Are You Prepared for the Amazingly Messy Best Actor Race This Year?

Best Actor still maintains a reputation as one of the snootier Oscar categories despite all the fuss over the Slap and the Snub. not this season! Considering what I observed at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, we should prepare for the Best Actor race of 2023 to be a complete shambles. The two most Oscar-friendly performances from TIFF occurred to come from films that a substantial portion of the critics genuinely detested. This is terrible, but I don’t think any of the candidates are about to start fighting — but if they do, my money’s on Bill Nighy.

Any expert would tell you that Brendan Fraser of The Whale is the early favourite to win the Best Actor award, with odds of 7/2 according to GoldDerby. The reasoning is sound: Fraser is a former A-lister attempting a comeback in an arthouse movie (check), and he transforms dramatically physically to play a 600-pound father wanting to reconnect with his daughter during what might be his final week of life (double-check, triple-check) (quadruple-check). The Oscar campaign began right after The Whale’s Venice showing, where a video of Fraser getting choked up during the film’s prolonged standing ovation went viral.The actor continued the celebration at TIFF, where he was given the festival’s Tribute Award. In his charming acceptance speech, he confessed that the last time he had won a trophy was in an eighth-grade peewee hockey league.

The Fraser train is moving so quickly that it almost seems to be leaving The Whale in its wake. From where I’m standing, that might be a good thing because those who dislike this film do so vehemently. The movie is based on a play written by Samuel D. Hunter, who included his own weight-related issues into the story. However, while a play can serve as an expression of one man’s unhappiness with himself, when movie stars are added, Darren Aronofsky is in charge of the camera, and it serves as the focal point of a lavish awards campaign, it loses its effectiveness.that “self” has a tendency to disappear, leaving you with little more than disgust. My coworker Alison Willmore criticised Darren Aronofsky for “filming the main character’s physique and depression-fueled bingeing like it’s the material of a monster movie” after The Whale’s TIFF premiere. It is “a kind of leering horror, a portrayal of a man gone to catastrophic ruin so that we, as audience members, may tap into our nobler, higher thoughts and find the good human being beneath the dreadful appearance,” according to Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair. Katie Rife of Polygon observed only “sad, veiled under a thick, suffocating veneer of scorn.”

Whether any of this disagreement will matter is the question facing A24, which is releasing The Whale. In the TIFF press room, the phrase “Didn’t love the picture, liked the performance” was often heard. (There are many others who like the movie; one of them is my other valued colleague Bilge Ebiri, who termed the movie’s ending “shaking and beautiful and honest.”) Although it’s simple to be cynical about what The Whale stands for in relation to the Oscars, it’s difficult to feel that way about Fraser because he doesn’t have any ulterior motives. A couple at my table at the Tribute Awards questioned why there was such an emotional reaction to his presence.Was this person considered to be a serious actor? I explained to them that it was more like he was an old buddy who we had grown up watching in stupid movies and who was now finally having his chance to enjoy the glare of success. And that was before Fraser delivered his speech, which was filled with jokes about how, despite never having received a trophy before, he had plenty of experience presenting them. “Left hand hold, right hand shake,” is the secret. Take it from someone who was there: presenting Brendan Fraser with trophies just feels good. Maybe that’ll be sufficient.

The Son by Florian Zeller, which many of them despise almost as much, is unlikely to be the alternative that the anti-Whale faction chooses to support. It is Zeller’s follow-up to The Father, which won him an Oscar, and like that film, it is an English translation of a drama that was initially intended for the Parisian stage. Hugh Jackman is a high-flying Manhattan lawyer who has a young wife (Vanessa Kirby) and a young boy. His ex-wife (Laura Dern) and son (Zen McGrath), whose teenage boredom is beginning to resemble clinical depression, are left behind in Brooklyn. The answer? Once the child crosses the river to live with Dad, everything will be back to normal.

Though it’s difficult for this father, an unrelenting optimist, to notice, as we saw in The Father, there are some things that can’t be mended by proximity. (Jackman’s performance is an example of what online users refer to as “poison positivity”). There were not many dry eyes in the audience at my TIFF screening as Jackman’s character was finally confronted with the enormity of his failure. Like he did in his predecessor, Zeller is tapping into potent veins of familial emotion — denial, guilt, and grief — and there were not many dry eyes in the house.Sadly, the ones that were the driest belonged to the reviewers I spoke to. Alison, who adored The Father, expressed her surprise that the same person had directed a “emotionally false” movie in our Critics newsletter: “I was astonished by how terrible it was… there’s an unusual stiltedness to it that hangs over everything.” This is partly due to the material being altered twice: not just the literal translation, but also the sense of dislocation brought on by the casting of Commonwealth actors as three of the four roles who are speaking with American accents. However, it also results from Zeller’s “beautiful austerity of Zeller’s direction,” which turns the movie “into a painful trudge,” according to THR’s David Rooney.

The Son’s final act has received a lot of criticism; I won’t give it away, but David Ehrlich of Indiewire called it “the single most sadistic finale to any movie this side of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist.” My own reaction to watching the movie was mirrored by journalist Daniel Joyaux, who recalled “a moment toward the end when I thought to myself, If this is as shamelessly manipulative as people are saying, Thing X would randomly happen right about now.” That kind of advance warning creates its own sense of dread — Oh God, they’re really doing this. And shortly after that thinking, Thing X occurred.

Similar to Fraser, Jackman’s performance is receiving a slight pass as the writing and direction draw the ire of the critics. Ehrlich claims that by giving Jackman’s character “just the right amount of naïve vanity,” “he mines real tragedy from [his character’s] myopia.” The Son appears to be a sure thing to receive a nomination given his resume and how wide open the Best Actor race is. He is ranked fourth according to GoldDerby. Voters might simply feel awful for him at the conclusion of the movie and do whatever to make him feel better.

Thus, we are left with a Lead Actor race that is ripe for drama, one in which the most prominent contenders come from films that have been used as scapegoats by the media, and even each actor’s fans are a little embarrassed about the fact that their eagerly anticipated nominations are coming from these particular films. But on the other side of the ballot, that is standard procedure. Has the Best Actor contest finally become as tumultuous as the Best Actress race?

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