Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lead Actor

Time to answer the question that's on everyone's mind: is this Leo's year?

Actor in a Leading Role:
  • Bryan Cranston in Trumbo
  • Matt Damon in The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl

I know this won't be a novel revelation, but with Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston quickly became an actor for whom I was excited to see. Certainly there are still the Argos of the world, but with Trumbo, he solidifies himself as an actor that can sell me on a film all by his lonesome. He's attached to a Wes Anderson project, and I even caught myself begrudgingly excited about it. In Trumbo, Cranston finds a character full of witticisms and jest while still having the harsh, unforgiving edge that made Breaking Bad's Walter White. Cranston's timing is impeccable, and he manages to just contain Trumbo's grandiosity of spirit. Trumbo's complexities of character come through exquisitely from being a sweet, nurturing father to a ruthless voice in the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, to a pill-popping, highball-drinking, overworked screenwriter defying the blacklist. Because of Cranston, Trumbo is not just good; it is a joy.

Matt Damon is the quintessential passable actor to me. He's never made a movie better than an average actor getting regular supporting and lead roles in Hollywood. The Martian is no different. I don't even like James Franco, but as far as isolated roles go, this doesn't hold a candle to 127 Hours. I'm not saying Damon was bad. He just isn't good. His delivery is fine, and he at least approaches the emotional notes he's supposed to. The Martian could have been a great science fiction film, and instead, I suspect it will be wiped from our collective consciousness after this awards season.

Leonardo DiCaprio was given the task of developing a character mostly through a series of grunts, groans, and a frothy mouth. The Revenant is a brutal film to watch made palatable only through the silky beauty of Lubezki's cinematography. DiCaprio harnesses that brutality excellently, though, much like Lubezki's work obscured the costuming, the action of this film obscures much of Leo's work. Hugh Glass has the makings of an interesting character up until the bear mauling. After that point, we're given a one-dimensional shell of a man. This is obviously intentional, but that depth means this is far from Leo's best work as far as I'm concerned.

Michael Fassbender hit one self-aggrandizing note after another as Steve Jobs. It's easy to loathe the man as he makes enemies out of, seemingly, everyone in his life. Fassbender delivers on the fanatacism of Jobs, but somehow never makes the man respectable. Instead of inspired, Jobs seems nigh neurotic. Instead of a genius, he comes off as a charlatan who stumbles across magic. This characterization of Jobs is so thorough, it's difficult to believe any arc designed for salvation. Did Fassbender perform well? Absolutely. He developed that character as beautifully as Jobs designed his perfectly imperfect Next cube. Unfortunately for the film, Fassbender is exactly the same on every side, and no amount of minor change will render the illusion complete.

I'm going to vomit if I read one more piece about how Redmayne felt self conscious for dressing in drag. If I read one more time about how the director thinks Redmayne might be genderfluid (maybe don't out him!) and that "there's a long way to go" to casting trans actors despite there being plenty of talent, I am going to start boycotting cis people. All of them. Yes, you too. This after Redmayne's problematic win for portraying Stephen Hawking. Did Redmayne do a decent job for someone who isn't a trans woman? Sure. I guess it was okay in the way that Christian Bale played Moses or Edward Norton played the Hulk. Lili had some honesty to her, but the film was really fetishistic in how Einar affected womanhood rather than embodied it which reminds me more of Willem Dafoe in Boondock Saints than, say, Michelle Hendley in the (also super problematic) Boy Meets Girl. Eddie Redmayne has one terrifically coy look for Lili. It's so good, he uses it over and over and over and over again. It's like watching Zoolander 2 but less authentic. There's a self-centered desperation to Lili that will resonate with a lot of trans women, a resonance that I'm sure will be loathed as no one really likes to think about how awful of a person they used to be. Let's be honest, though, Redmayne for all his over affectation is no match for Alicia Vikander.

I think this is indeed Leo's year which is a huge relief because, barring his excellent performance, I suspect we'd have another cis actor winning for playing a transface role. Personally, I love Cranston as Trumbo, but with Leo sweeping up the awards already this season, an Oscar is probably next.

Should win: Bryan Cranston in Trumbo
Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant

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