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Oscar Watch: Dueling Kevins

Now’s the time in my never-ending obsession with the Oscars where I concentrate on a particular category and choose who I think would receive nominations–if the choice had to be made this instant.

Today, it’s a look at Best Actor. So far, I’m thinking it may be a Kevin kind of year–Kevin Spacey and Kevin Kline, that is.

The two Oscar-winning actors have each managed to snag juicy roles in two movies that aren’t all that dissimilar. The films rest solely on their respective shoulders, and each film is a deep character study about a man who dares to be different in the face of great skepticism–a piece of cake for these veteran actors.

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Thus, if the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences came to me and said, “Please help us pick the Best Actor nominees up to this date, because we simply don’t have the time or, frankly, the expertise to do so,” I’d tell them I’d be happy to and give them this list:

Kevin Spacey, K-Pax

In a nutshell (pun intended), Spacey claims he’s a visitor from a distant planet and winds up in a mental hospital where his doctor, played by the equally good but reticent Jeff Bridges, has a tough time believing him. Spacey is perfect as Prot, with just the right amount of irony in his calm demeanor.

From the moment I first saw Spacey on the ’80s show Wiseguy with Ken Wahl, I knew he was someone to be reckoned with. On Wiseguy, Spacey guest starred as some nut-job drug dealer (Is there any other kind?) who ends up having an incestuous dalliance with his sister. He scared the heck out of me. There was something distinctly different–and unpredictable–about Spacey that made him stand out.

Of course, we all know now how talented, yet enigmatic, Spacey is. He won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for an unbelievably creepy performance in The Usual Suspects (1995) and then went on to completely wow us in the slow burn of American Beauty (1999), winning the coveted Best Actor award.

However, to be completely honest with you (and I feel I must), I don’t really think Spacey will be nominated for K-PAX. But only because he’s got another movie coming out in December which I believe will guarantee Spacey a spot on the nominee list: The Shipping News, based on the exquisite novel by Annie Proulx. Spacey plays one of those quirky characters he does best, a guy moves himself and his daughter to a small town in Newfoundland. That’s the Spacey performance to watch out for, folks.

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Kevin Kline, Life As a House

Kline, another actor who I admire so very much, will get on the list for his moving performance in Life As a House, which has been described as American Beauty meets Terms of Endearment. Kline movingly plays a man who learns he is dying of cancer, prompting him to build his dream house with his estranged son. While this concept is a tad on the sappy side, Kline rises above the maudlin and gives a surprisingly fresh take on the dying man role. We also know how the Academy loves to award actors who die spectacularly on film.

When I saw Sophie’s Choice (1982) for the first time I was totally and utterly blown away by Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning performance. But Kline, who had never been seen before by moviegoers, was equally amazing as Sophie’s lover, Nathan. He followed that up with The Big Chill (1983) and it’s been smooth sailing ever since, if we can ignore a couple miscues, like Consenting Adults and Wild Wild West.

Kline’s performance as Otto, the inept bad guy, in the comedy hit A Fish Called Wanda (1988), earned him his only Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor. This year may change all that.


Haley Joel Osment, A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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It’s a long shot, I know. But up to this point, Osment’s turn as the boy robot with a heart in Steven Spielberg’s troubled film stands as one of the better performances this year; the kid was simply wonderful. Osment was able to subtly show how a mechanical boy, not programmed for feelings, could acquire some on his own. It just about ripped my heart out.

Honestly, where does a talent like Osment come from?

It’s kind of scary to have someone so young understand so much about the human condition. From his Oscar-nominated performance in The Sixth Sense (1999) to Pay It Forward (2000) to A.I., Osment is a true acting wonder. Even though I’m heaping on the praise now, Osment is surely going to get better as he gets older. Let’s just hope he can make it past that awkward adolescent thing (like Jodie Foster did before him) and start really winning the awards when he becomes an adult.

Guy Pearce, Memento

Even though the film was released ages ago, Pearce is still on top of my list. Memento is just one of the coolest films this year. It’s so unique, along the lines of The Usual Suspects and Being John Malkovich that it should get Oscar’s attention, with a Best Actor nomination for Pearce a very strong possibility.

Pearce plays Lenny, a man with no short-term memory, Pearce exudes just enough moxie mixed with naivete to give a convincing portrayal of a man stuck in a real quandary, as he tries to find his wife’s killer–the last memory he can retain. It’s a real tour-de-force performance for the Australian actor.

Cutting his teeth on Australian soap operas, Pearce turned heads when he starred as Detective Exley in the Oscar winning L.A. Confidential (1997). Surprisingly, Memento wasn’t even suppose to be his BIG film this year. That was to be the remake of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which has since been pushed back to next year.

No matter. They’ll probably re-release Memento before the end of the year to remind everyone how good it is. At least I hope so, because the Academy has a problem with short-term memory, too.

And finally…

Chris Kattan, Corky Romano

Oh, I’m just kidding. Kattan would probably lose a lung if he snagged a nomination. And so would we. No, actually I was thinking of…

Denzel Washington, Training Day

I’m sort of hard pressed to come up with a fifth nomination. I mean, Washington probably won’t get nominated for Day because the film hasn’t done all that well in theaters. And if he did, Denzel probably wouldn’t win.

But I feel compelled to mention the performance. What a fun part for the usually pristine and pure Washington–a bad-ass cop who’s tired of playing by the rules and decides to make up his own set. He just might sneak in his third nomination as Best Actor for playing the cop gone wrong.

Certainly, Washington has been robbed more than once by the Academy.

True, he did win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his stellar performance in the Civil War drama Glory (1989), but Denzel’s been nominated for other, even better, performances and has walked away empty-handed each time. When Washington didn’t win the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, many insiders felt it was a travesty. That’s the Academy’s way: They don’t always reward a person for the right performance, but rather will wait for a lesser one and give the actor an award based on the body of his or her work. Happens all the time.

I’d like to thank the Academy for giving me this opportunity to pick the Best Actor nominees…OK, OK, I’m really just a frustrated actor waiting for my chance to accept the damn award myself.

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