Oscar Spitballing: Best Actor 2009

by | February 22, 2009 at 4:57 AM | 81st Academy Awards, The Academy Awards, The Movies

The Best Actor competition this year has boiled down into a horse race between the two leading contenders – one a mainstay, the other a modern miracle – which has led one of the rest of the pack freely admitting that he doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning. Who might they be?

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
He just nabbed the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, and delivered a profanity-laced knockout speech of the evening, which likely has ABC thinking of running the show on a 7-second delay just in case he makes his way up the gilded staircase. Rourke is the story of the year, with an unlikely comeback from complete career desolation with an unlikely movie on the unlikely topic of professional wrestling. But you believe every single second of Rourke’s performance. You know he’s lived that life. Yet, despite all the acclaim he’s gathered this award season, all that unlikeliness may cause just enough grimy build-up to allow another guy to sneak in and snatch the trophy from his deserving hands.

Sean Penn, Milk
Not that this guy is much of an accolade-seeker himself. He’ll gladly accept them, but we’ve seen him do that relatively recently with Mystic River. He absolutely melted into his portrayal of Harvey Milk, and a lot of people think he got shortchanged last year when Into the Wild got bupkus. He’s arguably America’s greatest actor, and this year he’s brought his A-game to the kind of sensational, historic national, inspriational, Muppetational (er, sorry) movie that Oscar tends to love. If anyone can beat out Rourke in this Cinderella year, it’s Our Man Penn.

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
A veteran character actor who certainly deserves all the attention he’s getting here and more, Jenkins knows the score. He appeared on Letterman recently and, after listing off the huge names he’s sharing this nomination with, he frankly said “I don’t have a chance in hell.” Even though his subtle, quiet and still powerful performance as a listless professor who is given a new lease on his life by the discovery of interesting immigrants squatting in his Manhattan apartment should bring a lot more work his way, he’s probably right. Jenkins remains fantastic, however, and we should all give a round of applause for the “Hey, it’s that guy!” actors of the world.

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
There’s an outside chance that Captain Handsome here, who has been described as a character actor in a leading man’s body, might be rewarded for the extensive and impressive processing he underwent to be able to play an elderly toddler as well as a decrepit teenager. He is the biggest movie star in America in the most-nominated film of the year, after all. But not only is it hard to find anyone who genuinely loved this film without admitting it was a bit turgid and Gumpy, but there was an awful lot of “meaningful staring” involved.

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
There was a considerable faction of folks who think he should have been nominated last year for Starting Out In The Evening. This year, he’s up for his spot-on portrayal of Richard Milhous Nixon, a role that’s nearly impossible to play with any degree of objectivity. Impersonations can certainly win Oscars (ask Jamie Foxx), but he’s just not getting the buzz for Ron Howard’s history lesson that he’d need to put him at the forefront of the voters’ minds. But weep not for Frank Langella – he’ll get work for as long as there are parts for truly great actors.

Who Will Win: Mickey Rourke
Who Should Win: Mickey Rourke