It’s a good year for acting at the Oscars. While the Best Picture category is disappointing in its safe choices – unforgivably ignoring both Wall-E and The Dark Knight - the acting categories tell a better story. In the Leading Actor category it’s particularly heartening to see Richard Jenkins’ perfectly understated performance in The Visitor getting the recognition it deserves; hopefully the nomination will cause a wider UK audience to seek the film out when it’s released on dvd (the day after the Oscars, conveniently!).
But good as Jenkins is, I think the category really comes down to a battle between Sean Penn in Milk and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Concerning the other two nominees, Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Button turn is nothing special, and his nomination is just one more aspect of the general overrating of this mediocre film. Frank Langella, on the other hand, fully deserves to be in there, as his portrayal of Nixon in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon is excellent. But good as he is, I was always aware that I was watching Langella acting, as opposed to being drawn in to the reality of the character, so I don’t think he should win.
So who should take home the prize out of Penn and Rourke? Penn’s Harvey Milk is a wonderfully inspiring creation, all the more worthy of praise for how it stretches the actor out of his generally sombre comfort zone. But as Highlander taught us, there can only be one winner, and I think it’s got to be Mickey Rourke for his heartbreaking performance as Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson. If great acting is about completely inhabiting a character to the point where all an audience can see is a fully formed life played out on-screen, then Rourke in The Wrestler deserves to be ranked with the best.