Oscars 2016: Best Actor Analysis

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Oscar Watch 2016: Best Actor Analysis

Bryan Cranston (Trumbo):

Trumbo poster

In a movie that’s screaming to be an FX mini-series, Trumbo is an aggressively mediocre film. What is not mediocre though is Bryan Cranston’s passionate turn as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter who famously got blacklisted for his supposed political beliefs. Whenever Bryan Cranston is in anything, he always brings a gravitas that is impossible to ignore. The best moments in Trumbo are when he’s stressed out, on edge, and even lashing out at his family when his writing is disturbed. This is a weak script in an overall weak movie, but Cranston does what all great actors do – elevates the material. He’s got no chance here, but if Trumbo was actually given more effort, who knows what would have been?

Chances of Winning: Low

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Matt Damon (The Martian):

I wasn’t sure if Damon would get this, but as we got closer to nomination day, it was clear he had huge momentum in getting this last spot that was projected to go to Johnny Depp (Black Mass), or possibly Will Smith (Concussion). The love for the movie obviously helped propel Damon, but he truly makes this film work, more so than Ridley Scott, the script, or any other cast member. Damon is akin to Tom Hanks in Cast-Away – a likable, funny guy you want to spend two hours with. Damon has already had a fine career, but this might be his most charismatic turn yet. He takes the situation of being alone on a distant planet, near death mind you, and makes it into a fun challenge. When people complained about The Martian being in the comedy category at this year’s Golden Globes, I was one of the supporters of this decision. Damon’s performance is so transcendent, he actually changes the genre of the film. That’s impressive. This is a tough performance to win an Oscar for, but Damon definitely has legit upset potential.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant):

Revenant poster

The stars may finally be aligned for Leo to shout “I’m King of the World!” on the Oscar stage. The performance has been praised up and down. It’s one of the rare years where Best Actor isn’t super competitive. And last, but certainly not least, he’s got the “It’s time” factor, much like Julianne Moore last year. Not only that, but it’s a very different performance from DiCaprio. His range will surely impress Academy members. This is the equivalent of a football team that’s executed the perfect game plan. All there is to do now is wait for the clock to wind down so he can get the win. DiCaprio played Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s fantastic Great Gatsby adaptation from 2013, where he reached for the green light. Will Leo finally obtain it?

Chances of Winning: High

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs):

This is DiCaprio’s toughest competition. Fassbender is electrifying as Steve Jobs, taking every advantage of Aaron Sorkin’s fantastic screenplay. This is a performance that gets you in the race by law, but there are two factors that may ultimate cost him. The first is the movie itself didn’t really connect with people, aside from Fassbender and Winslet, who both could potentially win. The fact that Sorkin got snubbed tells you a lot about how the Academy feels about this movie. The second is that we’ve seen this performance done a hundred times. Yes, it’s a great job by Fassbender, but the powerful and constant monologues have been done a lot. The Academy may look to the other performances, which do have more variety. This performance will be tough to ignore though.

Danish Girl

Chances of Winning: High

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl):

Eddie Redmayne did not deserve to win the Oscar last year for The Theory of Everything, but I’m not going on that rant again. I’ve talked about it ad nauseam. I’m not Eddie’s biggest fan, but I’ll give him credit for The Danish Girl – it’s a legit performance, albeit very Oscarey. When all said and done though, I currently have Redmayne third in this category for one simple reason – he won last year. The back-to-back acting Oscars almost never happen. Tom Hanks only achieved it because he gave arguably two of the best performances of all time in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Yeah. That’s what it takes. If Redmayne hadn’t won last year, he’d be the clear front runner for this type of role. I just can’t fathom Eddie Redmayne being the first back-to-back Oscar winner for acting since Tom Hanks. Not going to happen.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.