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Oscars® 2017: Best Actor

Best Actor
Ranking the Nominees and Predicting the Winner for Best Actress

Each day leading up to the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26 Shrink Tank will profile one of the major categories, ranking the nominees for their work and predicting who will walk away with a shiny gold statue.

Today we profile the Best Actor nominees.  Of the four acting categories, this is the one category I have no complaints about the nominees.  They all deserve to be on this list and I cannot think of another lead performance that should represented over the five nominees.  The odds have turned this category into a Casey vs. Denzel affair.

Once Manchester by the Sea hit theaters, Affleck was lauded for what many called the best performance of his career.  The Oscar® looked to be a lock for him.  Then allegations of sexual misconduct in his past surfaced.  His interaction with the press promoting the film hasn’t helped him.  And finally, Denzel’s interaction with the press while he stumps for his film and his co-star Viola Star has furthered endeared him to the media and academy voters.  So, who should win and who will win?

5.  Ryan Gosling – La La Land

This isn’t a knock on Gosling’s performance as Sebastian, it’s just that La La Land is really Emma Stone’s vehicle.  His role primarily functions to further the story of Mia.  That’s quite the reversal of what we’re accustom to in Hollywood.  Usually the female role functions to further the male protagonist’s journey of self-discovery.  Yes he learned to play piano and dance (which should be taken into consideration in my book), but the dramatic aspects of the film didn’t stretch or greatly challenge Gosling as an actor.  His performance was charming and restrained, but not worthy of winning an Oscar®.

4.  Viggo Mortenson – Captain Fantastic

Viggo is one of the most unappreciated and reliable actors working today.  As Ben, Mortenson portrays a father who has raised his six children in isolation in the Pacific Northwest, but must integrate them into society after his wife’s death.  It’s the type of character study that Mortenson thrives in and clearly he is drawn to this type of material.  The film itself is very good but very few people even know of its existence.  I hope Viggo’s nomination will attract more folks to seek out this touching film.

3.  Denzel Washington – Fences

Putting Denzel at number three may shock and upset some folks, but I have my reasons.  I think it’s a great performance.  I think it’s a powerful performance.  Washington plays Troy Maxson, a middle-aged man whose bitterness over his sports career and life as a black man in 1950s Pittsburgh threatens to tear apart his family.  That bitterness and regret is at the center of his performance.  So why do I rank Washington so low when a number of people believe he and not Affleck will win the Oscar®?  Well, for one thing his performance didn’t surprise me.  That’s no knock on Denzel, but I’ve come to expect powerful performances from him.  Secondly, I’ve had the chance to see footage of Washington playing the same character on Broadway, and I found myself enjoying that portrayal more than the one I saw on the big screen.  On Broadway Denzel used his charm and wit throughout his performance.  In his cinematic adaptation, Denzel’s humor is mostly on display in the first third of the film.  And that humor and charm is nowhere in his scenes with his son.  This Troy is all menace and bitterness.  Which leads me to my biggest reservation with the film and ambivalence toward the performance.  I don’t sympathize with Troy as much as I think Washington expects the audience will side with him.  He is a complex character but never did I feel the level of sympathy for him as I did for Viola Davis’s Rose or Jovan Adepo’s Cory.  But Fences is mostly his story.  By the end, Fences had exhausted me and so had Washington’s performance.  And not in a good way.

2.  Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

Garfield is the actor that surprised me the most this year for his portrayal of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector whose commitment to serving on the frontlines as a medic takes him to the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.  I was not prepared to like this film or his performance as much as I did when it was over.  Some people have critiqued Garfield’s Gomer Pylesque performance.  I found it to be the right mix of earnestness, naïveté, and humble piety.  By the end of the film I believed Doss couldn’t waiver on his moral convictions or his duty to serve his country.  That was quite an accomplishment for Garfield in the best performance of his career.

1.  Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a handyman trying to comfort his teenage nephew while coping with a tragedy from his own past and his grief over his brother’s death.  Affleck is a tour-de-force in this film.  Unlike Washington’s depiction of Troy Maxson, Affleck’s performance is mostly internalized, as we watch a broken and emotionally numb man attempt to live again for the sake of another person.  It’s a devastating performance and one that captured my sympathy.  Here is a man who is suffering and doesn’t believe he should have the right to have that suffering end.  I think it was the best performance of the year.

PREDICTION:  Months ago it looked like Affleck was a sure bet.  Now, after the awards season is coming to an end this race is wide open.  I’m starting to worry that Denzel Washington may upset Affleck and take home his third Oscar®.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened, but I’m still sticking with Casey Affleck.

WINNER:  Casey Affleck

Next up tomorrow: Best Director.

The 89th Academy Awards® will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be broadcast live on the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST.

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About the author

Jonathan Hetterly, LPC

Jonathan Hetterly, LPC

Jonathan Hetterly is a therapist, writer, and pop culture addict. He’s also a contributor to The Shrink Tank podcast. Follow him at @jhetterly and @shrink_tank.

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