Briefly, on Denzel vs. Affleck at the Oscars
I know I’m preaching to the choir on this, but I still feel like it needs to be memorialized, so I’m going to state the obvious: Denzel Washington should have won the Oscar for Best Actor last night. I’m not saying that because Denzel is my favorite actor on the planet, although he is; nor am I saying that because Casey Affleck is a garbage person who has managed to taint Matt Damon and Ben Affleck by association (although, he is).
I am saying it because Denzel deserved that motherfucking Oscar.
Not all of you saw Fences, and not all of you saw Manchester by the Sea. In fact, I would wager that more of you have not than have. We know our demographic here. You people like great movies, but many of you would prefer to wait and watch them at home. So let me just break this down:
Casey Affleck — his rape-y bullshit past aside — gave a remarkable performance in Manchester by the Sea. It was remarkable for how understated it was: You know that wounded Ross look David Schwimmer gives in Friends? It was the prestige two-hour version of that, plus a lot of mumbling in a Boston accent. I genuinely hurt for his character’s plight, although I kind of hated the movie because it never offered a genuine release. While Affleck’s performance better reflected the reality of that situation, it’s a movie that really demands a release. But like life in the situation of his character, a happy or even content conclusion isn’t in the cards. Fine, I get it. Manchester by the Sea wanted us to acknowledge that there are just some wounds that don’t heal. That never will. That the best we can do is manage the pain by avoiding it.
But Denzel, people! Denzel. There were two performances last year that bettered Denzel (Viola Davis and Naomie Harris), but neither were in his category. Among best actors, Denzel gave a lights out performance that completely transcended the words of August Wilson. Do you know how good you have to be to transcend August Wilson? You have to be Denzel good, that’s how good you have to be. That was a brilliant Broadway play that had no real business being turned into a movie, but it worked because of Viola and because of Denzel. They took the intimacy of a play, and they managed to translate that on screen. They put us in their home, and they made us feel their struggles.
Denzel’s performance was showy as hell, and maybe the Academy prefers understated to showy. I dunno. But when Denzel was onscreen, you could feel the entire life of that character speaking through him. He was a fucking monster onscreen. That kind of real-life character that just doesn’t exist anywhere else in film: A larger than life, flawed, abusive man fighting the tide against years and years of terrible upbringing. I hated him. And loved him. And respected him, and reviled him. And understood him. I have known those people — people who want to do right, but just don’t know how. People who live by a troubled, unworkable code that they just don’t realize is unworkable. It was a magnetic performance — a performance of a lifetime, and that’s saying a lot given Denzel’s life.
I don’t know a lot about the technicalities of acting. I just know how a performance makes me feel, and when you compare Denzel’s performance to Casey Affleck’s, it’s not a contest, really. I don’t know how reasonable minds could disagree. I don’t know what goes on in the mind of Academy voters, either. I don’t know if they just don’t like Denzel, or if the Affleck/Damon circle is widely revered for some reason. But this, to me, was inexplicable, Casey Affleck’s garbage history aside. Casey Affleck bruised our souls in Manchester, but Denzel? He lit up the screen. He created an entire world out of a single character. He was the Denzeliest he has ever been.
I just don’t get it.
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