OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES/TV MOVIE
Two quasi-related things. Last year, I overestimated the number of potential nominees. So this year, I’m only going to include six and give a possibility for a seventh. Second I’m aware of the number of potential nominees with connections to the MCU and while I suspect many of the nominees will have acted in those franchises, I suspect very few will be from Marvel Limited Series. I don’t think Loki, Hawkeye or Moon Knight have the same likely crossover appeal that Wandavision did. Just a theory. Anyway here I go.
Paul Bettany, A Very English Scandal
Paul Bettany may very well be one of the few –if not the only — performer from last year’s nominees in this category to end up repeating in it. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Those millions who only knew of his work as Vision in the Marvel Universe and can’t understand why he didn’t manage to win an Emmy last year for his work in Wandavision (for the record in an ugly category he was one of the more deserving nominees) will no doubt be awed by his work as Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll who finds himself in the middle of one of the most notorious divorces of the 1960s. Those who no Bettany for his utter politeness in just about everything will be in awe of how he calmly uses his wife’s indiscretion to utterly destroy so that he can get his desired divorce. It’s a nasty turn for a man known for someone playing everything toned down, and one more than deserving of another trip to the Emmys.
Ben Foster, The Survivor
Ever since I saw The Messengers one of the most haunting movies about the military in history, I have always admired the work of Ben Foster. I’m well aware it wasn’t his first project — he was a semi-regular on Six Feet Under and he had a great part in the remake of 3:10 to Yuma — but I’ve admired his work ever since. Sometimes he appears in projects well beneath his abilities but most of his films such as Rampart, Kill Your Darlings and Hell or High Water show how brilliant intense an actor he is. His work in the HBO TV Movie The Survivor — a likely frontrunner in that category — is a good measure of both his intensity and his restraint. Playing a boxer who had to fight against fellow survivors in concentration camps, he turned what could have easily been a clichéd story into a memorable role. Guided by Barry Levinson in his second Emmy worthy project of this season, he told a hard place true story where we never doubted a moment of his work. Actors and actresses in TV movies have increasingly found it hard to earn nominations in the eras of Limited Series, but there’s no doubt that Foster has earned one.
Andrew Garfield, Under the Banner of Heaven
Andrew Garfield never gets respect. He was denied a Supporting Actor nomination for his work in the extraordinary The Social Network. His work in The Amazing Spider Man series was vilified more because he made a cheeky suggestion about the potential for Peter Parker to be bisexual. And despite acting in some of the greatest films of the last few years — Hacksaw Ridge, Silence and The Eyes of Tammy Faye — he is always overshadowed by either the directors of his co-stars.
Now, playing a Mormon detective whose faith is tested as he investigates a brutal murder connected to LDS fundamentalism, he is likely to be nominated for a sterling performance in a series that once looked as a sure front-runner for Emmy nominations across the board, but is now more likely to be overshadowed by flashier Hulu limited series such as The Dropout and Pam and Tommy. And even though his performance was a gift of restraint showing a man sliding into doubt, he will almost certainly be ignored for the prize by another exceptional performance by yet another Hulu Limited series (see below). Well, some day Garfield will get his due from the Emmys or the Oscars or something. In the meantime, let’s just quietly commemorate another great, dignified performance in his repertoire.
Oscar Isaac, Scenes from a Marriage
Oscar Isaac was listed by the New York Times as one of the greatest actors of the 21st Century. He’s certainly one of the most undervalued. I have marveled at his work in independent films like Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina and always marvel at how much he can convey with so calm on a tone. Millions know of him for his work in the controversial Star Wars sequels, and I suspect many would nominate him for his work in Moon Knight. But make no mistake, nearly a year after it débuted, his work in Scenes from a Marriage as Jonathan is one of the most astonishing performances of the entire season.
Jonathan was the husband who seemed to have a perfect marriage and then watched as he learned of his wife’s infidelity, their decision to separate, eventually divorce and find themselves in the final episode back in their old in each others arms. He and Mira seemed to bring out the worst and the best each other within the same minute, and even though he was often far more restrained in his feelings than his wife, you could see the pain and agony in him in every single minute. It was one of the most wrenching performances of the year.
Isaac’s work has received mixed results from the pre-Emmys awards; the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Critics focused almost entirely on nominees from earlier in the year, many of which were inferior. Only the SAG awards nominated him for Best Actor. I think there is enough forward momentum for Isaac to earn a nod (he was also overlooked for his stunning work in another HBO Limited Series Show Me a Hero) and he’s reached this point in his career with almost no nominations for a decade of extraordinary work. He’s owed, and it’s for these scenes.
Michael Keaton, Dopesick
Ever since the revival of his career in the back-to-back Best Pictures Birdman and Spotlight, Keaton has moved from conventional leading man to a brilliant character actor. Almost since Dopesick debuted back last December, Keaton has dominated the lead up to the Emmys. And having seen his work as Harry Fennix, the doctor in a West Virginia coal mining town, its obvious why.
Fennix starts out as a simple doctor who buys into the sales pitch of a Purdue rep who convinced him that Oxycontin is an opoid that can cure pain with low addiction rates. In the early stages, we think we know where his story’s going — how he becomes a tool of the Pharma Company lured in by his basic isolation for decades by the need for creature comforts to becoming a drug pusher, even though he knows better. Then in the third episode, he is broadsided by a truck and is prescribed Oxy. By the next episode, he’s as addicted as his fellow patients, stealing their drugs and basically isolated. He has enough awareness of what he’s done to beat up the rep that comes back to his door, but too addicted not to start snorting it that same episode. I know that unlike so many of his patients, he will survive his addiction. I just don’t know what he’ll be like at the end of it.
Keaton’s work as Fennix isn’t the greatest performance in Dopesick or the most haunting (I’ll get to that later on) but it resonated the most by far because he is used by Purdue and becomes a victim at the end of it. It is almost a certainty that Keaton will win the prize in this category. And because of his history and the power of so many of his speeches, I really want to see him up there.
David Thewlis, Landscapers
I confess that this is the least likely of my choices to be nominated. Landscapers was overlooked by so many awards groups already and David Thewlis’ portrayal of Christopher is so utterly restrained and patient that you get the feeling he’s lived his entire life being overlooked by society. It’s pretty clear he’s lived his entire life for his wife rather than himself. And it is almost impossible for any actor or actress to get nominated for playing someone so utterly quiet and insignificant seeming. That’s the exact reason, however, why Thewlis absolutely deserves a nomination for his work. As someone who has spent more than a quarter century sacrificing everything for his wife, believing everything she says because he can’t conceive of upsetting her, of a man who doesn’t seem capable of murder no matter how many times the police tells him he is, of a man who seems so innocuous that you really wonder why the London PD was so determined to make him into a hardened criminal, Thewlis gave one of the great performances of one of the most stories careers in acting. Should he get nominated? Absolutely. Will he get a nomination? Probably not. But then, the character he plays would be fine if he never got noticed.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan: The Movie
Yes, you read that right. I’m about to advocate an Emmy nomination for a series — and a title character — that as recently as this January I considered part of one of the most overrated series in history. Keep reading.
For all the flaws I thought (and still think) Ray Donovan the series had, the film that ended up wrapping everything up completely redeemed the series. And I have to say Schreiber’s performance was a large part of the reason it worked so well. From the stunning opening where a bloody and wounded Ray tells his therapist “I killed my father” and then flashbacked on two separate fronts. We saw Ray as he went back to Boston for find Mickey to kill him, we saw him point a gun at him and pull the trigger on an empty chamber, we saw him reveal the truth about a crime to the only woman who could love him, take another bullet, and in the final ten minutes we saw him forgive his father for his sins, something he spent thirty years never willing to do…just before the final moments and we understood everything that he said. In the final minutes Ray took responsibility and most likely paid the final price for his sins. I spent the entire run of Ray Donovan demeaning every awards show that dared give it a nomination. I’m now asking politely for them to give Schreiber one. It’s not nearly as great a mea culpa as the one Ray ended up with, but it’s due him.
Tomorrow I take on Best Actress in A Limited Series. Spoiler: There will be a lot of Oscar winners and nominees in this category.