By John H. Foote
Of the top 10 vying for a nomination for Best Actor in what is a very competitive field this year, two have previously won the award, while six have earned nominations either in this category or supporting actor. Sadly, one of the great performances this year, Taron Egerton’s magnificent Elton John in Rocketman, might be excluded because the Academy blundered last year. Remember? Despite brilliant work from Viggo Mortensen in Green Book, Christian Bale in Vice and the non-nominated but deserving Ryan Gosling in First Man, Best Actor was won by Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in the vastly over praised Bohemian Rhapsody. No way the Academy will honour another rock bio pic with Best Actor and what is criminal is that Egerton deserves the nod far more than Malek. No lip synching here, he did his own singing which Malek most certainly did not, and the Academy further blew it awarding the film Best Film Editing and Both Oscars for Sound, all three belonging to First Man.
At this writing the undisputed leaders, if such a thing exists with the Academy Awards, are Adam Driver for his tortured husband/ father going through a terrible divorce in Marriage Story and Joaquin Phoenix for his extraordinary turn in Joker. Both could win, both would be deserving but sadly that does not always happen. Many believe Phoenix deserved the award for his superb work in The Master (2012) and might be given the edge, though his work as the demented Joker is deserving, a performance for the ages.
Academy Award winner and nominee Leonardo Di Caprio gave an excellent performance as a fading TV star trying to stay relevant in evolving Hollywood in Quentin Tarantino’s sprawling epic Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Desperate, funny, heartbreaking and authentic, the actor is truly brilliant in the film, most deserving of being among the final five.
Hollywood and the Academy love comebacks and this year there are two in the Best Actor category. Two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro, who has been mediocre a long time, is positively superb in The Irishman for director and old friend Martin Scorsese. De Miro is perfect, ruthless, murderous, but eventually filled with regret and overrun with melancholy late in his life for the many men he murdered, including the mob hit on Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Pacino also makes the comeback kid list as Hoffa, a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actor. Bother De Niro and Pacino do their best work in more than 20 years in The Irishman.
Eddie Murphy, robbed of an Academy Award for Dreamgirls (2006), should find himself a nominee for his warm, wonderful and very passionate performance in Dolemite is My Name, a bio pic which explores blaxploitation films in the seventies.
Another comedian turned dramatic actor, Adam Sandler, delivers an edgy, seething performance as a compulsive gambler caught up in his own addiction in Uncut Gems. Ironically, watching Sandler I was reminded of seventies Pacino, electrifying from beginning to end. He carries the film, and I defy anyone to take their eyes off him. Simply stunning. I truly could not believe my eyes watching the ferocious intensity with which he portrays on screen.
One of The Two Popes is likely to be nominated, Jonathan Pryce being the more likely of the two. Anthony Hopkins will go supporting allowing Pryce a shot at a Best Actor nod. Maybe. But only maybe.
The always fascinating Academy Award winner Christian Bale was outstanding as Zken Miles in Ford vs. Ferrari and could earn another nomination after last years Vice. The chameleon, Lon Chaney-like artist slipped under the skin of the hot-tempered driver to create an interesting however volatile character. I think by now if this actor makes a film, he is going to at the very least be in discussion for a nomination.
Brand new to Oscar talk is young Roman Griffin Davis the happy go lucky Nazi youth who is a true zealot in Jo Jo Rabbit. His room decorated with Nazi propaganda in the dying days of the war, his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler himself, when the boy discovers a Jewish girl hidden by his mother in a closet in their home, his entire world is turned upside down. The boy allows this bizarre but brilliant film to rest upon his young shoulders and not once does he falter delivering a bold, confident performance. One of the greatest child performances ever given.
And finally, the aforementioned Taron Egerton, who as Elton John in Rocketman richly deserves a nomination but it will not likely happen. Too bad because he soars in the film with a magnificent performance that blows Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury away. I hope he gets in but, well, you know …
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.