By John H. Foote
The two major acting categories will be over crowded with potential nominees this year, offering the Academy to answer the call for diversity. As with the two supporting categories, previous winners and nominees will be there, as well as some first timers.
Looking like an acting year.
Adam Driver is America’s greatest actor under 40, a brilliant dark talent who elevates everything he is in and everyone around him. His performance in Marriage Story should dominate the critics awards and land the gifted actor a second nomination. The acting in the film has earned raves across the board, with Driver singled out, drawing comparisons to a young Brando.
Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio is superb as a washed up actor looking for a second career lift off in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Edgy, dark, even twisted, the actor does some of his finest work. The ending as he encounters Jay Sebring and Sharon Tate is haunting, as though he is seeing ghosts.
Joaquin Phoenix is without question the front runner for his bizarre and demented turn as the criminal nutcase in Joker. Taking huge risks as an actor Phoenix is beyond brilliant in the role, this might be his finest work. Recalling the intense time bomb that was Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976), he is electrifying. The film has earned exceptional reviews and seems destined to be a blockbuster.
Taron Egerton might suffer because Rami Malek won last year as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Though did not deserve the award. Edgerton is spectacular as Elton John in Rocketman and does deserve a nomination. Unlike Malek, he does his own singing, and is brilliant as the glam pop sensation. I am cheering for him.
After years of goofy comedies, Adam Sandler delivers the goods in a fierce manic performance as a jewelry expert, degenerate gambler and hustler who does not know when to stop the con in Uncut Gems. It is a brilliant De Niro-esque performance that might land the actor his first nomination. Would that not shake things up?
As a modern day Atticus Finch type lawyer fighting for both his clients life and Civil Rights, Michael B. Jordan rises to the occasion with an extraordinary performance in Just Mercy. A major hit at TIFF, the cast was the talk of the town the night the film premiered. Superb work from this gifted actor.
Though Eddie Murphy deserved an Oscar for Dreamgirls (2006) he lost, shockingly, but could be back this year as the blaxploitation character Dolemite. No question he is a gigantic talent who will one day win an Oscar … the sooner the better. And make no mistake, Murphy wants one.
Two time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro should be back as a nominee in The Irishman though there has been some grumbling that visual effects help him. Bear in mind for the scenes as his younger self, his posture, his movements, his body language had to change, which effects cannot do. That is all De Niro.
After years of being laughed at for his vampire in the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson has, in the last two years, earned a solid reputation as a bold, daring actor. In The Lighthouse, he is a young man saddled with a vulgar old sea dog to man what might be an enchanted lighthouse. Creepy, filled with dread, Pattinson is haunting in the film.
Christian Bale and Matt Damon shine bright in Ford vs. Ferrari, though each going lead is risky. Bale is supporting but because he is Bale, he will go lead. Along with Edward Norton, so good in Motherless Brooklyn I am just not sure these three are truly in the mix.
Renee Zellweger is without question the front runner and likely winner for her transformative performance as Judy Garland in Judy. An astonishing performance that captures the last year in the life of the icon, exploring her battle with addiction and alcohol, her fight to maintain control of her career when it was in tatters, and her deep love of her children. She bursts to life during the songs, where she does her own singing, a great accomplishment. Give her the Oscar now.
After a career spanning more than twenty years, Scarlett Johansson is finally in the talk for Best Actress for her superb performance in Marriage Story. Opposite Adam Driver, the two darkly explore the breakdown of a marriage, a wounding, difficult experience. The actress brings to her character depths we have not previously experienced before. Might be her year!
Widows (2018) breakout star Cynthia Erivo would be a front runner had her film Harriet not tanked at TIFF. Critics expected the Harriet Tubman film to be a masterpiece but clearly it missed the mark, but Cynthia Erivo as Tubman is miraculous. She should be among the nominees unless the weakness of the film impacts her more than anticipated.
Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman are both Oscar winners and could both be nominated for their work in the Fox News scandal drama Bombshell. Theron is said to be extraordinary as Meagan Kelly, while Kidman, as always, is outstanding.
Awkwafina has kind of exploded upon us! Her powerful work in The Farewell cannot be denied as the masterwork of acting it is, and including it among the nominees allows the Academy to honour the under represented Asian actors.I think this spectacular talent has much to show in the years to come.
Saoirse Ronan is a frequent nominee and possesses Meryl Streep-type talent. As the lead in Greta Gerwig’s much anticipated adaptation of Little Women. Ronan is immensely gifted, an Irish Born lass, possibly the greatest actress of her generation. Expect a nomination.
Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o might, MIGHT remain in voters heads long enough to be nominated for her excellent performance in Us, the spring released horror thriller for which she received terrific reviews. Maybe.
Talk for Constance Wu started at TIFF though the bulk of Oscar talk about Hustlers surrounds her co-star Lopez. That said, Wu established herself as the lead and gives a solid performance which anchors this wildly entertaining
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.