For now though I thought I'd just go through the candidates. Who's in play for me and who is not. I haven't decided upon a winner yet, but it's a race between several men who give the best work of their careers. To be honest though, a lot of the men in this race gave their best work this year.
Gabriel Byrne in Jindabyne
Byrne is an actor I have never cared for. Not in a Coen Bros. film (Miller's Crossing), not in ridiculous horror movies (Stigmata), and definitely not in that awful sitcom he had (I don't even care about what that hunk of junk was called), so it came as a big fat complete surprise to discover how excellent he was in Jindabyne. I know I shouldn't have been surprised, considering he was being directed by Master Ray Lawrence. Never underestimate the power of Ray Lawrence.
Sasha Baron Cohen in Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Some may say it's not so much of a performance, but more of a piece of performance art (I've seen very similar things performed in Federation Square on a Sunday arvo), but name me one of those performance artists (talented or not) who managed to get this much out of people. The mark of a great performance lies in an actor's believability, so say people. And, well, the proof of that is in the film. If there was a more believable performance to the people involved (while, admittedly, being unbelievable at the same time, if that makes sense) this year then I must have missed it.
Daniel Craig in Casino Royale
The most sexually masculine performance of the year, that's for sure. But, you know what? There's more to Craig's performance than just sex appeal. Don't get me wrong, it's not up to the dramatic front that several other contenders reached (that's more due to genre limits than because of Craig himself), but what he puts out is so rich and layered that it seems rude to just dismiss it as either a plain ol' action movie performance or, even worse, a James Bond performance.
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed
I've always liked DiCaprio. From his first great performance (that would be his Oscar-nominated turn in What's Eating Gilbert Grape) I was sad to watch him flounder in the late 1990s after Titanic, but watching his reassurgance has been a delight. I didn't too much care for Gangs of New York, but DiCaprio's two subsequence Scorsese features have presented us with riches far beyond his promises back in the early 1990s. Oozing masculinity like nobody could have forseen, DiCaprio takes the role of a the cop in deep you-know-what and makes it edgy and exciting.
Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking
Yes, he's a sleazebag, but a sexy forget-the-buttons-i'll-just-rip-you-shirt-off sleazebag. That I was utterly under Eckhart's spell is a testaent to Eckhart himself and not, I presume, writer/director Jason Reitman. The highest compliment I can pay him is that I'd probably become an even bigger smoker* if I had Eckhart giving me lectures all day about how they're not as bad as the "good guys" say, despite the fact that I know full well how bad they really are.
* Don't look at me like that! I haven't touched the filthy things in over two month, I swear!
Hugh Jackman in The Fountain
My beloved reaches (unexpected, to some) untapped depth and wealth of character in Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. Jackman is asked to make three seperate characters believable, compelling and emotionally attached. Others have done that, but how many can claim to have done it with three characters stretched over 1000 years? Taking the basic elements of a conquistador, a brain surgeon and a Buddhist space traveller, Jackman tunes into each one with the precission of said surgeon with a scalpal. He knows where to go and does it with a steady hand. The final product is simply amazing. Jackman also gets bonus points for being sublimely smooth in The Prestige.
Shane Jacobson in Kenny
The character of Kenny is one of those that has now instantly gone into the lore of Australian film. The reasons are quite simple. He's a lovable hard-working Aussie battler (the type that we love, apparently, oh so much). But the reason I liked him and the movie itself, was because Jacobson (with the help of co-writer and director, Clayton Jacobson) filled the character of Kenny with just enough good and bad to make him believable and endearing. Kenny is a man just going through life, dealing with things as they come. From the way he tries to charm a lady to the way he unclogs a terribly unappealing portaloo, he's truthful and funny in the best possible way.
Jude Law in Breaking and Entering
Law's character doesn't have any of the factors that helped make many of the other performances this year special. He's not playing a famous person, he doesn't yell alot, he isn't a sci-fi parable, or a sexy charmer. No, he plays an ordinary simple man. His problems seem so small and minute compared to the issues at play in the other films. But why should that be held against him? Law puts in his best-ever work as a man going through a sort-of midlife crisis because (I guess) he's bored and a midlife crisis feels like a good way to go. He is the real threat to take the crown from the more obvious/flashy/popular choices.
Heath Ledger in Candy
After giving the best male performance of the decade so far (in the UMA winning Brokeback Mountain, duh), Ledger continues his fine form playing a drug addict. The film wasn't the greatest, but what Ledger (and co-star Abbie Cornish) brought to the table was the irresistable rock-star meets down-and-out loser look that you associate with these characters. Sure, he's too pretty to be a drug addict (as is Cornish), but you can believe that he thinks he's the greatest (well, until it all turns to the crapper).
Clive Owen in Children of Men
This is a hard one to discuss. It's one of those performances that works in the grand scheme of the movie, yet is hard to define outside of those surroundings. There's nothing that screams with a big neon signs LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!, yet when I think back over it, I can't put a finger to anything that was done wrong. I'm almost keen to say these are the best sort of performances (it works on the same lines as Jude Law's actually) because it's as good as the film that encompasses it and it never tries to be better because the actor knows it doesn't have to be. Am I making sense?
Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland
In any other movie Whitaker would be right up there with a chance, but considering I thought The Last King of Scotland was a retched horrible disaster of a
Patrick Wilson in Little Children and Hard Candy
Two performances with many similarities (men with hidden secrets), yet both equally amazing. You can, scarily I might add, believe how an underage girl could fall for his charms in the revenge fantasy Hard Candy while also believing, not as scarily thankfully, why he would be the drooling fantasy loverboy of suburbia in Little Children. And on neither occasion does Wilson let his leading ladies (Kate Winslet and Ellen Paige respectively) get away with all the best work. He's more than willing to steal some limelight for himself.
Over the next couple of weeks I'll be doing some more of these. Culminating in the 2006 UMA Awards. But, who knows, when I will actually get around to them. There are certain movies that I feel I must see beforehand and, well, y'all know how those things are.