Ranking the 89th Academy Award Nominees for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

In order to judge them fairly, I have taken it upon myself to watch all the nominees for Best Picture, Best Director and the acting categories, and I have to say that this year has some incredible nominees, most of which are deserving of their nominations. I will be ranking them category by category in different posts, from the nominee I feel is the least deserving to the nominee who I found to be superior to all the others. I’ve tried to remain as objective as I can, and taken as much into consideration as I can, in order to judge them fairly and honestly. This won’t be a commentary on who I think will win, and I will refrain from making actual predictions, because unfortunately there is a lot more to winning an Academy Award than just the performance.

The first category is one that I find to usually be my favourite – and in the past few years, I’ve found that Best Actor can sometimes be very strong, and sometimes very weak. Last year, we all knew Best Actor was going to go to the ridiculously overdue Leonardo DiCaprio. However, this year it feels like it is a race, and I think this is the strongest the category has been in years. Even the nominee who ranked last is still very strong, and would be deserving of a win in another year. This group of nominees are all excellent, and I wouldn’t mind seeing any of them walk away with the Oscar – if not for their great performances, for their wonderful careers. Without any further ado, here is a ranking of the 89th Academy Award nominees for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.

#5 – Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson in Fences


There isn’t any doubt that Denzel Washington is an acting legend – and in Fences, he really does act. He acts a bit too much. Actually, he acts way too much. It is the very definition of a hammy, over-the-top performance. Understandably, this was a film based on a play – but Washington played the role in the same way he played it on stage, and that didn’t quite work. However, getting down to it, and putting the overly excessive antics to one side, Washington is still very good, and he gives one of this more vulnerable and layered performances. I may not personally think Washington was worthy of his nomination (not when someone like Courtney B. Vance or Laurence Fishburne could’ve given it far more nuance than Washington did), I still think he did do a good job, and if he had just managed to tone it down a bit, he could’ve given a truly great performance. Rather than being brilliant, it is memorable – for better or for worse. He may be last here, but he is still very good and a worthy nominee, even if he wouldn’t be a personal choice.

#4 – Andrew Garfield as Pvt. Desmond T. Doss in Hacksaw Ridge


This was a difficult one, because even though I thought Hacksaw Ridge was a bad film, I have to say that Andrew Garfield did give his all to the role, and even if his performance may not be his best, I still found his effort remarkable, and he rose above the film to deliver a performance that is incredibly dedicated. His performance as Doss (the only real-life character of the nominees) was far stronger than the film it occupied, and even if he did alternate between giving a very powerful performance and a slightly questionable one, he did still deliver more than what I expected. Garfield is going to have a remarkable career, and a film like Hacksaw Ridge shows that he is able to elevate even the most dire material to something better.

#3 – Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic


In literally another other year, Viggo Mortensen may have been my favourite of the nominees – and to have him in third place seems wrong. He is truly exceptional in Captain Fantastic, and proves himself to be perhaps the most underrated actor working today. His performance is complex, interesting and beautiful, and he dedicates everything to it. It is such an incredible performance, and I thought Viggo would be so deserving of the win – but there are just two performances that are better than his, and I can’t honestly say Viggo was the best of them, but he was still absolutely incredible, and his performance holds a special place for me. Viggo has never been better, and I think he was truly unbelievable and the fact that this acclaim came from such a small film is absolutely wonderful. Viggo is amazing and I hope he continues to give such incredible performances.

#2 – Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder in La La Land


Ryan Gosling is one of the best actors of his generation. The fact that this is only his second nomination (after being ignored for Lars and the Real Girl, Drive and Blue Valentine, amongst others) is shocking. However, he gives a truly remarkable performance in La Land Land, and is utterly mesmerizing. His performance as Sebastian, a struggling and conflicted jazz pianist, is utterly incredible, and while it may not be his best work, it is still beyond amazing. It was tough for me to not place him at the very top, because ultimately, while I adored his performance to no end, there was just another performance slightly better than his. However, I could easily change the two around at some point, because I loved both performances. Gosling is absolutely wonderful, and he just proves himself to be one of the best actors working today, and he’s going to be an absolute legend in a few decades, if he isn’t already getting to that status.

#1 – Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea


Do I need to say more? If you don’t understand why Affleck is this high on the list, then you haven’t seen Manchester by the Sea. It is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, utterly beautiful performance that defines a career. Affleck is just beyond incredible, and gives his all to the performance. Manchester by the Sea is one of the very best films of the year, and Affleck carries the film on his shoulders. I don’t feel the need to justify why Affleck is my pick for the best of the nominees, because the performance truly does speak for itself. Not only is Affleck the best of this group of nominees, I think he gives the best male performance of the year. I really am glad that a subtle, complex performance like this is being recognized. Affleck is beyond incredible.

So in conclusion, this is a very strong group of performances, and for the first time ever, three of the actual nominees may very well make my personal list of best performances by actors this year. It is such a strong year, I would be satisfied with any of these men walking away with the trophy – but of course, one of them is far more deserving than the others, and if there is any luck, he will pull off the win.


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