Actor in a Leading Role
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
This one was a tough call. Some credence must be given to Frank Langella and Sean Penn for playing two real people so excellently. It's tough making Richard Nixon seem like a sympathetic character when most of history portrays him as nothing but a crook. Yet, it is no easier playing a gay activist as a very heterosexual tough guy. Both performances are stunning though. The audience seems to forget they are looking at two actors playing their roles but rather seem to get a glimpse into history. With that being said, I picked Mickey Rourke because despite Langella and Penn's fantastic portrayals, it is Rourke that outshines the rest with his vulnerability and complete immersion in his character. It was like he was no longer acting, but just being (perhaps he was "being" since the movie seems to almost reflect his acting career). Ultimately, as a spectator that is what you want from an actor, true honesty in the character. Of course, I must acknowledge Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins in their stellar performances, but I just don't think they hold a wick to Rourke's candle.
Actress in a Leading Role
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader
What can I say? Kate Winslet is a brilliant actress. In fact, all the actresses nominated did a wonderful job, but it's Kate's vulnerability in her portrayal that sets her apart. Every subtle emotion can be seen with just an expression of her face. She can express a thousand lines with just one glance and that is because she mastered actually feeling those emotions instead of acting them. What's more she portrays a Nazi prison guard so honestly that you can feel the humanity within that character. You want her to win the court case despite the atrocities. Lately it seems everything Kate does turns into gold and this performance is no exception.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road
If Heath Ledger had not been nominated, Michael Shannon would have been my pick. He excellently plays a man jaded to the point of insanity by the culture around him. I could sense his madness without coming across as stereotypical or shticky. And for that matter, Robert Downey Jr's hilarious farcical character was so lovable he outshone all of his cast members. Nevertheless, Heath Ledger's performance as the joker was so maniacal and so psychopathic that you never saw Heath Ledger the person in there at all. With that being said, he was never over-the-top. He played this malicious character subtly and so psychologically that you could believe there is a man this evil. My choice is not based on the fact that Heath is gone, but rather on the fact that he truly deserves it as an actor. He delved so deep into the Joker that he ceased being an actor.
Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler
Viola Davis was golden in Doubt. She basically stole the scene from Meryl Streep and that is a very hard thing to do! Her screen time is probably less than ten minutes but her anguishing performance as a mother doing anything for her child, even accepting that he is a homosexual being molested by a priest, is the most memorable and most climactic moment of the film. The pain permeated from the screen and into every mother's heart that has had to deal with doing what's actually right and doing what's right for their child. This underrated actress deserves some recognition for a beautifully crafted portrayal.
This choice probably comes as no surprise to anyone. Slumdog's brilliance is incomparable. Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandeen (co-director: India) and Anthony Dod Mantle (DP) bring a visually magnificent film. The slums of India never looked grander, not to mention as romanticized. Boyle and Tandeen manage to pull performances out of their actors that are truly heart-wrenching and you can't help but want to adopt one of those cute little kids. The storyline itself is original and unique in subtly tracing India's tumultuous history. The love story is never overdone and despite it's expected "Hollywood ending" the means of getting their are exceedingly creative. All the films nominated are, of course, excellent. The special effects of Curious are mind blogging as well as it's innovative plot. The Reader is exceptional in it's treatment of a very sensitive era that seems to be overdone and yet it does not feel that way in this film. Milk is gorgeously filmed (did you see that reflective whistle shot?), but also sympathetic in its portrayal of a history. And Frost/Nixon is so exciting and well-acted that you almost think you are right there helping Frost nail Nixon. In the end though it is Slumdog that captured my heart and I think it deserves the win.