Photo by Lionsgate/Fox Searchlight/Millennium
The category is best actor in a motion picture, not best actor in a relatively tame motion picture. In certain quarters, there's still more passion behind actors left off the best actor list — and those never even considered — than the five chosen candidates. "Shame," "The Devil's Double," and "Rampart" are not easy films — they are violent and sexual and divisive. But what performances!
Often considered the sixth Oscar nominee, the one that was just shy of making the cut, Fassbender did the awards rounds for "Shame," getting the requisite number of jokes about his full-frontal nudity. Even Oscar nominee George Clooney made a crack about the star's endowment from the stage at the Golden Globes. While I may have misgivings about "Shame" as a whole (another conversation), I have none about Fassbender and his performance. And it doesn't stop there: his repressed Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" was pure, irony-free and considered in every movement. His line readings were poetic and precise. The movie's brilliant, as is the performance — but it's not easy for another reason: it's completely intellectual, and unreservedly not manipulative of the audience's emotions. This is no Steven Spielberg film. It's the rare movie that treats the audience as if they were more intelligent than they are, clearly over-reaching. And then there's a third, even less seen movie: "Jane Eyre." Fassbender makes the tortured literary figure of Mr. Rochester sexy and elusive, and the charge between Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska's plain but searching Jane is a romantic thrill. OK, Fassbender was robbed!
Who? What? Who even saw "The Devil's Double," the fascinating, adrenaline-filled movie based on Latif Yahia's 1987 memoir of being called to Uday Hussain's palace and forced to become the double of the son of Saddam? Cooper, a slim, fit Englishman best known for being the singing heart-throb in "Mamma Mia!" plays the dual role — ethical and honorable as one, corrupt and violent as the other. The movie fascinates. The violence repulses. The glimpse inside the inner workings of Saddam's Iraq before and during the Bush invasion horrifies. And Cooper's meticulous performance, or performances, elevates the movie to a lasting portrait of the battle between villainy and integrity, good and evil, predator and prey. He's so good that it becomes inconceivable that Uday and Latif are not two separate people played by identical twins. This will be my last cry for Cooper. Until my next one.
"Rampart" is a tough movie -- James Ellroy, hard-boiled tough. But it's not all hard crust and blood — the feral cop at its center has a wife, an ex-wife (they're sisters!) and two daughters -- and they all live together uneasily in a den of mixed emotions. Whether Office Brown is sucking the toe of a pick-up he meets at a bar when his wives deny him, or beating a perp to a pulp, he's a man driven by his urges -- love, hate, justice, revenge. He is policeman incarnate, which takes the narrative to messy places and, brilliantly, refuses to knit them up in the end with nickel-plated needles. The most appalling thing about this cop drama is that we feel his pain equally — whether he's dishing it out or getting pounded — and that's a testimony to the underrated, fearless Harrelson.
"Drive" was another tough, edgy film the Academy neglected to the detriment of Ryan Gosling — but I don't include him above. Why? Because I'm still mourning his loss last year for "Blue Valentine," the peak performance of his career, and so much more raw and compelling than Colin Firth in "The King's Speech."
There are other outrages in the best actor's category, but I'm leaving it to my readers to chime in, and add their favorites, and tell me why and rant at the injustice…
See the trailer to 'Shame':