The Oscars don’t usually nominate every great performance given in a particular year. Sometimes, Academy voters are drawn to movies that feature performances that are merely passable, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to recognize great work. This year’s nominees for lead and supporting actor come from a slew of different projects, and each one of them is worthy for one reason or another.
- Troy Kotsur, CODA
- Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
- Jesse Plemons, The Power of the Dog
- J.K. Simmons, Being the Ricardos
- Ciarán Hinds, Belfast
- Will Smith, King Richard
- Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
- Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick…Boom!
- Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
- Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
In every group of nominees, it’s easy to single out a few performances that rise above the rest. There are also some obvious snubs in every category that it can feel impossible to ignore, but this is the list we’ve got, and all in all, it’s a pretty good one. Here’s a rundown of the nominees in both lead and supporting at the 2022 Academy Awards.
Kotsur has become a surprise favorite for his performance in CODA, and that’s in part because he gets to play such a pivotal, emotional role. Kotsur plays the deaf fisherman father of a hearing child who wants to leave the family to pursue a life in music. As cliched as the movie may sound, every actor brings real depth and humanity to their performance, and that’s especially true of Kotsur, who plays a buoyant, vibrant man terrified of change. He has a killer scene near the end of the film that should make him a shoo-in in a crowded category.
Power of the Dog is a movie all about subterfuge, and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s performance as Peter may be the most subtle in the film. Our perceptions of Peter change as the film unfolds, but the genius of Smit-McPhee’s performance is that every new revelation doesn’t feel like a break from the character we’ve seen thus far. Peter gradually reveals himself to the audience, but the genius of Power of the Dog, and of Kodi Smit-McPhee, is that he was always hidden in plain sight if you knew what to look for.
Definitely the more surprising supporting nominee from Power of the Dog, Jesse Plemons is nonetheless deserving for his sweet, honest portrayal of George, the more straightforward brother to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil. Plemons excels at playing kind people, but what makes his work especially worthy here is how Plemons is able to create a three-dimensional character who is compelling because of his good nature, not in spite of it. George is not a pushover. He’s just realized that he also doesn’t need to be a total ass.
Being the Ricardos is designed around its actors, and no one is better with Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue than J.K. Simmons. Simmons plays William Frawley, one of the supporting actors on I Love Lucy who is constantly at war with his onscreen wife. Simmons delivers solid work in the role, and is a perfect fit for a broad character actor who is crotchety behind the scenes. Underneath it all, though, Frawley has a heart of gold, and Simmons and Sorkin know how to show us that without making him feel too sweet.
Belfast is all sentiment, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Telling the story of a young boy growing up in Ireland during the Troubles, the film features a great roster of supporting talent supporting an excellent child performance at its center. Ciarán Hinds plays Pop, the young boy’s grandfather in the film, and he’s the closest thing to an emotional center that the movie’s got. Pop is wise and stubborn, kind to his grandson and honest about his feelings, and a perfect reminder of what every young boy wants their father to be. Hinds sells every note of it perfectly.
The frontrunner for the Oscar, Will Smith delivers a knockout performance that anchors King Richard. Smith plays Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena, and the man who fathered them carefully to ensure that they would lead the lives they ultimately led. King Richard smartly complicates the man at the center of the story, making it clear that he could be hard on his kids at times, and didn’t always make straightforward logical decisions about them. Through all that, though, it’s clear how much Richard cares, and that kind of open heart is what makes Smith such a great choice for the role.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in The Power of the Dog is a revelation, and it’s proof that he’s a force to be reckoned with. Playing a Yale-educated cowboy who refuses to bathe because he likes being dirty, Cumberbatch’s Phil is layer upon layer of menace. The way Cumberbatch plays him, though, it’s clear that there’s plenty buried below the surface. Phil is much more than he initially seems to be, and director Jane Campion unveils the details of his character expertly in collaboration with Cumberbatch.
Lin Manuel Miranda is one of the most energetic men in entertainment, but he met his on-camera match with Andrew Garfield’s turn as Rent! Composer Jonathan Larson, a brilliant composer who died at the age of 36. Garfield’s performance is all kinetic energy, but that’s what makes it so vibrant and alive. Larson is so focused on his art that he allows everything else to suffer, but in spite of how terrible the character of Larson can be, you can’t help but love the passion he puts into the music he’s dedicated his life to.
Javier Bardem is fundamentally miscast as Desi Arnaz. He is Spanish, and Arnaz was Cuban, and he also looks nothing like the man. Having said all that, Bardem is basically always compelling, and that remains true in Being the Ricardos. His Desi is a hypocritical feminist before that’s what every man was, capable of deferring to his wife when he knows she’s right even as he’s constantly cheating on her. Desi was an incredible businessman and an obvious star, and Bardem brings a ton of life to the character, even if he’s the wrong actor for the role.
The most remarkable thing about Denzel Washington’s performance in The Tragedy of Macbeth is he’s great, and it’s totally unsurprising. Washington has been nominated for an Oscar in five different decades, and his work in Macbeth is proof that he’s one of the greatest actors of all time. Washington delivers classic Shakespearean dialogue like its modern speech, and his collaboration with Joel Coen gives new life to a character that most people have known about since high school. Washington isn’t likely to win, but he more than deserves his nomination.
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