MARLOW: After discussing this year’s biggest Oscars controversies and why Viola Davis needs a goddamn Academy Award already, we’ve waded our way to Best Actor and Best Actress. As it happens, the former is the most hotly contested category at this year’s star-studded ceremony, pitting acting titan Denzel Washington (Fences) up against the controversial Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea). But before we dive into exactly why Affleck is controversial and whether or not it will hurt his awards chances, let’s touch on some people we thought should’ve been nominated in the lead actor categories. Whatcha think?
KEVIN: Yes, while I stretch my fingers to type out the dozen or so women who gave award-worthy performances, I’ll lightly warm things up with maybe the only two men I would’ve considered outside of the final five: Chris Pine in Hell or High Water and Joel Edgerton in Loving. Awards groups loved Hell or High Water, making it confusing that in such a weak Best Actor year Pine—who has maybe done the “heartthrob who’s a surprisingly good actor” track better than anyone since Jake Gyllenhaal—never caught traction. And poor Joel Edgerton was audaciously restrained and quietly moving in Loving, but perhaps too much so for voters to take notice. Otherwise, I loved Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool and he apparently had a big campaign on his side… but even Kevin “Give Kathryn Hahn an Oscar” Fallon has a line.
MARLOW: I’m with you on Pine, but couldn’t really get into Deadpool, which to me felt like a cross between Kick-Ass and Reynolds’s Van Wilder shtick. On the male side, Parker Sawyers accomplished the near impossible with his convincing turn as a young Barack Obama in Southside with You. He so nailed his mannerisms, his magnetism, his elan that at times you felt as if you were watching the real thing. Also, Don Cheadle’s live-wire turn as a latter-day Miles Davis in Miles Ahead was riveting. You could never tell what brand of chaos he had in store from one scene to the next. On the women’s side, newcomer Royalty Hightower was mesmerizing as Toni, an 11-year-old tortured by the pangs of adolescence in The Fits, and Anya Taylor-Joy made for a striking, compelling scream queen in The Witch.
KEVIN: I mean where do I even begin with the women? I could have an entire new grouping of five than the current nominees, and each would be deserving. Kate Beckinsale gave one of my favorite performances of the year in Love & Friendship. I don’t understand how Rebecca Hall’s terrifying, devastating work in Christine wasn’t recognized. Taraji P. Henson gives the first-rate kind of Movie Star performance in Hidden Figures that would’ve won the Oscar in other years. And how about Sally Field and Susan Sarandon landing two of the richest, most complex roles of their careers in Hello, My Name Is Doris and The Meddler? But for me the sorest exclusion is Annette Bening in 20th Century Women. What a fierce, unusual, affecting turn—again, a career-best. The unusual cacophony of barking dogs in the tri-state area on nomination morning was in reaction to my high-pitched screech of misery when she didn’t make the final five.
MARLOW: Totally with you on Rebecca Hall’s complex, dread-inducing turn in Christine, Queen Taraji, and Bening, who were all deserving of noms. And yes! I would’ve loved to see Sally Field be recognized for her work in Hello, My Name Is Doris, which I saw on an airplane and found to be a total delight.
KEVIN: So while we’re on the subject of things that stress me out, let’s talk about Casey Affleck’s frontrunner status for Best Actor. Poor Brie Larsen. Her side-eye is going to be so intense if she’s forced to read his name on Oscar night that I fear they may freeze that way. There is a lot of Hollywood cheerleading for Affleck. He’s “one of the family,” thanks to the brotherhood of support Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have given his career and his performance in Manchester By the Sea.
MARLOW: I like Matt Damon. But if I hear him tell that story about how he turned down Casey’s role in Manchester one more time, I’ll put my head through a window.
KEVIN: Right. And it’s that brotherhood—specifically not wanting to rumble with it—that’s led to past sexual assault allegations that would’ve derailed other Oscar campaigns (as it did this year with Nate Parker and Birth of a Nation) being glossed over by much of the media and industry establishment that fears the wrath of the Affleck-Damons.
MARLOW: Affleck is “protected” by that A-list fraternity of Mass. brothers and all the machinery that comes with it, doing everything they can to both silence the questions concerning the Affleck allegations, and propel him to Oscar glory. Our Amy Zimmerman wrote a detailed piece on the Affleck sexual harassment allegations. For the unaware, it was a civil case where Affleck is alleged to have participated in a cycle of harassment and abuse against his producer and cinematographer while directing the Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary I’m Still Here. Affleck stood accused of calling women “cows,” ordering a crew member to expose his genitalia to one of the accusers, physically grabbing and intimidating the producer after she refused to share a hotel room with him, and an eye-opening alleged incident where the film’s cinematographer claims she woke up in the middle of the night to find Affleck in bed with her, reeking of alcohol, caressing her back in just his underwear and a T-shirt. Affleck denied the allegations, which were all the more damning considering that Affleck was married to Phoenix’s sister at the time (they’ve since split up). After we ran the piece, however, Affleck’s representation reportedly pressured journalists into deleting tweets that shared the piece online, according to The Wrap. Talk about protection from up on high.
KEVIN: Some think that the scandal has become damaging enough that Denzel Washington, who recently beat Affleck for the SAG Award, will win the trophy. (The last 12 actors to win the SAG repeated at the Oscars.) Me? I think Washington deserves the award anyway. His performance is relentless—not in the exhausting way, but the astonishing way. It’s verbal athleticism, with more dialogue in the opening scene than the rest of the Best Actor nominees have combined, and only Washington could make that kind of onslaught of talk consistently thrilling. If he wins, it might be a surprise. But it won’t be an injustice. The injustice, in my opinion, is Emma Stone winning an Oscar for La La Land.
MARLOW: I agree that Denzel’s performance, all raw emotion, deserves it over Affleck’s inner torment routine—though I found him to be impressive in Manchester. I gotta say though, I quite enjoyed Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land, so we’re going to disagree a bit here. She is just a profoundly likeable actress; so easy to root for. And, with her big, bright eyes, is great at earning our empathy when they well up with tears. That being said, Natalie Portman in Jackie and Isabelle Huppert in Elle are far more complex performances—particularly Huppert, who, though it’s a total long shot, could surprise some people on Sunday night.
KEVIN: It boggles my mind that Emma Stone’s victory has been such a foregone conclusion here. I enjoyed her performance in La La Land. It’s the strongest she’s ever been, as spirited of a leading lady turn as she could possibly give, and she was one of the unequivocal joys of the film. But that thing everyone keeps saying about La La Land that they think is praise—that it makes them nostalgic for the days of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers—is accurate, but also my chief criticism: While I admire the modernization of the classic Hollywood musical, Stone and Ryan Gosling’s B- musical chops made me nostalgic for song-and-dance performers who are, you know, good singers and dancers. (And if one more person tells me “that’s the point” I swear to God…) So if Bening isn’t an option here, far more deserving is Isabelle Huppert’s wild performance in Elle, or Natalie Portman’s pitch-perfect Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. I agree that Huppert probably stands the best chance of surprising. But the La La Land love is too strong. Emma Stone wins this.
MARLOW: Foolish as it may seem? Lord, please forgive me.