- Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
- Colin Firth - The King's Speech
- James Franco - 127 Hours
- Javier Bardem - Biutiful
- Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Eisenberg, then, is what I meant when I said I had concerns when I started this category. Eisenberg is easily the weakest candidate in this category. He does a great job playing the aloof, uninterested, too-intelligent, college student disillusioned with those around him and generally uninterested in things outside of his computer. Let's be honest here, though, I can do that role in my sleep. I might have a fast track here, since that's my life - sans the multi-billion dollar website. Eisenberg does a good job emulating Zuckerberg, but this role isn't worth a nomination no matter who plays it. I had to hope things went up from here.
Fortunately, they did. Javier Bardem and Jeff Bridges did a very good job making the second tier here.
I had to try hard to get past Bridges' accent and serious case of the mumbles. I think I managed well enough overcoming my own poor hearing. He did a very good job navigating Hailee Steinfeld as well as playing against her. He did a convincing job as the unruly yet highly competent Marshall Cogburn. I really enjoyed this role even though it didn't have grand emotional diversity. It was just varied enough, and he displayed fantastic depth throughout the entire performance. He was certainly the highlight in a movie nominated for best picture honors.
Javier Bardem is the first actor nominated for a non-English role, and he deserves every bit of it. Again, he did an excellent job in a film that was also very good. I had to jump a few hurdles with this role to appreciate it. First was that, try as I might, there's something lost when you are reading subtitles and can't natively understand the actor. Also, Bardem plays a man dying of blood and bone cancer that I watched less than a week after discovering my dad has blood and/or bone cancer. That certainly made the performance more powerful. It also distracted me a great deal from the movie I was trying to watch. Regardless, Bardem performed admirably here in a role full of emotional lows while still being able to sprinkle in some very touching moments throughout. He left you in your seat wondering whether the world and, more importantly, his children would be better off without him. Unfortunately for him and foreign language films, he was simply beat out by a couple other stellar performances this year.
The second tier, like I said was very good. The other two nominees are certainly better enough to be on a tier above, which should say something. They're both great performances and it's hard for me to pick one.
Firth does a fantastic job as King George VI. He is charming and yet he's an asshole. He is entitled and humble. His character is wide and deep. The key to his role, of course, is that he emulates a stutter incredibly well. His final speech sounds like someone took the original vinyl and cleaned it of all the crackle, pops and hiss. It is simply spot on. Firth plays famously off Geoffry Rush and interacts perfectly with Helena Bonham Carter. I'm not sure there's a thing I can criticize about this performance.
I'm also not sure there is anything I can criticize about James Franco's performance either. He was the complete package of the cocky outdoorsman full of energy out on his own. He had the thrill of the trail and the agony of being trapped under a boulder for 127 hours - and then cutting off his arm. He performed a wide range of emotions seemingly with ease, fitting each one perfectly to his character. He shared very little screentime with anyone, and that's why I give him the nod over Firth here. Franco and Firth both had spot on performances with vast emotional range and depth. Firth had nominees Rush (my very close number two for supporting actor) and Carter to play off of and enhance his performance. Franco had a rock. Franco simply carried a movie almost entirely on his own ability to act.
All that said, I'm near certain Firth is going to win this award, and I can't fault the committee for that in the slightest.
As always, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments. I'd love to know what you thought of this group of nominees.