Song of the Day #4,995: ‘Be Alive’ – Beyoncé

Continuing my personal 2021 Oscar rundown, today I’m focusing on the gentlemen I would recognize for Best Actor.

First a shout out to five actors I considered for this lineup but ended up leaving out. Alphabetically, they are Bradley Cooper (Nightmare Alley), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog), Peter Dinklage (Cyrano), Joaquin Phoenix (C'mon C'mon), and Anthony Ramos (In the Heights).

Wonderful performances, all.

And the nominees are…

Nicolas Cage – Pig

The last time Cage had a role this good was 2013’s Joe, eight years and — get this — 33 movies ago. That volume of mediocre material can make you forget he’s a brilliant actor when he tries.

He’s definitely trying here, as a grief-stricken former star chef who has invested what emotional currency he has left in a truffle pig. When the pig is stolen, he embarks on a quest through a twisted alternative reality where the Portland restaurant scene includes an underground fight club.

Cage brings sadness, intensity and fierce intelligence to this role, as epitomized in a mesmerizing scene where he thoroughly breaks down a local restaurateur with his words and his unblinking eyes.

Winston Duke – Nine Days

Duke, best known as Black Panther‘s M’Baku, delivers a touching performance in writer-director Edson Oda’s sci-fi drama Nine Days. Duke plays Will, a gatekeeper tasked with choosing souls to be born on Earth following a nine-day interview process.

Will is careful, analytical and patient, and Duke gives him an other-worldly quality befitting his purgatorial position. But when one candidate, Emma (Zazie Beetz), tears down his defenses, we start to see the uncertainty and regret behind his facacde.

Duke is excellent throughout, but earned his spot on this list in the film’s virtuoso final scene, where he delivers a searing performance of Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ (the clip still works without context, but it’s gut-wrenching if you’ve seen the whole film).

Andrew Garfield – Tick, Tick… Boom!

Garfield should win an award for 2021 in general. Set aside his electric, emotional work in Tick, Tick… Boom! and you still have his surprisingly touching extended cameo in Spider-Man: No Way Home, stellar work as Jim Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and a run of talk show appearances where he proved the most empathetic, thoughtful human being in Hollywood.

But setting aside the fact that’s he an all-around great guy, Garfield deserves praise for embodying Rent composer Jonathan Larson in Lin-Manuel’s directorial debut. The actor, who had never previously sung or played the piano, nailed the musical performances but also the wit, restlessness and big-heartedness of a genius just starting to blossom.

Simon Rex – Red Rocket

I haven’t seen the Scary Movie franchise, and I wasn’t a big watcher of The WB in the late 90s, so model-turned-actor Simon Rex is a new face to me. As such, I wasn’t struck by the unlikelihood of a man with his career turning in an award-worthy performance.

No, I didn’t feel the need to grade Rex on a curve. He made his way to this list entirely based on the merits of his hilarious, horrifying turn as former porn star Mikey Saber, a man equal parts charm and smarm. You can’t take your eyes off of him, even as he proves increasingly toxic to everybody in his orbit.

In a movie world chock full of superheroes and super villains, Rex gives us a fascinating portrait of a man who is deeply flawed because he is deeply human.

Will Smith – King Richard

Smith’s work in King Richard is an example of a movie star simultaneously disappearing into a character and tapping into his own considerable big-screen charisma.

He perfectly captures the mannerisms and voice of Richard Williams — I especially love how he changes his gait — but he still delivers that satisfying Will Smith gleam in his eyes.

We don’t get enough performances like this anymore, movie star turns in big, shiny adult dramas, and I’m glad Smith got the opportunity to remind us how it’s done.

And the winner is… Will Smith. If I took my heart out of it, I might go with Simon Rex here, but I really want to see Will Smith take the stage at the Oscars, and I’m willing that to happen with my own choice.

[Intro]
It feels so good to be alive
Got all my family by my side
Couldn’t wipe this black off if I tried
That’s why I lift my head with pride

[Verse 1]
I got a million miles on me
They want to see how far I go
The path was never paved with gold (Gold)
We worked and built this on our own (Own)

[Pre-Chorus]
And can’t nobody knock it if they tried
This is hustle personified
Look how we’ve been fighting to stay alive
So when we win, we will have pride
Do you know how much we have cried?
How hard we had to fight?

[Chorus]
It feels so good to be alive (It feels so, so, so, so good)
Got all my sisters by my side (I got all my sisters by my side)
Couldn’t wipe this black off if I tried (Black off if I tried)
That’s why I lift my hеad with pride
Now we’re sitting on top of thе world again, huh

[Verse 2]
I got a million miles on me
They want to see how far I’ll go (They want to see how far I’ll go)
The path was never paved with gold (No)
We fought and built this on our own (We fought and built this on our own, own)

[Pre-Chorus]
And can’t nobody knock it if they tried
This is hustle personified
Look how we’ve been fighting to stay alive
So when we win, we will have pride
Do you know how much we have cried?
How hard we had to fight?

[Chorus]
It feels so good to be alive (It feels so good, so good)
Got all my family by my side (And we gon’ sit on top of the world again)
Couldn’t wipe this black off if I tried (And I wouldn’t trade nothin’, and I wouldn’t trade nothin’)
That’s why I lift my head with pride (So baby, lift your head, yeah)
It feels so good to be alive (Darling, it’s a celebration for you, yeah)
I got the tribe all by my side (You’re doin’ everything they said you couldn’t do)
Couldn’t wipe this black off if I tried
That’s why I lift my head with pride (Lift your head, yeah)

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,995: ‘Be Alive’ – Beyoncé

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Nicolas Cage really should have been nominated for an Oscar, but Will Smith deserves the win.

  2. Amy says:

    You forgot to mention Andrew Garfield also pulling off playing Jim Bakker during this same year. I know you weren’t a fan of the film, in general, but you must recognize how good his performance was.

    Having thus far missed Nine Days and Red Rocket, I’d swap out those performances for Dinklage and either Tom Hanks in Finch or Dev Patel in The Green Knight. I liked the former film considerably more than the latter, but similar demands were placed in both actors, and they both more than met the moment.

    I’d ultimately give it to Will Smith or Nic Cage for all the reasons you mentioned above.

  3. The Cool Guy (Daniel) says:

    I will not lie, pointing out again that I have been a poor movie goer this year, I have only seen one of these performances. Andrew Garfield truly has had a singular year in terms of how many movies he was able to grace with his talent. Although, he’s been in the business for a while and been lauded for that time, I feel this is the year he truly established himself on another level! I would’ve given him a supporting actor nod for his work in No Way Home alone!

  4. Peg says:

    Definitely Will Smith should get this award! Bio-pic be damned 😊. I agree with most of your analysis and I’m sure you know where I differ 😊 Happy Anniversary ❤️

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