This year’s list of Oscar nominees was the most controversial in recent times. With at least three deserving candidates – Joseph Gordon Levitt (50/50), Ryan Gosling (Ides of March), Leonardo DiCaprio (J.Edgar) (I am yet to watch Shame but I am told Fassbender is another glaring omission) – completely ignored, this year’s nominees are just plain lucky to be nominated. Here’s a closer look at the men who got the Academy’s attention.
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Playing the illegal immigrant Carlos Galindo who goes searching for his truck that gets stolen on Day 1, Bichir turns in an earnest, heartbreaking performance in this film that reminds you of Bicycle Thieves. The honesty and poignancy that he brings to the role is hard to ignore. Certainly among the more well-deserved of nominations. The actor was first noticed playing Fidel Castro in the Che films and went on to get star in the TV show Weeds and given the Academy’s record of favouring the more experienced actors, Bichir may have to settle for just the nomination this time. This is one of those noms that the Academy uses to tell us a new actor has arrived, we have taken notice and we always consider people of other races and minorities too. Especially in a film about a man risking everything he has for a Better Life in the United States of America.
George Clooney, The Descendants
Good old Clooney has turned in some fine performances. His performance as Matt King in The Descendants, no doubt, is one of his best. He can break down the strongest of men in that last scene when he bids goodbye to his dying wife with nothing but just one simple line of dialogue: “Goodbye, my love. Goodbye, my friend. My joy. My pain. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.” Beyond that, there is no reason he should even be nominated on the merit of this role. The Academy would’ve just felt bad about him not winning for Up in the Air (2010) or Michael Clayton (2008) after being nominated. And that’s probably the only reason he would and should win this year.
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
The Artist is that film that foreign film that everyone’s excited about, one that’s threatening to win every other award that it has been nominated for. As a complete contrast to The King’s Speech, The Artist features Dujardin as the fading star of the silent film era. He does not have to speak throughout the film except for a line at the end, one that finally reveals why he wasn’t cut out for talkies. This is a film that rides high on charm and concept and yes, while the dance that Dujardin does in the climax alone is worth the price of admission to this film, it is certainly not something worth considering overlooking Joseph Gordon Levitt or Ryan Gosling or Leonardo DiCaprio. The Artist is one of those crowd-pleasing simple jury-friendly films that may just steal Clooney’s thunder this year.
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Since there’s no token senior citizen performance to honour this year, that slot goes to 53-year-old Oldman playing a much older George Smiley, the retired head of the intelligence services called upon to investigate a mole. While the film itself is hard to follow if you haven’t read the book or seen the TV series, Oldman’s presence in the film undeniably looms large and you can’t help but notice the finesse he brings to the role. This is not the kind of role that has any sentimental connect with the Academy (in fact most of the older Academy members may not even have the patience to care for this complex narrative), it still makes for a token nomination to honour the best reviewed film that they just didn’t understand.
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
As Billy Beane, the general manager of an underdog team of ragtag players trying to take on the richer teams with the help of science rather than scouts, Brad Pitt scores with in a phenomenally understated performance in this baseball sports drama. The smartly written Moneyball is a less emotional Jerry Maguire for this generation, one that offers Pitt just enough meat to showcase his range as an actor. Based on a true story, it’s a role that does not necessitate larger than life histrionics. It’s a character we understand more through his introspective brooding moments or silent clench of the fist. Just too classy a performance to actually win the big prize.