Once more, each year I set aside time to highlight what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and over the last several days I’ve shared my favorite performances for each of the four acting categories. Wrapping it up is Lead Actor. As with the others, it’s a category rich with fabulous performances. Of them all here are my five favorites
#5 – Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
We’ve come to expect great performances every time Denzel Washington is on screen. But I still find myself consistently amazed by his steady stream of great work. He brings it again with the underappreciated “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” Only Denzel could bring such flavor and personality to a role like this.
#4– J.K. Simmons (“The Bachelors”)
Speaking of actors who never give a bad performance. J.K. Simmons is always an asset for any movie. He confirms that notion in the underseen indie gem “The Bachelors”. Its not as big or flamboyant at his Oscar-winning turn in “Whiplash”, but his heart-wrenching portrayal of a man smothering under the weight of depression is as true as anything you’ll see from 2017.
#3– Thomas Jane (“1922”)
I’ve tossed the word “eye-opener” and “surprise” around a few times during these lists but they really fit here. Thomas Jane’s stunning portrayal seems yanked right out of early 20th century middle America. His weathered, tanned face reveals a man who works the earth, but several other touches help give this character life. It could be something as simply as a squint of his eye or a draw of his mouth. It’s seen in his handling of small town period vernacular and his distinctive enunciations. It’s mesmerizing to watch.
#2– Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”)
A good performance from Gary Oldman should surprise no one. He’s played Sid Vicious, Count Dracula, and Lee Harvey Oswald. He’s played a Russian terrorist, a corrupt congressman, and a dirty DEA agent. Of course he nails the portrayal of Winston Churchill. It’s impossible to find Oldman in the performance. He’s that committed. And after years of great work this should be his Oscar-winning turn.
#1 – Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”)
This is hardly a lifetime achievement pick for his last performance. Instead it’s another showcase for the best actor on the planet. Sure that’s subjective, but Daniel Day-Lewis has consistently proven he is in a league all his own. In “Phantom Thread” he once again teams with Paul Thomas Anderson and the results are stunning. Much like his Daniel Plainview character in “There Will Be Blood”, Day-Lewis digs deep into his role mining every complexity and bringing them to light. It’s a stellar performance and if it is his last, what a way to end a spectacular career.
And that does it for another year. What did I get right and wrong? Let me know in the comments. Let’s do it again next year.