2016 Oscars: Best Actor

Continuing my series of 2016 Oscars posts, which will run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the three weeks leading up to the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 28.


Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Who Could Win: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Who Should Be Here: Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Let’s get this out of the way: If anyone not named Leonardo DiCaprio wins the Best Actor award this year, it’ll be a massive upset. Another thing: This is not DiCaprio’s best performance ever. It’s not to say it isn’t good, or great even – just not his best ever. But when he was nominated for his turn as Howard Hughes in The Aviator, he lost to Jaime Foxx’s transformative performance in Ray. Then, nominated for Danny Archer in Blood Diamond (one of my personal favorites of his), he lost to Forest Whitaker’s Idi Amin. In 2013, DiCaprio got himself nominated for his funnest role ever in The Wolf of Wall Street, he again is upended, this time by the “McConaissance”, otherwise known as the world realizing that Matthew McConaughey can actually act (an argument I often lost in the 2000s when he just couldn’t stop taking roles in bad romantic comedies).

But I digress. Without a major transformative performance on the list, all of this history and goodwill in general towards DiCaprio within Hollywood will push him over the top,and he’ll receive his first ever Oscar in six tries. All of this is not to say that DiCaprio’s performance as Hugh Glass wasn’t great – it was. People point to the fact that he had little to no dialogue as a reason to hate on the role. Don’t believe them – some of the best moments and performances in film come from looks, gestures, body language – not just the cleverly placed line (and this is coming from a writer).

There were a lot of performances that could have been recognized in addition to or with these performances, but the snub I’m most disapointed by is Michael B. Jordan for Creed. Jordan has done great work ever since the first season of The Wire, and he’s just starting to come into his own as an actor. Part of the reason the film was so powerful was the balance between Stallone’s quiet, subdued Rocky and Jordan’s larger than life, powerful Adonis Creed. To nominate one and not the other is a disservice to the film, and though I absolutely loathe the idea of talking about race and politics when it comes to recognizing great art in film, perhaps #OscarsSoWhite has a point.

Not that the other four performers don’t deserve to be here, though I’d rank two above the others. I had the good fortune of both reading and seeing The Martian this year (in that order), and it’s one of the best stories I’ve come across in a good number of years. The book is better than the movie – just because 120 minutes is oddly short when it comes to storytelling – though Matt Damon comes as close to nailing the Mark Watney character as I can imagine anyone doing. Likewise, Steve Jobs was f***ing phenomenal – such a fresh take on the traditional biopic structure, and Michael Fassbender completely owned the role.