Between the celebrated octogenarian, the stylish character actor, and the infectious screen presence who died too young, the Oscar goes to Chadwick Boseman playing a trumpeter band member in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” He died, 43, of colon cancer.
The 4th and 5th nominated actors don’t really contend for Oscar Gold. Steven Yeun, with the anchor role in “Minari,” is a pleasing actor. He is an effective, engaging part of a well-balanced ensemble cast. Playing a Korean farmer who transplanted his wife and son and mother-in-law to Arkansas, Yeun embodies the commitment to the struggle that keeps his farm going and keeps his family going.
It’s a shame to discount Riz Ahmed quickly. He is quite compelling in “Sound of Metal.” Playing a rock drummer who goes deaf, Ahmed combines great intensity with a certain down to earth quality that centers this story very well.
Back to the contenders, first consider Anthony Hopkins in “The Father.” At 83 and still going strong, he’d become the oldest ever Oscar winning actor. (Christopher Plummer, 82; Jessica Tandy and [supporting actor] George Burns, 80) Playing an otherwise sturdy man with advanced dementia, Hopkins effects a gripping quality that he exploits especially well. He bares his strength. He bares his vulnerability. He brandishes his independence. He flags his dependence on his devoted daughter.
You could say Hopkins has an easy hook, playing this afflicted man. Not really fair. Hopkins shoulders the weight of this human being’s growing incapacity with an Oscar-worthy clarity, with solidity cracking before the daughter’s and the audience’s eyes. So close-to-home real, too close-to-home real, Oscar will skip past the Hopkins performance.
Gary Oldman may not be as venerated as Anthony Hopkins is, but Oldman is a much-respected actor embarked on the third third of his life. His more stylized film, “Mank,” including Oldman’s approach to the title character, is a more likely ride to Oscar.
Oldman’s performance is not so striking that the Academy is likely to award him his second Best Actor in a row. (He won two years ago playing Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour.”) The voters will skip past Oldman as well because Chadwick Boseman compels the limelight.
Chadwick Boseman got to enjoy the blockbuster fun of four pictures playing the Black Panther. The four-year run included a film with a substantive stir, called “Black Panther.” From those superhero flicks, he jumped into a more serious brand of action film, “Da 5 Bloods.” This yielded him a Supporting Actor SAG nomination alongside his Best Actor SAG win and Oscar nomination in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
Boseman plays very noticeable characters, like the Godfather of Soul, James Brown and the America-changing baseball icon, Jackie Robinson. These essentially started his last 8 years as a film star (after 10 years doing a bunch of TV roles).
Why refer to him in a resume-like rundown. Well, this rising star died of cancer. Chadwick Boseman’s churn will stop, but not without granting him a lifetime honorific, an Oscar win for his confident, well done counter balance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”