by Nicolas Pinzon
This is a question that can create a lot of debate; essentially because “whether a performance is good or bad” is a subjective question, and we all have our own opinions about what good acting is. Flipping through channels recently, I came across a tele-novela (Spanish soap opera) with a cast of familiar faces who are all, in my opinion, terrible actors. But they keep getting hired. And so I realized that they are actually not terrible, that although they perform in a way that seems like overacting to me, their performances actually fit the melodramatic esthetic that that particular audience wants to see. Similarly, today Hollywood inclines towards naturalism. Introspective techniques in which the actor actually feels his character’s emotions are preferred over the grander and external reproductions of emotions that were favored in the classical era. But then were the grand performances of the past bad acting because they had no subtleties?
Addressing the 2016 Oscars, “who had a better performance” among the nominees really depends on the subjective question of what qualities we value most in a performance. In The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne displayed an incredible sense of corporal control and his transformation into a woman was really astonishing. But is his performance any more complex or nuanced than Michael Fassbender’s much more subtle and low key interpretation of Steve Job’s? I guess the question I want to ask when it comes to the male category is: Does transforming into someone completely different have more value than an honest performance as a character that simply looks they way the actor does? I wonder if that was part of what kept Michael B. Jordan out of the nominations. His performance was powerful, complex, and true, but it didn’t feel much like a transformation, and the voters might have not valued it as much as a result.
When it comes to the women’s category, all of the nominees play characters who look and sound pretty much like the actresses do, and the strength of their performances lie on the subtleties of emotion that they each bring to the character. So the question of who should win becomes more simple, but perhaps more difficult to answer. It’s not a question of transformation vs. subtlety but of who did an immeasurable thing better.
As for me, I have no favorite, in either category. But perhaps Kevin B. Lee from Fandor Keyframe could help you decide your picks with these very good video essays.
Who are your favorites?