Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The State of the Race - Best Actor

Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Morgan Freeman, and Jeremy Renner. Those are our five nominees for Best Actor this year. Two of the men are previous winners in the Supporting Actor category. Morgan Freeman won in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby, and George Clooney won in 2006 for Syriana. Colin Firth is enjoying his first nomination in a long career of fantastic performances. Jeremy Renner is the newcomer, scoring his first nomination in a breakthrough role in the Best Picture frontrunner this year. And then there's Jeff Bridges, sitting on his fifth nomination in a career that spans 40 years. He's never won before, and most agree, it's his time. So is there anything to discuss?

Plenty. The big question is whether or not Jeff Bridges is as much of a lock as it seems. The short answer is yes. The Dude will win his long overdue oscar. However, there's a bit more to the race than meets the eye. Many have wondered if Jeremy Renner can ride the gravy train and good will towards The Hurt Locker to a surprise Best Actor win. Of the five men nominated, he's been the one consistent nominee since the film's release in the summer. Some predicted Freeman would get left out after the lukewarm reception for Invictus. George Clooney and Colin Firth became solid contenders when their films premiered in early fall. Jeff Bridges was not always a sure thing until Crazy Heart got picked up at the last minute by Fox Searchlight, throwing a monkey wrench into the works when the race seemed to be between Colin Firth and George Clooney in the fall. Other contenders were Viggo Mortensen in The Road, Daniel Day Lewis in Nine, Robert Duvall in Get Low, and Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man.

I think in some ways Jeff Bridges' inevitable win is representative of a couple of things. First off, the performance itself is fantastic. It's truly a deserving win, and a huge highlight in a marvelous career. It's not flashy acting, it's subtlety with a capital S. Bridges completely disappears into the role of Bad Blake. It's a different role for him. But it worked in truly amazing ways. The film, and to a lesser extent, the role, is reminiscent of The Wrestler, and Mickey Rourke's career best work and oscar nominated performance last year. It's simple filmmaking, with the performance front and center. In some ways, the Academy may be making up for last year, where best Actor went to Sean Penn in Milk over Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Penn did career best work in Milk, but Rourke was incredible. I think that result may have had more to do with the fact that Rourke, while having made a huge career comeback and turned his life around with the role, had not been completely welcomed back into Hollywood with open arms. When Rourke's life and career went astray, he burned some bridges, and clearly, they had not been repaired just yet.

The difference between Rourke and Jeff Bridges is that Bridges is the pinnacle of the nice guy. He's a warm, sweet, gentle person. Everyone likes him. And he's long overdue. As one of the treasures of American acting, it's hard to believe he's never won and Oscar before and shows just how much we take him for granted sometimes. The question remains, will he win? Yes. Should he win? Yes.

But then there's still this nagging feeling I can't shake off that Jeremy Renner is more of a contender than he's given credit for. The big thing in Renner's favor is that he's the star of the Best Picture frontrunner. Everyone loves The Hurt Locker, and that good will could theoretically carry over to get Renner an Oscar.

Flashback 2003. Everyone said it was between Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York and Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. Michael Caine and Nicholas Cage were also nominated. All four of them were previous winners. And then Adrien Brody came out of nowhere and pulled a surprise win for The Pianist.

A lot of people have theorized that Jeremy Renner could do something similar this year. However, I don't see that happening. The difference is that all the other nominees that year were previous winners. No one was overdue. Bridges is very overdue. I think that if there were more time, Renner could win. I feel there is buzz for him building. But at this point, Bridges is near unstoppable. But who knows. Maybe we could be in for a shocker come March.


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