Road to Oscar: Best Actor Showdown

Wednesday, February 17 by

Last week we threw our Best Actress contenders into the Thunderdome where they battled with claw hammers and whaling harpoons for the honor of taking home a Shiny Gold Dude.  But what of the menfolk?  While the dearth of notable mentally and physically disabled characters means we lack a clear frontrunner for this year’s Best Actor Oscar, there were several testosterone-enhanced performances that caught the critics’ attention.  However it seems the bulk of Oscar buzz has been directed at Jeff Bridges for his portrayal of country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, and at George Clooney for his turn as corporate head-chopper Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air.  But do either of these Hollywood veterans have what it takes to win?  Let’s find out.

GEORGE CLOONEY

Ever since he got out of the TV business and started making feature films, George Clooney has been a fixture of awards season.  He’s like Meryl Streep with a penis.  Well, a bigger penis.  Over the course of his career the hunky multi-hyphenate has received Oscar nominations for pretty much every category, including Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Choreography, Special Achievements in Catering and Best Supporting Actress.  Yet for all the accolades, Clooney’s only gone home with one Oscar, a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Syriana.  Is this the year Clooney finally gets his due in a major category?

PRO:  Few humans on earth possess George Clooney’s charisma.  The actor has a preternatural charm previously seen only in a shirtless Patrick Swayze.  If you are a man and you are in the presence of George Clooney you are, for that moment at least, gay.  And if you are a woman, you are having sex with him.

So significant is Clooney’s dazzle that he not only made the otherwise forgettable Up in the Air watchable, he made it an Oscar contender.  Not taking anything away from Jason Reitman, who is a talented director, but without Clooney, Up in the Air would’ve been as interesting as a two-hour delay on the tarmac of Denver International. But then two hours of George Clooney reading his junk mail using a bad Jerry Lewis impersonation would’ve been just as engaging, and probably would’ve netted just as many award nominations.  

CON:   Though Clooney slathered on multiple coats of extra-glossy charm for Up in the Air, the fact remains that the character he was charged with portraying was not just despicable, but irredeemable.  In the midst of the worst recession since Hoover was banging interns in the oval office, Clooney’s Ryan Bingham is the guy who shows up to tell you that your family will be spending Thanksgiving at the soup kitchen.  And yet, for reasons that are never clearly expressed by the film’s makers, we’re supposed to feel sorry for the guy.  Not because he’s going to the level of hell where sodomy is administered hourly, but because this wealthy, good-looking, smug prick whose success comes at the expense of others can’t find love. Awwww… poor widdle frequent flyer.  Nine months after you laid him off, my Uncle Terry shot his wife and kids before offing himself because he’d tapped his life savings and couldn’t make the mortgage payments.  But now that I’ve seen the pangs of loneliness you feel after a life of banging random flight attendants in the American Airlines VIP lounge men’s room I just feel so much empathy for you, dude.  You want some help setting up a Match.com account or something?

JEFF BRIDGES

PRO:   Jeff Bridges has alread taken the Golden Globe for his performance, and deservedly so.  With Crazy Heart, Bridges does for country music what Mickey Rourke did for wrestling.  Ironic, since both country music and wrestling are generally enjoyed by the sort of pick-up-driving, gun-toting, toothless sister-humpers who only go to the cinema when there’s a new Larry the Cable Guy movie out.  But the similarities between Crazy Heart and The Wrestler don’t end there.  Like Rourke, who performed his own wrestling stunts, Bridges here performs all the songs himself and in so doing proves that he’s a better country singer than pretty much every chart-topping artist coming out of Nashville today. 

But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Bridges’ performance has escaped discussion.  Much has been made of method actors such as Robert DeNiro changing their physical appearance for a role.  But this is the first instance I’ve ever seen of an actor changing the appearance of ANOTHER actor.  Jeff Bridges’ acting in Crazy Heart was SO good that I actually believed Maggie Gyllenhaal was an attractive woman — and not a luckdragon from the world of Fantasia.  And while George Clooney’s power to turn otherwise straight men gay is significant, it pales in comparison to Jeff Bridges’ ability to make otherwise straight men attracted to Maggie Gyllenhaal, as I was for the duration of Crazy Heart.

CON:  The biggest problem with Crazy Heart is its lack of believability. Specifically, because the songs are too good.  Have you heard country music lately?  It’s everything that’s wrong with Nickelback and NASCAR put in a blender and served in an oversized Stuckey’s mug.  Are we, the audience, supposed to believe that a multiplatinum nu-country star like Tommy Sweet would perform the stirring traditional country ditties composed by Bad Blake (which were IRL composed by uber-talent T-Bone Burnett)?  Where are the bad puns and double entendres?  Where are the sophomoric lyrics about pick-up trucks, eagles and killing illegal immigrants?  Where’s the auto-tune and circa-1986 Def Leppard production? 

Still, these are but nits for the picking.  This is a movie; we can suspend disbelief for the sake of the story and pretend that there’s still chart-topping country music being made that’s worth listening to.  Besides, Jeff Bridges performance more than made up for any such holes in logic.


ADVANTAGE: The Dude does not abide by George Clooney stealing his Oscar.  This year’s Best Actor trophy goes to Jeff Bridges.