**With 2012 behind us, Kenny Miles wanted to recap the year in film now completed. Over the next few days, Kenny will write a series of opinion features focusing on the highlights and trends of the cinema for 2012.**
One of the highlights for any film year are the leading performances delivered from talented actors. I can’t think of a single year, in recent memory, that delievered like 2012 provided so many exceptional leading male performances. I can usually identify and cite the work from a leading actor who receives an Oscar nomination to be “over praised” and, in my opinion, not worthy of a nomination. 2012 was not that year. If the “Best Picture” category can have up to ten nominations, then I think that the Best Actor category deserves more then just the five! You could make a case for several performances to win the actual Best Actor Oscar statue but Let’s take a look at some of the year’s best leading male performances:
Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in “The Master”
Though the film itself is a polarizing feature with little narrative clarity, the work of Joaquin Phoenix commands The Master. You are transfixed by Phoenix as Freddie and his madness with Phoenix delivering a memorable, kooky cinematic experience. I can’t think of a single individual scene that sticks with me because almost every moment is spellbinding. There’s just far too many jaw dropping moments to count from the lewd act on the beach to descending into madness while in jail. Out of all the leading performances from 2012, this one is most likely to be remembered as an iconic film performance.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln”
The setting is continuously dark and gloomy
You can almost always count on Daniel Day-Lewis to deliver a great performance (except the musical “Nine,” of course). Day-Lewis transforms into America’s most beloved President in this film and most people seem to forget that the British Daniel Day-Lewis was a very controversial choice to play American Abraham Lincoln. It’s easy to become that absorbed in the recreation of a legendary leader during our nations biggest crisis that we forget this minor detail despite that the film pivots on the performance from the solemn and passionate work Daniel Day-Lewis pours into the role.
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables”
Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, is the strength of Tom Hooper’s old fashioned, rousing slightly bombastic Les Miserables. Jackman portrays the beloved character to perfection and pronounces huge thematic elements of the burden of guilt followed by the reassurance of his redemption. I describe his performance in this film as “A beautiful sight to behold”. Most actors lipsynch their musicals numbers but with a solid Broadway background and backbone, Jackman has the talent and grit to believably carry a tune and the emotional experience of a heavy story.
Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker in “Flight”
Denzel plays an alcoholic pilot in need of acceptance and deliverance from substance abuse and provides one of the top notch performances of his career. You can sense the bondage of the addiction from his emotionally exhausting facial expressions throughout several key moments within the film and with so many prestige performances relying on big speeches, high octane outbursts, or historical impressions to woo awards voters Denzel gushes with an authenticity as a victimized man. I prefer this Denzel over the one in “Safe House” any day and in Flight Mr. Washington serves as a reminder as to why he is one of our greatest actors consistently churning out quality performances.
Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano in “The Silver Linings Playbook”
Leave it to the talented David O. Russell to break traditional Rom-Com cliches and bring out a more tender and thoughtful side of Bradley Cooper. However sole credit is not just for the directorial work and this commendment is in actuality all the accomplishment of Bradley Cooper. The Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings is the one only hinted at during interviews as the introspective and intelligent actor. He drops the superficial “Hangover” persona to deal with genuine emotions and psychological struggles. As a wounded, mentally ill man, Cooper in ‘Silver Linings’ is a kinetic, unpredictable live wire — one that strikes like a rattle snake.
John Hawkes as Mark O’Brien in “The Sessions”
The creepy guy in supporting performances from smaller independant films like Winters Bone and Marlene vanishes in the roll of journalist and poet Mark O’Brien a man who is confined in an iron lung. Hawkes astonishingly captures our hearts by communicating with just his face, (since he’s lying down on his back throughout), and altering his voice to display the sensitivity of a vulnerable man. Devoutly Catholic and eager for his first sexual experience, Hawkes portrays O’Brien in a sympathetic light struggling to connect with another on an intimate level.
Richard Gere as Robert Miller in “Arbitrage”
A quietly overlooked performance from an aging actor like Gere turned out to be one of his best. As Robert Miller, Gere is a cold businessman who views life as mere transactions. He dominates during a fight in the park with his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) and the scene itself is a dramatic turning point within the film. Gere, as Robert Miller, indulges in the pervasion of lying to everyone around him,and we witness a man losing his moral compass and his will to live. This downward spiral allows the audience to sense his callousness toward consequences while thirsting for the unquenchable desire of capitalism. No one was more perfect in this roll as Richard Gere!
Jack Black as Bernie Tiede in “Bernie”
In an another overlooked performance Jack Black, known for sophomoric humor and “King Kong”, really shines in “Bernie” providing a performance which takes his career to the next level. Based on Bernie and School of Rock I now believe Black works best with director Richard Linklater. As Bernie, Black is a gullible man trapped in the wickedness of his kind-hearted nature with his everyday actions and motivations being purely selfish in nature. Black provides comedic tension with grace and wit while balancing goofy absurdness amongst a grim situation. Black is absorbed as the beloved Bernie and the audience follows suit with this entertaining turn by Black.
Denis Lavant as Multiple Characters in “Holy Motors”
Where to begin with this one? Denis Lavant performs as various characters in this oddball, mind trip of a French film. From a Troll like villain seducing Eva Mendes to a lost man riding in the back of a limousine seeking deeper meaning in his life, Lavant delivers the most shocking versatile performance of the year. A movie like “Holy Motors” holds the attention of the viewer as it takes them on an unforgettable ride throughout the film. When an actor invests himself to the point that puts his heart and soul into a performance, such as Lavant, he deserves award consideration.
2012 provided numerous examples of Leading Male Acting talent and if any of these leading performances receive a Best Actor Oscar nomination, I will not be disappointed. I swear this is almost like a brawl atmosphere in which I imagine these men will fight for the Oscar award but I think Daniel Day-Lewis might be one who becomes the victorious ass kicker in the end.
The strength of these male performances also unintentionally reminds us that women don’t get the quality roles that men receive. Why is this? When three out of the five Oscar Leading Actress Contenders are two foreign performances and a 5 year old girl, this sums up the lack of top notch roles for women in the mainstream American Entertainment Industry. Women do sell at the box office, which I will mention in another posting, and maybe once the industry recognizes this, women will get better options.
Do you agree that these leading male performances were exceptional? Was anything flawed or overpraised? What leading male performance am I missing?
Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding.
He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion for interacting with moviegoers (something most movie pundits lack) as a pollster for the market research company CinemaScore and working as floor staff/special events coordinator in the film community. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.