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2020 IN FILM: Best Actor in a Leading Role

Updated: Jun 19


Anthony Hopkins (The Father)

Anthony Hopkins triumphs, in what is probably the performance of his career, as a once proud man struggling with aging and memory loss in "The Father". Adapted for the screen (with Christopher Hampton) from his own play and also directed by Florian Zeller, the movie's complex structure of interweaving events in both time and space mirror Hopkin's mental deterioration and his strained relationship with his long-suffering daughter, beautifully played by Olivia Coleman.

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)

The tragic death of Chadwick Boseman last year at the age of 43 adds an extra layer of meaning and sadness to all of his posthumously released movies. George C. Wolfe's "Ma Rainey" is no exception. This is a performance that was initially viewed as supporting (New York Film Critics) but has come, I think rightly, to be seen as a leading role (LA Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics). As Levee, the trumpeter in Ma's band, he gets a story arc of his own and boy does he run with it. He has one slam dunker of big scene that is only slightly weakened by it's obvious theatrical origins. However, it's in the plays quieter moments that he excels. Levee also composes his own songs and has high hopes for the future. But, unlike Ma, he has no street smarts, leaving him vulnerable to all kinds of unscrupulous business activities. The movie’s coda may have been unnecessary but, because Boseman has left such an indelible impression, it still packs quite a punch.

Jude Law (The Nest)

Jude Law has never been particularly lucky when it comes to great movie roles but he finally landed one in Sean Durkin's magnificent second feature "The Nest". Law doesn't just play Rory O'Hara, a trader in 1980s New York who uproots his family to London, he inhabits him. Oozing charisma and deceit he's a Machiavellian delight. It helps that Law has the great fortune of playing opposite one of the great actresses of her generation Carrie Coon, who, as his long-suffering wife, gives an equally complex and spellbinding performance.

Tom Hanks (News of the World)

Tom Hanks is one of the great American actors. Since the mid1980s he has given a series of indelible performances. Especially adept at playing characters based on real-life people/heroes (a short list: "Apollo 13", "Cast Away", "Catch me if You Can", "Captain Phillips" 'Saving Mr. Banks", "Bridge of Spies" "Sully" and "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood") his great talent is the ability to make the hero human. His character Captain Kidd in Paul Greengrass's breathtaking western "News of the World" is, supposedly, also loosely based on a real-life character Captain Adolphus Caesar Kydd, who makes an appearance in two of Paulette Jiles novels, the second of which is the basis for this picture. Set in 1870 on the Texas border with Arkansas, Kidd is a "reader" who goes from town to town reading the latest editions of the local and east-coast papers to a populace that is mostly illiterate. The plot focusses on Kidd's 400 mile journey returning a 10 year old girl (Helena Zelgel, a major discovery) who has spent 5 years living with the Kiowa peoples after her family were slaughtered, to her surviving relatives. Again Hanks, with little dialogue, projects his character's inner goodness with such understated grace that you never doubt him. Both his performance and the movie are triumphs.

Riz Ahmed (The Sound of Metal)

As Reuben, a recovering drug addict and a drummer in a rock group, who begins to lose his hearing in Darius Marder's "The Sound of Metal", Riz Ahmed gives one of 2020's standout performances. Taking over the role at the last minute, when another actor dropped out, he only had a few weeks to immerse himself in the art of drumming and American Sign Language before filming commenced. Ahmed has a wonderful rapport with Paul Raci whose character Joe runs a center for deaf recovering addicts, and their scenes together contain some of the best acting of the year.

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