Sometimes the Best Performances by Actors Don’t Win the Awards

themaster-lincolnWinning Oscars is one thing, but in most cases the academy doesn’t actually award the best performance, but rather the popular one. Daniel Day-Lewis is great as Lincoln, and is probably one the greatest actors alive, but for my money the best performance of the year was from Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. That may sound controversial, but let me explain why.

As I alluded to in the opening salvo, you have to bear in mind that the Oscar voting academy are just as susceptible to aggressive PR campaigns, as we are to pepsi half time commercials, which immediately cuts out any small independent films and their actors from even getting noticed, never mind nominated! Then you’ve got the studios playing their PR Chess games with each other, competing for the coveted awards, to help sell re-runs and DVDs. This translates into less commercially successful films also losing out, which is one of the many elements hampering The Master’s lead actor Joaquin Phoenix. And it probably didn’t help when he was quoted saying what he truly thought about the Oscars:

“I think it’s total, utter bulls–t, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t believe in it. It’s a carrot, but it’s the worst-tasting carrot I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. I don’t want this carrot.”

Lincoln is by far an easier sell; more accessible and marketable than Paul Thomas Anderson’s thought provoking, structure bending yarn that challenges the status quo. A lot of people weren’t comfortable with it, but the performances in it are exceptional. Something which is a recurring pattern with actors working on Paul Thomas Anderson films. Now let me backtrack just a little…The odds on Daniel Day-Lewis winning each time he gets nominated is pretty high, so you’d need to put in an exceptional lifetime performance to best him. And I personally think Phoenix has done that. In 2008’s DOUBT, you can see that Viola Davis’s performance (although very brief) made such an impact alongside Meryl Streep that they nominated her for a Supporting Oscar. I guess it was good that they weren’t in the same category, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it is to separate the established favourite (Streep or Day-Lewis) from the, perhaps better, underdog.

I also believe that for me to test the water-tightness of my case I’ll need to provide a bit of evidence which would demonstrate the acting brilliance of Phoenix over DDL and other nominees in the Best Actor category. So here is probably the best scene from The Master,in which Pheonix’s character freddie is being ‘Processed’, and superbly supported by Philip Seymour Hoffman. This scene for me is the benchmark for the year, and if you can find a scene from Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables or Flight that bests this, I’ll rest my case….


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