Marlow: We’ve tackled the best Oscar’s had to offer, from Beyoncé to Björk (and that glorious swan dress), as well as the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad moments. We’ve also crossed the perilous minefields that are the Best Supporting Actor/Actress races, two categories that are more up for grabs than a sauced Gerard Butler at a hotel lobby bar. But now it’s time for the ones that people really care about the most this year: Best Actor and Best Actress.
Kevin: I resent you downplaying my interest in Best Documentary Short.
Marlow: Pouring some smoothie out for Best Documentary Short. Let’s start with Best Actress, shall we? I’m still annoyed that Charlize Theron was snubbed for her testosterone-fueled turn as the one-armed badass Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Furiosa belongs in the pantheon of great kickass movie women alongside Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Foxy Brown. It’s a shame that the Academy is so crusty, white, and male—it leads to these great, unconventional female characters being overlooked. I mean, do you see the look in Charlize’s eyes here? You do not want to fuck with her.
Kevin: It’s lunacy that Theron wasn’t just snubbed, but never really taken seriously in the Best Actress conversation at all? Jennifer Lawrence puts on a frumpy blouse and says, “Look, I made a mop!” and gets a nomination for Joy, but the most intense, grueling, hypnotizing, and other such superlatives I’m too lazy to go into a thesaurus to look up performance of the year is ignored? Why, it’s as ludicrous as not nominating a single actor of color for an Academy Award. Oh, wait…
Marlow: …Zing. And sadly all too true. Look, J. Law is undoubtedly one of the finest actresses on the planet—anyone who’s seen The Burning Plain, Winter’s Bone, or most anything else she’s been in can attest to this. But Joy was, given the enormous amount of talent involved, one of the most disappointing movies of the year, and in no way deserved any awards consideration. It’s a mess. Theron was previously snubbed for her deliciously bitchy turn in Young Adult, too.
Kevin: I’d also like to extend a cordial middle finger to the Academy for failing to consider the year’s best indie performers—Kristen Wiig in Welcome to Me, Bel Powley in Diary of a Teenage Girl, Lily Tomlin in Grandma—or Theron’s partner in kickass crime, Emily Blunt in Sicario. If any one of these people replaced Lawrence this could actually have been one of the strongest Best Actress lineups in many years.
Marlow: I would have loved to see Blunt nominated for Sicario. She’s been nothing short of brilliant since her debut as a manipulative teen in My Summer of Love, and it’s been fascinating to see her evolve into an actress who can tackle a diversity of roles. That Juarez sequence, where her in-the-dark FBI agent is trapped in a caravan heading into the heart of darkness, is mesmerizing. With the camera trained tight on her face, we feel every ounce of terror she is. Two other performances that received absolutely zero buzz yet deserved serious consideration were Elisabeth Moss as a woman who slowly unravels in Queen of Earth—who, by the way, has proven to be far and away the most gifted actor from the Mad Men camp, turning in great work in criminally underrated indies like The One I Love and Listen Up Philip—and Nina Hoss as a concentration camp survivor who yearns for the life, and man, she once had in Phoenix. With the exception of Theron, Hoss’s was my favorite female performance of the year, vividly translating the agony and ecstasy of a life destroyed and built anew. And that final scene, wow. The best final scene of any film this year.
Kevin: Can Elisabeth Moss win an Oscar just for that strut in the final season of Mad Men? Cig hanging out her mouth, sunglasses on, pornographic painting under her arm. No one has ever looked so cool. Her rival in badass smoking skills, of course, is Cate Blanchett in Carol (check out that smooth transition!), who was Cate Blanchett-good in a movie that never got me going the way it did for everyone else. Best Picture for People Who Look Pretty, Sure, But Who Failed to Make Me Give a Hoot About These Damn Characters, fine, but aside from being stylish and “important,” Carol—nor, really, Blanchett’s Carol—never wooed me. There was talk at one point that she was a threat to Brie Larson’s deserved win for Room. I was happier to see Saoirse Ronan’s quietly affecting work in Brooklyn carry the dark horse torch instead. But, unlike the supporting races, this one’s set in stone isn’t it? Brie Larson, meet Oscar.
Marlow: First, I gotta disagree with you on Carol, which I felt was not only the most exquisitely crafted film of the year from a mise-en-scène standpoint, but also provided a master class in romantic and sexual tension—thanks to Todd Haynes’s subtle direction and Blanchett and Mara’s nuanced performances. Blanchett has been prone to extreme showiness in the past—try watching her as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator again, it’s painful—but here, exuded an elegant, Stanwyck-esque cool. And Brooklyn is a tad overrated, in my opinion. I was moved by Ronan and Emory Cohen’s chemistry, but the whole film felt overly familiar, like I’d seen it a dozen times before. But you’re right: Brie’s got this. I personally preferred her turn as a teen crisis counselor in Short Term 12, which proved too indie for the populist Academy, though she’s stellar during the first hour of Room, before the performance trails off. My sympathies were with Charlotte Rampling for the career-capping wallop she gave us in 45 Years, until she did this and lost them. So, Brie all the way. Now for the fellas. Who were your snubs?
Kevin: It’s ridiculous to think that in a year when Michael B. Jordan and Samuel L. Jackson gave the kind of towering, showy-yet-controlled performances in Creed and The Hateful Eight that there are no acting nominees of color—and even more ridiculous to have read countless defenses of this year’s whitewashing that argued that maybe there were no minority actors who deserved nods. Well, here are exhibits A and B. I also think Andrew Garfield and Christopher Abbott were both unfairly off the radar for their work in 99 Homes and James White, two performances that I found particularly shattering from two actors that I find particularly dreamy (and underrated, too).
Marlow: This is definitely vindication for Abbott, who was underutilized on HBO’s Girls and slandered out the door. And yes, Michael B. Jordan gave a huge movie star performance in Creed and deserved serious consideration for it, as did Samuel L. Jackson, who gave us hands-down the funniest male turn of the year in The Hateful Eight. When Jackson delivers Tarantino dialogue it’s pure poetry, and the monologue he uncorks to Bruce Dern about dishonoring his son is a jaw-dropper. I would’ve loved to see Jackson and Jordan in there instead of Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) and Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), who deliver solid performances in unimpressive pictures. But this is Leo’s year anyway, isn’t it?
Kevin: It is. I guess, if nothing else, I’m happy that I will never have to hear people scream how overdue DiCaprio is for an Oscar again. (Seriously, you people are a loud, powerful bunch.) I think he was good in The Revenant, but I have such a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that an actor should get an award based on a body of work, or because they’re owed it, rather than because they gave the best performance that year. To that regard: I honestly don’t think he did. I read about all that he suffered through to film The Revenant, and kudos to him. But weathering an extended episode of Man vs. Wild doesn’t constitute an acting performance, in my opinion. He was still one-note where Michael Fassbender—my pick—was explosive and surprising, hell, even inspiring in Steve Jobs. But whatevs. Enjoy your Oscar, Leo.
Marlow: I actually thought DiCaprio was very good in The Revenant. It’s one-note, sure, but when that one note is all-the-veins-in-my-face-are-about-to-burst, well, color me impressed. I thought he was more impressive in, say, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? or The Aviator or The Wolf of Wall Street, for which he should’ve won a couple of trophies. I agree that the “career” or “make-up” Oscar is stupid, and we’re subjected to this stupidity because the Academy just can’t be trusted to get it right when it counts until it drastically alters its membership ranks—if you’re mostly crusty old white guys, you’re going to get crusty old white guy taste. It’s a vicious cycle, really. It’s why Al Pacino won for Scent of a Woman over the dazzling Denzel Washington for Malcolm X, or why Martin Landau got an Oscar for Ed Wood instead of Samuel L. Jackson for his iconic performance in Pulp Fiction. Look at this year’s nominees, too: Matt Damon deserved an Oscar for The Talented Mr. Ripley, as did Michael Fassbender for Hunger. They’ll get ’em in the future for lesser performances. And that’s a damn shame.But yes, enjoy your Oscar, Leo. And your vaping.