This was a great year for film, and the 2017 Academy Award nominations bear that out. But compared to some of the more competitive categories like Best Picture or Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor is really just a competition between two men: Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington.
Ryan Gosling is one of his generation’s most exciting actors, and it’s possible he might ride a “La La Land” wave to a win, but too many voters identify him with the romantic comedies he’s made over the past decade, rather than his better work. It’s a fine performance, but it’s doubtful he’ll win.
Which brings us to the two most realistic choices: Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. Affleck is the one who should win this award for “Manchester by the Sea.” He’s a master of communicating raging emotions through small glances and expressions. Few actors can match his subtlety and technique. But Affleck’s bid was marred by past sexual harassment allegations from two women who worked with him on his mockumentary “I’m Still Here” in 2010. Affleck was compared to Nate Parker, whose “The Birth of a Nation” fame was derailed by past rape allegations. (It also turned out not to be a very good film.) But sexual harassment, as despicable as it is, isn’t the same as rape, and Affleck settled to the satisfaction of the involved parties, unlike Parker, who never faced any punishment. He was acquitted, though his writing partner was convicted of the same crime (the conviction was eventually vacated).
The allegations against Affleck give Denzel Washington the edge for his performance in “Fences.” It’s a hammy, overly acted role in a just-okay film. Like Washington’s direction, the performance never escapes the tethers of the stage. What Affleck conveys in a furrowed brow, Washington does in two pages of dialogue. But past admiration for Washington, combined with a push for diverse winners, will push him over the top.
Casey Affleck — “Manchester by the Sea”
Andrew Garfield — “Hacksaw Ridge”
Ryan Gosling — “La La Land”
Viggo Mortenson — “Captain Fantastic”
Denzel Washington — “Fences”
Who should win: Casey Affleck — “Manchester by the Sea”
Who will win: Denzel Washington — “Fences”
The Academy Awards air Sunday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.
Reach Staff Reporter Brian Marks here.