to the reader; Frank, as written by screenwriter Justin Haythe and filmed by Sam Mendes, is confusing without being complex, emotionally distant without rhyme or reason, and lacks the distinct intellectual manipulation of reality that made Frank Wheeler such a fascinating literary character. DiCaprio does an able-enough job bringing Frank Wheeler to life, but because the material is lacking the heart and soul of what made both Frank Wheeler and his wife, April (Kate Winslet) tick, he’s not able to fully flesh Frank out as he should be; it’s not entirely DiCaprio’s fault, but neither the role nor the performance, in this case, is worthy of an Oscar nod.

Neither is Clint Eastwood‘s retro performance in Gran Torino, in which he recycles his “Dirty” Harry Callahan persona and slaps him into the structure of another story in which he’s called Walt Kowalski. I like Eastwood as much as the next person, but there’s just nothing new or spectacular in this performance to warrant an Oscar nod. I get that he’s getting up there in years, and he’s never won an acting Oscar, but this performance just doesn’t stand up when compared to the stronger performances by Jenkins, del Toro, Pitt and Goldblum, much less Penn and Rourke; the Best Actor slots should go to the strongest male lead performances of the year, and Eastwood in Gran Torino just isn’t at that level of greatness. And while I liked both Sean Penn in Milk and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, the former performance is a strong turn amid a bevy of equally strong ensemble performances, whereas the latter role almost completely defines the film, so I’m giving more weight to Rourke than Penn for a Best Actor berth.

With all that said, here, for your own consideration, are the actors I think are most deserving of the five slots in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor (in alphabetical order):


George Clooney, Burn After Reading
Heath Ledger
, The Dark Knight
Eddie Marsan
, Happy-Go-Lucky
Liev Schreiber
, Defiance
Michael Shannon
, Revolutionary Road


Jeff Goldblum, Adam Resurrected
Richard Jenkins
, The Visitor
Benecio del Toro
, Che
Brad Pitt
, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke
, The Wrestler

by Kim Voynar

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon