The lineup below is one far quieter than is usually seen in Best Actor lineups – look anywhere on the internet and you’ll see that the current generation of film is all but completely centered on male protagonists in grand heroic or tragic stature. I found the field of leading male performances underwhelming this year, and narrowing down to a final ballot mostly easy for the few I viewed passionately. Oscar prefers things a bit more showy, and you’ll find my only crossover to be the most ostentatious of my lineup.
Tom Courtenay – 45 Years
- He’s thrown by the discovery of his lost love’s body, but his own recent brush with death haunts with unspoken pathos. His regrets and failings shine clearly while the narrative gaze is on his wife. Courtenay acing Geoff’s transition from despair to acceptance as partner Charlotte Rampling is on the exact opposite course is crucial in establishing her devastating arc.
Paul Dano – Love and Mercy
- Finally given a role that puts his soulfulness center stage, Dano is more open-hearted and accessible than he’s ever been. From his charm and deep well of sadness, he makes you hear “God Only Knows” as if for the first time. He plays Brian’s invading mental illness with a helplessness that informs so much on Brian’s situation in the film’s 80s portion.
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
- Fassbender is usually cast in roles that demand introspection or physical externalizing of buried emotion, so naturally his work in Jobs is invigorating for his verbal dexterity and stymied emotional communication. Acing the challenge shows him as an actor who can truly master any role, and one who should be considered among the top tier of his generation.
Jason Segel – The End of the Tour
- Segel underplays each moment much in the way that David Foster Wallace tried to brush aside his sudden success. The marvel of Segel’s work is the tension built within silences, and the slow reveal his Wallace lets down his guard while revealing his deepest defenses.
Jacob Tremblay – Room
- The complete reverse of Brie Larson’s Ma: as open and x as she is unknowable and removed. His understanding of Jack’s post-Room trauma and thawing goes beyond director-led and builds intuitively. His chemistry with Larson rivals that of any two seasoned adult actors this year.
The Winner is after the jump!