Oscar season is almost here, and to wet your appetites, I’ve chosen my top five Best Actor Oscar winners in history. Every man who wins or is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar deserves recognition, but sadly, I’ve only got room for five.
Here are my top picks, in chronological order:
Laurence Olivier-“Hamlet”, Hamlet, 1948
Arguably one of the best actors ever, Olivier made the role of Hamlet his own, and the benchmark against which all other Hamlet and possibly all Shakespeare performances are compared. Olivier’s Oscar came from a genuine performance that came alive by pure talent, without any of the gimmicky devices used by actors today. His style of delivery, his darkness in the role and his subtle ability to bring out the human aspects of Hamlet mark him as one of the absolute best.
Sidney Poitier-“Homer Smith”, Lilies of the Field, 1963
One of Poitier’s lesser-known performances, but one of his best. Poitier was always able to capture the inner workings of a character, and this is no exception. His ability to capture the stubbornness and uncertainty in Smith, as well deal with the character’s humanity and prejudices-religion, race, gender, etc.- as well as his relationship with the nuns as an ex-soldier, is remarkable. You can feel the force of his performance almost physically. Watch his face and you’ll understand how he got that golden Oscar.
Marlon Brando-“Don Vito Corleone”, The Godfather, 1972
Does this win really need any explanation? Hello, it’s Marlon Brando. Only one of the greatest actors of all time, making a great comeback in the challenging role of the patriarch of an organized crime family. It’s not all shooting and shouting, either. Brando manages to keep Corleone from being over-the-top, and portrays a complicated man trying to do right by his family. The way he uses his eyes and simple gestures (and that weird slur of his) can give anyone shivers. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it. Brando refused to accept the Oscar, but his performance gained him cult status as the ultimate fictional crime boss.
Daniel Day Lewis-“Christy Brown”, My Left Foot, 1989
This has to be one of the most physically demanding roles ever to win an Academy Award. The story is based on a true story; Lewis plays a man affected by cerebral palsy, who only has the use of his left foot, and the way he threw himself into the role had to exhausting both physically and mentally. It would be difficult to portray Brown without any physical impediment, and the fact that Lewis can do that and keep the focus not on the body but really on the character himself is astounding. He manages instead to focus on what it means to be this man, frustrated by his family and his inabilities, and his treatment by others. The character’s emotion and the struggle to be who he wants to be are remarkably powerful, and it would have been almost unthinkable to not give this performance an Oscar.
Tom Hanks-“Andrew Beckett”, Philadelphia, 1993
Here was another performance that just had to win the Academy Award. Hanks portrayed a role outside the comfort zone of the public, and struck all the right chords, creating a character that was pathetic but not necessarily pitiable, incredibly weak and incredibly strong, and who just came off the screen. His face is so incredibly expressive in this movie. He made it all so real and didn’t shy away from showing us a reality that you don’t have to agree with to believe. When an actor puts everything into a movie like this, he deserves the Oscar.
Whew. Finished. There you have it, my Best Actor Top 5, in which I tried to be objective, so try to be nice about my choices. Picking the best of anything is difficult. So now that I’ve finished my Best of the Best, I can sit back and relax until the Academy Awards arrive and wait to see who gets the golden Oscar statuette this year, putting their names up with the best actors, actresses, and movies of all time. For detailed information on any of these actors movies, visit the Internet Movie Database (IMdB) or the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.