Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
I enjoyed Ahmed’s work in Nightcrawler, Rogue One, and especially The Night Of, but I wasn’t prepared for the tour de force he delivers here. As a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing, Ahmed portrays the rage simmering just below the surface, but also the impulsive need to fix himself and those around him.
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Bodeman will likely win a posthumous Oscar for this performance, an acknowledgement of a wonderful man and special talent who was taken away far too soon. But I think he would have had a very good chance to win it even if he hadn’t died. His work as the under-appreciated musician Levee is among the best of his short, inspired career, allowing him to tap into wells of exuberance, anger and regret and deliver two searing monologues that hit so much harder in light of his passing.
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Hopkins has appeared in 25 films since he announced his “retirement” in 2007 at the age of 69. We should all be so productive in our old age! In The Father, he delivers his greatest screen performance since his Oscar-winning turn in The Silence of the Lambs. As Anthony, a man suffering from dementia, he goes to deeply sad places, but also gives us heartbreaking glimpses of the proud, playful man beneath the disease.
Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah
The Academy was smart to recognize Stanfield, but they did it in the wrong category. His William O’Neal is the film’s lead, a man who spies on the Black Panther’s Fred Hampton for the FBI to save his own skin, then finds himself conflicted as he gets closer to the cause. This is a subtle performance, much more about reacting than acting, and Stanfield sells so much of the story with just his eyes.
Steven Yeun – Minari
Sometimes you love a character so much that you forget to give credit to the actor. That’s how I felt about the whole Yi family, as they struggle to make a new life in Arkansas and fulfill their unique American dream. Yeun brings so much dignity and warmth to his role of the father and husband who dragged his family across the country to live on a farm.
And the winner is… Anthony Hopkins. Though I would be tempted to honor Boseman’s legacy if I was a voting Academy member, I believe Hopkins gave the best performance among this truly excellent lineup.