Fassbander stuns as Jobs

The Academy loves true stories, and this year is very much the rule. Four of the five nominations for Best Actor went to men for roles playing people who had walked the earth as recently as 2011. Some are more mythologized more than others. The lone fictional fictional character is a botanist who finds himself alone on Mars.

Seven years after winning the first of four Emmy awards for his titanic portrayal of Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston is finally given a lead role in a movie. As usual, he gives a great performance as Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted for his Communist leanings. Cranston brings depth to a shallow role in a movie more concerned with telling the audience that Trumbo was a genius, rather than showing them. The movie’s writer makes sure we realize that writers are indeed clever, and Cranston has a field day wryly delivering lines like, “[I’m] the perfect combination: the radical fights with the purity of Jesus, but the rich guy fights with the cunning of Satan.”

Last year’s Best Actor chose an odd path. Eddie Redmayne, who won for his starring role in the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything,” could have conceivably chosen any part he liked. Rather than taking a role in another Oscar-bait period drama like his many detractors assumed he would, Redmayne instead played Balem Abrasax in “Jupiter Ascending.” It was a brave choice for the English actor, and he gave a magisterial performance. Redmayne deftly portrayed a villain who wholly and truly believes himself to be the hero, and his careful switches between hoarse whispering and rabid yelling show a man on the edge of sanity. In a less crowded field, he’d be this year’s favorite.

Much was made of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and perhaps no other acting nomination in the segregated field stuck out as undeserved more than Matt Damon’s for “The Martian.” Neither “The Martian” nor Damon’s performance are bad, and in fact both are satisfactory, but not much more. The movie itself was unique for being an uplifting space adventure, proficiently directed by the great Ridley Scott. Damon, alone for the bulk of the movie, plays stranded astronaut Mark Watney well, as he usually does, but it didn’t strike me at the time as a superlative performance, and it doesn’t now.

It’s hard to imagine that millionaire movie star Leonardo DiCaprio, who trades in his supermodel girlfriends once they hit the geriatric age of 25, cares much about whether or not he has won one specific film award, but it’s certainly become a meme that he is absolutely desperate for an Oscar. Whether or not that influenced his decision to follow Alejandro G. Inarritu into the frozen Canadian wilderness to eat raw fish and bison liver, we may never know. DiCaprio’s performance in “The Revenant” is textbook Leo: He gets real upset and makes a whole lot of faces, and people gush over it.. DiCaprio spends much of the movie crawling around a national park searching for Tom Hardy, who overshadows him in nearly every way, though I’m rooting for the “The Revenant” makeup team to win an Oscar for making DiCaprio’s chapped lips look so disgusting that I had to turn away whenever they came on screen.

The best nominated performance of the year is Michael Fassbender’s turn as Steve Jobs in the movie of the same name. The Danny Boyle-directed, Aaron Sorkin-written movie, which follows Jobs behind the scenes of three important product launches—the Macintosh, the NeXT computer, and the iMac— shows one of America’s most lionized men at his brilliant best and sociopathic worst, and Fassbender, one of the best actors of the last decade, plays him perfectly. Sorkin, famous for his motormouth characters in works like “The Social Network” and TV shows like “The West Wing,” reins in some of his more cloying tendencies and arms Fassbender with utterly devastating lines that he brutally wields against his ex-girlfriend and their daughter, Lisa. Fassbender, who should have won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “12 Years a Slave,” would make a deserving winner here.