BRADLEY COOPER (A STAR IS BORN) – Whatever our quibbles with the film (this writer has many), there’s no denying that Cooper is one of its strongest points. The gravelly voice gets a little distracting but he carries himself like a true rock ‘n’ roller and has the vocal chops to match. However, it’s just not the kind of performance that sticks in your mind (a la Ryan Gosling in First Man or Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk) and it’s really hard to imagine this being third time lucky for Cooper in this category.
CHRISTIAN BALE (VICE) – There comes a point where Bale’s physical transformations become so commonplace that they cease to be as impressive as they should be. We’ve seen him become utterly emaciated in The Machinist and The Fighter and stack on the muscle to play the Caped Crusader, so he needs to do more than just bulking up and thinning out (as he does to play Dick Cheney in Vice) to impress. The impersonation is on point but it feels weird to prize impersonations over creating a living, breathing character out of thin air.
RAMI MALEK (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY) – A case in point. Malek’s transformation into Freddie Mercury is almost distractingly brilliant, to the point that it unbalances the whole movie. But does the impersonation tell us anything new about Freddie Mercury? Not as far as I can see. Bohemian Rhapsody is a fun jukebox musical based around the Queen story but it gives us no new insight or context. Malek’s indisputably great and will probably win on the night, but its success so far feels like awards ceremonies pandering to public demand in their desperation to stay relevant.
WILLEM DAFOE (AT ETERNITY’S GATE) – Defoe’s performance as Vincent van Gogh is set apart from the other nominated portrayals of real-life characters by time and accessibility. Compared to Mercury or Cheney, much more of van Gogh the man is left to interpretation. We don’t have the same level of detail with which to recreate the character, which makes Dafoe’s performance doubly impressive. There’s no “Vincent the mad genius” here as Dafoe recreates van Gogh’s struggles through expression alone and finds a tender portrait of a man, rather than a myth. It’s a superb performance, but one that doesn’t feel like it has the traction to win.
VIGGO MORTENSEN (GREEN BOOK) – Deprived of some more deserving nominees (Washington, Gosling, Hawke et al.), Mortensen becomes our pick by default. Green Book isn’t a perfect film, but there’s no denying that it succeeds as much as it does because of the wonderful chemistry between Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Mortensen has made a career out of playing troubled, silent types, which makes his performance as Tony Lip all the more impressive. Whatever the other problems with Green Book, Mortensen is perfect.
- Should win: Viggo Mortensen
Will win: Rami Malek
Missed out: Stephan James