The Best Actor category had sparkled quite a lot of surprise in the past. Some of the recipients were undisputed winners while others were simply lucky to have that film released in the perfect year. Some were very, very unlucky to see the gold whizz past them (We are with you, Joaquin Phoenix) and some missed creating history (Oh, Tom Hanks!) We take a look back at all the best actor Oscar winners since 2000 and rank them in order of their merit. The countdown begins.
17. Russell Crowe, ‘Gladiator’ (2000)
In a show that was owned by his supporting lead (Joaquin Phoenix), Russell Crowe appeared a bit too heroic at times. That mean look was haunting enough in this vengeance epic and he wowed the audience with an overall strong and entertaining performance. Among all the best actor Oscar winners of this century, we like this one the least.
16. Jean Dujardin, ‘The Artist’ (2011)
In a nod to nostalgia flick where everything was precise and enchanting like European poetry, Jean Dujardin was the pivot. George Valentin was the out and out protagonist as the stubborn silent artist who declares against the arrival of sound in the industry. He is an egotist male with a penchant for romance, and Jean Dujardin executed this cult French persona with sublimity. In a challenging role, Dujardin manages to excel. The tiny smile of bemusement when he finds Peggy practicing with a suit on a stand highlights his brilliance. It was more subtle moments like this that the Oscar came knocking at his door. An enchanting performance no doubt, but it falls short of being a genius performance.
15. Jamie Foxx, ‘Ray’ (2004)
It takes something special to buoy a film with a paper thin screenplay. Jamie Foxx was thoroughly instinctive as the rhythm and blues music legend, Ray Charles. He was rhythmic as the man himself, feeling himself into the music in each of the songs, and rudely bashing anyone who takes him out of his trance. Foxx was good if not the best that year, but he got the prize in the end. Luck, may be?
14. Denzel Washington, ‘Training Day’ (2001)
Arrogant and egoistic, corrupt Detective Alonzo Harris puts in a power punch in this fast packed movie. He owned the streets with his presence and swagger and wouldn’t let go of his kingdom without a fight. Denzel was strong in his performance and the audience liked him a lot. Don’t we just love poetic justice? (Read: Russell Crowe in ‘A Beautiful Mind’)
13. Jeff Bridges, ‘Crazy Heart’ (2009)
Crazy Heart was everything but cheesy and Jeff Bridges is responsible for a large part of it. The coming of age story (read emotional maturity) of a washed up country singer – songwriter, Jeff Bridges was so Otis ‘Bad’ Blake to life that it is hard to imagine him as someone else. Beneath all that easy charm, the self-disparaging and self-despising bluster, the husky voiced artist is both tragic and pathetic, and Jeff Bridges emoted these shades to perfection. Crazy Heart was released in a lucky year, without having stiff competition in that category. Had it hit the theaters in any other year, Jeff Bridges might have had his work cut out in the road to glory.
12. Adrien Brody, ‘The Pianist’ (2002)
Survival stories can’t get better and Adrien Brody brought out every single bit of that incomprehensible struggle in this biopic. Being a Holocaust survivor is something else, and Brody with his hungry, searching eyes, pained countenance and fearful stances made us feel the horror of the times, bringing out the tears of empathy.
11. Colin Firth, ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010)
Colin Firth was exceedingly natural as King George VI, bringing about the tension, the hesitation and nervousness of a person with a speech disorder perfectly, betraying the anxiety through his flittering eyes and twitching lips. This ease in his portrayal earned him the top spot in that year’s competition. The lack of other major players had made it even easier, his closet contenders being Jesse Eisenberg and Jeff Bridges.
10. Sean Penn, ‘Milk’ (2008)
Sean Penn put up an emotional fight as gay rights activist Harvey Milk and succeeded in winning the hearts of the audience, if not all the critics. It was strange, but quite believable to see that girlish innocence and the coy smiles he exchanged with Scott on their first meet on the eve of his 40th birthday. The Hope Speech made us all stand up and applaud. Convincing, yes, but not too much.
9. Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ (2013)
Matthew McConaughey’s career transformation is much like the character of Ron Woodroof, the rodeo electrician diagnosed with AIDS. From meaningless moments to a more humanitarian choice, McConaughey was Ron Woodroof minus the AIDS part. Tall, weedy and bearing that cocky swagger like no one else can, moustache bearing and bell-bottom wearing Matthew McConaughey’s impersonation of Ron Woodroof was nothing short of immaculate. With this edgy performance, Matthew McConaughey proves to be quite a strong contender in our list.
8. Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘The Revenant’ (2015)
Critics might argue that he deserved to win it for Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of the Wall Street’, but in Innaritu’s revenge drama ‘The Revenant’, Leonardo DiCaprio puts in the performance of his life, in a role which required him to speak only a dozen lines or so in a raspy manner from a torn throat. Leo’s portrayal of this fur trapper from Wyoming is physical, using his body, eyes and gesture to emote powerfully. Leonardo DiCaprio transfers himself completely, showing the agony of exposing own flesh to air. It was about time that he had bagged the greatest award.
7. Eddie Redmayne, ‘The Theory of Everything’ (2014)
Eddie Redmayne, with an unparalleled brilliance enacts this transition, resurrecting the past and crawling into the wheelchair later. The more silent he became, the louder he sounded. The Theory of Everything might not be the best biopic made, but Eddie Redmayne stood out, his dedication and commitment to the role he was asked to portray clearly visible. One of the strongest performances ever, he deserves every accolade he received, including the coveted golden statuette. Stephen Hawking in his computerized tone simply applauded him.
6. Forest Whitaker, ‘The Last King of Scotland’ (2006)
In a film where your co-star has more screen time, it takes something special to pip him for contention in the Best Actor category. It takes something even more special to actually bag it. Forest Whitaker is that very special actor, winning the gold with a terrifyingly excellent personalization of the late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. It is with absolute perfection that Forest Whitaker nails the idiosyncrasies of a ruthless dictator. The misshapen eyes only added to the mystery of the persona.Forest Whitaker gives perhaps the most authentic portrayal in a biopic in the last few years. He fully deserved the award and would have won it in almost every other year.
5. Sean Penn, ‘Mystic River’ (2003)
In one of the best performances in a thriller movie, Sean Penn put in an enchantingly disturbing portrayal of a father ballistic to lay his hands on the people who killed his daughter. With his maddening haunting eyes, Penn was immaculate to say the least. It was excellent how he would get lost in day dreams and suddenly snap back into reality. Arguably, his best performance till date.
4. Philip Seymour Hoffman, ‘Capote’ (2005)
One of the most underrated actors ever, Philip Seymour Hoffman was simply brilliant as the American author himself. It is amazing how he brought out that thin quavering drawl and the disturbed persona of the enigmatic legend. Self-obsessed and sullenly envious, Hoffman was Truman Capote to boot. The silver screen does miss this stalwart now.
3. Daniel Day-Lewis, ‘Lincoln’ (2012)
With his third Oscar win, he marked himself as the greatest actor who ever lived. In Spielberg’s Lincoln, he single-handedly resurrected Abraham Lincoln and made many of us believe that the iconic President still lives on. He portrayed Lincoln as an artful master of charm and manners, imposing his authority with a nonchalant anecdote, making others willful to please him, and getting the right things done at the right time. He gave the viewer a certainty of hope even in these times of turmoil. The Best Actor Award certainly deserves Daniel Day Lewis as its recipient.
2. Casey Affleck, ‘Manchester by the Sea’ (2017)
Casey Affleck seems to have become such an inseparable quotient of that devastation that when I look back at that film, all memory of him seems to be flooded by that enchanting use of classical music and I am instantly taken back to that heartbreaking velocity with which he played Lee. There is no affectation or artificiality. It’s as if he’s walked in Lee’s heavy shoes forever.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis, ‘There Will be Blood’ (2007)
Only Daniel Day-Lewis can beat Daniel Day-Lewis. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic, ‘There Will be Blood’, Daniel Day Lewis puts in one of the best individual performances in the history of cinema. He looks like a towering lion in the middle of the oil rich wilderness. He walks with a commanding presence and speaks with an unerring old American drawl. He is a man of business and speaks plainly and takes pride calling himself an oilman. The way he marked his transition from a righteous oil man to a madman, violently protecting his empire made bus bow down in reverence. His eyes held that scary rage and literally brings out the meaning behind the title of the film.