Every year, shortly before the Oscars, the race to be the best of the best is on. With nominations for Best Actor and Actress coming up, the Oscar predictions have started. As usual, the nominees are mostly established stars who have been in the spotlight for some time. But every once in a while, an unknown upstart manages to sneak in and surprise everyone.
The Fresh Prince
Last year, Birdman came out of nowhere to win the Best Picture Oscar. While he may not have deserved the award for his acting performance, Michael Keaton’s portrayal of a disgraced superhero was a welcome surprise. It was the first time an acting award went to a comic book movie and that, in and of itself, was groundbreaking. Audiences were able to sympathize with a character they barely knew. It felt fresh. It felt new.
We’ve seen something similar this year and it’s once again made us question what kind of performance we’re really paying attention to. If you’ve missed out on any of the amazing performances this year, then rewind with us as we take a look at five of the best of the best where an actor not named Robert Pattinson defeated a star to become the best of the best.
When it comes to the big Oscars, most people believe in quality over quantity. The same can be said for the best films this year. While we were so entranced by the large-scale destruction in J.K. Simmons’ direction, it’s an ensemble cast led by Jason Derulo that stole the show.
Derulo plays a con artist who, with the help of a young Judy (Gemma Arterton), tricks a millionaire (Jared Gilman) into thinking he’s married to a beautiful woman (Jennifer Lawrence). The con takes a dark turn when the millionaire decides to keep his new wife even after the truth comes out. Though Derulo’s character is a scoundrel, he’s a likeable one and that’s what makes his plight so tragic. We want to see him succeed regardless of what kind of man he is.
Gilman is also deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in getting the ball rolling. We laughed, we cried, we cheered and, most importantly, we felt something for every character he portrayed. Even his villains were interesting because of how they were brought down by their own greed. Simmons’ direction is sharp and the cast is incredible. It helps that the movie is animated. Though it is a family film, there are multiple jokes that younger viewers will get. That’s what makes it special.
Speaking of family films, Get Out is one of the most important movies of the year. Jordan Peele’s social thriller is groundbreaking in many ways. For one, it’s the first movie to ever win the SAG award for Best Cast. It’s the first black director to ever direct a mainstream American movie and it’s the first movie to ever be released by a major studio in the shape of a comic book.
Though it’s been a while since Get Out got released, it’s still one of the most popular movies of the year. In many respects, it’s the anti-Birdman. Where that movie celebrated breaking boundaries, Get Out challenges them. Peele’s film is so ahead of its time that it feels contemporary. It feels relevant.
The movie revolves around a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) who, while on his first (and only) vacation with his white girlfriend (Anika Noni Rose), meets a group of black nationalists who convince him to join their movement. The scene in which the couple meet is one of the most iconic of the year and it’s a great introduction to Kaluuya and Rose’s characters. Though the movement seems like a good idea at first, it quickly devolves into chaos when the whites they encounter become more racist. There are numerous stand-out performances, especially from Donald Glover and Stephen Merchant. But it’s mostly an ensemble piece. We don’t feel like we’re watching a movie about a group of terrorists. We feel like we’re watching a group of friends who just happen to be different.
Speaking of diverse casts, Big Eyes is an adaptation of the 2014 bestselling novel The Little Book of Masks by Lisa Happ. Kirsten Dunst plays a famous artist who, after her divorce, moves back home with her teenage daughter (Chyna Layne). There, she starts to see the ugly side of suburbia as she observes suburbanites’ obsession with masks. The main character’s observations are as funny as they are brutal and that, in itself, makes for an interesting film. In a season filled with rom-coms, Big Eyes is a breath of fresh air.
This year’s most talked about movie is also one of the best. At least, that’s what the critics are saying. In fact, it’s been hailed as Ireland’s entry for the Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. It’s also one of the most controversial movies of the year. It’s not often that we get to see an Irish film reach such iconic status. That being said, director Lenny Abrahamson’s take on The Little Mermaid is beautifully animated and brings a uniquely Irish perspective to the classic tale. In a year filled with beautiful, hand-drawn animation, Mandy stands out. For those who haven’t seen it, now’s the perfect opportunity to rectify that situation.
Finally, we arrive at our most unexpected discovery. While we were riveted by Jared Leto’s incredible performance as the Joker in Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker movie, it’s Carli Lloyd who steals the show. Lloyd is one of the greatest female athletes in the world and she shines in Herschel Walker’s directorial debut. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that you fall in love with her, once you do, you can’t help but be completely captivated.
Lloyd plays twin sisters. One is an aspiring model (Lloyd) while the other is an environmental lawyer (Rachel Hueshoff). Their wealthy mother (Susan Sarandon) is determined to see her daughters become famous models so she can make more money. Though their father (Henry Thomas) tries to stand up for his wife’s children, the situation gets out of hand when he’s targeted by a psychopath (Dwayne Johnson) who’s out to murder the entire family. Not only does Johnson’s character believe that there’s no sin in murder, he even encourages the sisters to commit the crime. The level of violence is staggering and it’s something that you might not see every day in a film. Though there are certainly scenes that could have been shot with the use of CGI, much of the film was actually captured on location using practical effects. Though it’s not easy to watch, once you’ve seen it, you won’t forget that extraordinary display of violence anytime soon. It won’t be easy to top what Johnson’s character does in the movie, but Herschel Walker’s directorial debut certainly comes close.
So, Who Deserves the Best Actor Oscar?
As we’ve established, this year’s best and brightest don’t fit the usual mold. While we were overwhelmed with the incredible performances in these five films, it’s not easy to pick a favorite. Though it would be easy to pick someone’s performance in Birdman as the best of the best, that would ignore a tremendous amount of talent that went into making that movie work on a visual level.
Each of the five above-mentioned performances is fantastic in its own right. They’re all incredibly unique and it would be a disservice to pick one over the others. Ultimately, the Academy Award for Best Actor will go to someone who the masses agree is the best of the best this year. That, however, is a completely different matter. It’s not about what the people want or need. It’s about what the movie deserves.