Ranking the 88th Academy Award Nominees: Best Actor in a Leading Role

Best Actor

So I have decided to do something different this year, in lieu of actual predictions, I am going to rather rate and rank the nominees, category by category, in the four acting categories and the Best Director and Best Picture categories, as I watch them and complete each category. Instead of simply predicting winners based on precursors and buzz, it is a bit more effective to simply just rank the nominees depending on the only aspect that really matters – their performance. My personal ranking may not exactly match that of the eventual winner, but it will certainly display which performances I liked the best, and which ones I detested, or at least disliked.

The first category that I will be ranking is one of the most fascinating – Best Actor. Frequently a very strong category, it was slightly weaker this year, and while I only thought three of the eventual five nominees here were deserving of their recognition, they are certainly a very strong group, with each one unique and distinct from the other, ranging from different types of characters in different kinds of films. Without any further ado, here is my ranking of the five nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role:


#5 – Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo

I love Bryan Cranston, and I think his performances as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle and Walter White in Breaking Bad are some of the greatest in television history. It was only a matter of time before he ventured into film – and having been a supporting player in many films over the years, it was time that he had a leading role. The role of Dalton Trumbo was a tricky one, and as a whole, the film was mediocre, and Cranston, while effective, was entirely hammy and bordered on ridiculously terrible at times. There will come a time when Cranston receives a much better leading role, but for now, his performance in Trumbo is by far the weakest of the nominees. It is also worth noting that Cranston is the oldest of the nominees in this category this year, but is the only one to have never been previously nominated for an Academy Award.

#4 – Eddie Redmayne as Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

Last year’s Best Actor champion, Redmayne returns for his second consecutive nomination. Last year, he was tremendous as Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and he deservedly won. His performance in The Danish Girl is a bizarre one, because he essentially plays two characters – his performance as Einar Wegener, a conflicted and troubled artist, was good enough to put him in the upper part of this ranking, but his performance as Lili Elbe was problematic enough for him to be the worst in the category. The two essentially cancel each other out, and while he certainly was not the worst in the category, he was also far from being the best, and thankfully Bryan Cranston’s hammy performance was nominated, which prevented Redmayne from ranking dead-last. However, on a certain day, I might even think Cranston was better than Redmayne. They are at about the same level, but for now, Redmayne is slightly better, but I expected more from him.


#3 – Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs

Poor Michael Fassbender – he had to pick up the scraps of this role after fellow nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christian Bale (also nominated this year, but in another category) left the role. I was impressed by Fassbender, who gives a pretty good performance as Steve Jobs in the biopic of the same name, and he has the advantage of being the performance with the most dialogue and screen-time. Fassbender is very good in the film, and in any other year, he could possibly be the best in the category and a worthy winner. However, his performance just lacked a subtle nuance that I was looking for, which made the other two performances in this category rank higher than him. Fassbender’s career is on the exact right track it should be, and here, on his second nomination, he will certainly be at the podium if he keeps on with these kinds of career choices.


#2 – Matt Damon as Mark Watney in The Martian

For a very long time, Damon gave my favorite male performance of the year, and many others feel the same. He was likable, charming and very funny as the astronaut stranded on Mars. The Martian was a fantastic film, and one of the very best of the year. Damon’s performance was the reason why it was so beloved – he was simply wonderful, and proved his brilliance as a leading man. This is Damon’s fourth nomination, and he previously won for Best Original Screenplay in 1998. In any other year, Damon would be a winner, because with the love this performance has received, and how popular the film has become, it is difficult to not award its leading man. It is a fantastic performance, and a very, very close runner-up to the first ranking performance in this category. Another interesting fact is that Damon is the only nominee here to be playing a fictional character. You would think that this would make him a winner, as the real-life characters would cancel each other out, but it didn’t quite work out last year when Michael Keaton was in the exact same situation.


#1 – Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in The Revenant

It has to be Leonardo DiCaprio that wins this ranking. His performance in The Revenant is everything it is supposed to be – visceral, brutal and fascinating. Leonardo DiCaprio has become somewhat of an icon, simply because of the fact that he has a long filmography of amazing performances, but his trophy shelf severely lacks the Academy Awards he deserves. Not only is the narrative that he is overdue the driving factor behind his impending victory next month, his performance is actually pretty brilliant within itself. He speaks very little, and goes through physical torture to accurately portray Hugh Glass. DiCaprio is brilliant in The Revenant, and gives an absolutely spellbinding and committed performance, and is definitely the performer who gives one of the best performances of the year.


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