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Feb 11 2016

Best Actor: The Year of the Ham

As noted by the recently departed Alan Rickman on his BAFTA win forRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves"Subtlety isn't everything."As far as Oscar is concerned,this year Best Actor was go big or go home.Take a look the leading men outside the bubble and you'll find mostly nuanced performances like those from Michael B.Jordan,Tom Courtenay,and Tom Hanks with their scenery unchewed.Rewarding more broad work has made this the Year of the Ham.

Some of the bigger choices have been more welcome than others in this field,so let's have some fun assessing the hammage:

Bryan Cranston -Trumbo
Clearly the most guilty of going big for its own sake,Cranston's nomination leaves quite a sour taste in your mouth.The performance feels built upon arched shoulders and mustaches,even if Cranston is a game actor admirably going along with the film's schlocky tone.It's not just the scenery getting chewed,but the script,the costumes,the camera,and poor Diane Lane.It's so hammy,he even shows us his hams in a prison scene.
Level of Ham: SPAM - some people like it?¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Matt Damon -The Martian
Here's a role that actually calls upon the actor to be a ham.Matt Damon gets to use more of his natural charm than he has in anything outside of the Ocean's franchise and spends much of his performance breaking the fourth wall.He leans in on the nerd humor that's heavy on puns and dirty words,but thankfully never goes full broski.Everything lands,including his unexpected emotional moments,but this a performance playing right to the crowd.The visible hams are an obvious emaciated stunt double.
Level of Ham: Honey-Baked - generally pleasing to everyone

Leonardo DiCaprio -The Revenant
Everyone's favorite raw bison-eating punching bag this Oscar season,I'm actually higher on this performance than what seems to be the vocal internet majority.The grunting,drooling,moaning bits are truly over-the-top especially early on pre-revenge quest,but it settles into a less growling machismo once DiCaprio is flying solo.It's not like DiCaprio hasn't overacted before to our adoration,so why is everyone so vocally dissenting now?More emaciated hams.
Level of Ham: Ham steak - too big to ignore

Michael Fassbender -Steve Jobs
To not project to the rafters when playing a megalomaniac like Steve Jobs would be to miss the character entirely.What's most exciting about Fassbender in the film is that he's never been so vocal on screen,so this performance is a clear 180 from his usual brooding work.The Jobs version of brooding he gives here is to verbally eviscerate the ensemble and audience in Sorkinese at 100 words a minute.Sorry,no hams this time.
Level of Ham: Tenderloin - a refined standout

Eddie Redmayne -The Danish Girl
In the same year as Redmayne's manic whisper-shout barechested miasma in Jupiter Ascending,he delivers another performance that reads as overly modulated and projecting to the back row.Call it an A for effort,even if he's so focused on externalizing Lili's internal turmoil that the mannered behavior takes center stage.It doesn't help that director Tom Hooper broadcasts every nuance as deafeningly loud.Ample hams (and more) on display.
Level of Ham: Bacon - lots to savor but little nutrition

Being a ham isn't always a bad thing - just look to the aforementioned Alan Rickman performance for one that is both delicious and appropriately oversized.The five nominees may be playing for the back row,but sometimes brilliantly so.

What is your favorite hammy Oscar nomination?

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Reader Comments (36)

You mean,ever?I won't say anything classical here like Jack Lemmon or Gloria Swanson because times were different.

Recently,I ADORED Melissa Leo in The Fighter.That is a masterclass of hammy acting.Love it.

Or do you mean these best actor nominees?Damon,no doubt.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

This is basically true of Best Actor almost* every year.Sure,once in awhile a Bruce Dern (or Fassbender) slips in there,but they love their overcooked,broad biopic performances.

*The exception was the 2011 line-up,which I quite liked,but which I have heard others disparage as a weak year.Two classic movie star turns,two character actors giving understated lead performances,and a rare comedy nominee.I guess there were no Danish Girls or Revenants for them to nominate that year.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

The flip-side to DiCaprio's ham and cheese performance in The Revenant has to be Tom Hardy in the same film.Going big,but with nuanced commitment and expert modulation.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTheCinescape

Jacob Tremblay wipes them all off the floor and then some.The absurdity of the Oscars every year hit apex in 2016 with controversy for lack of diversuty (we shoud include in the term children who can obviously ACT,亚博主页LGBT-themed films which receive love across the board except director and picture,etc,etc) We should discuss what diversity really means,but not before what quality really means to begin with.The Academy should gather its governors every freaking month to discuss those themes.And category fraud should be stopped for good!

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commenterchofer

Fave hams off the top of my head: Daniel Day-Lewis in Blood,Leo in The Fighter and Cusack in Working Girl.

And I agree with Suzanne that the (mostly) ham-free 2011 line-up was pretty great,even if it lacked Fassbender's ham (and more).

This year's best actor race is so lame;I mean,I like Damon and Fassbender's perfs quite a bit,but the Academy really needs to learn to Think Different.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

1.DiCaprio (even I can't ignore this great performance)
2.Fassbender (surprisingly amazed)
3.Damon (so much fun)
4.Redmayne (last year's residual buzz)
5.Cranston (filler)

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Witty and insightful article!

My favorite hammy Oscar nomination of all time?Albert Finney in Murder On the Orient Express.I think he should have won,because the ham is cooked over an interior temperature based on the honest psychology of the character being portrayed.Of this year's group,I think Leo is the most delicious ham.Why is Redmayne nominated again?Still disturbed that Jordan and Courtenay were snubbed.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

My favorite hammy (write-in) Oscar nomination is Paul Muni in Black Fury.Watching the ham of all hams out-hamming even himself was a wonderfully bad experience.No wonder that he came in second on the final ballots.

But if you want to spotlight this year's hams in nomination land,then why not take Oscar's Worst Supporting Actor lineup with its truly horrible performances by Hardy,Bale and Ruffalo?

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterWilly

I agree this is a poor HAM year,

Damon came acros as just a vain creep in The Martian and those body doubles were so obvious.

Fassbender - simply miscast

Redmayne - maybe my favourite at least the passion shows but he is mannered

Cranston - the movie needs him to be hammy and seems the real guy was like that,we never knew him

Dicaprio - the wailing etc was OTT but at least it's not total Ham.

That's not counting Depp's BMASS turn.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

Thought Renee Zin CM was total ham,what's hammy about Leo she sold the mum/son stuff,I heard people say Meryl is Ham in AOC and TIL.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

They can all gangbang me lolololol

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommentersexySLUTxxx

Suzanne - Best Actor definitely favors that kind of performance,but some of that goes back to what is perceived as a great leading man performance.The gender politics aren't so kind to men doing more subtle or restrained work like Fassbender in SHAME or Damon in TALENTED MR.RIPLEY.

February 11,2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

Probably Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I loved Fassbender,liked Damon,and am lukewarm on the rest.Leo's fine,I guess.Cranston is belting to Mars,but you're right to note that it fits his loud-and-proud Cliff Notes movie.I think Redmayne is the worst of the bunch - the lip quivers,the fluttering eyelids,the gasps,the pearl clutches,I just can't.It's ham,cheese,mayo,toasted,with chili fries and a pickle spear.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGabe

Weird,I don't consider any of the five nominated performances particularly hammy.Cranston is playing a hammy character;Redmayne is like a shrinking violet;Damon is going full charisma;Fassbender's work with Sorkin's text is a joy to behold and listen to;and as far as Leo's concerned:

"It's not like DiCaprio hasn't overacted before to our adoration,so why is everyone so vocally dissenting now?"

Not my adoration.But this time his wallowing in misery is almost stoically understated.It's not my favorite performance of his,but I won't cry (too hard) when he wins.

You want ham?Pitt inTwelve Monkeys(yikes),Gordon inRosemary's Baby(yum),Parsons inBonnie and Clyde(squee)...

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Nat TOP 10AMNS a list is needed,What do you conisider HAM acting and is some of it charicaturing or miscasting or a feeble hold on the role..

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commentermark

One of the absolute weakest Best Actor fields in the category's history.Redmayne and Cranston give bafflingly poor performances.Damon is fine,Leo grunts,Fassbender a tiny step above this mess,but none of these performances deserve to be nominated.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Daniel Day Lewis in "Gangs of New York."
Jeff Bridges in "True Grit."
Sean Penn in "I Am Sam".
And of course,Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman."Hams down one of the worst.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Ham really is in the eye of the beholder.I found Damon mostly tasty with just a bit too much sauce.
Cranston was trying to emulate Trumbo's style but didn't really seem stylish,just hokey.
Fassbinder was the best in service to his character.
Leo just annoyed me so much,he never seemed like someone who could survive ONE night alone in the wilderness to me.He was too stupid to even use the fire to cook his fish and liver.
Winner of the biggest ham goes to Redmayne- he was a roasted Ham on a platter cooked with pineapple around the edges.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRami

Hammiest of the hammiest....Cate Blanchett The Aviator...the dinner scene played like a Carol Burnett sketch

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDO

Yikes,Eddie Redmayne is getting a lot of flack for The Danish Girl!I actually want to see it now (didn't really before) out of curiosity.I was sort of bummed out that he won the Oscar last year,I wanted Michael Keaton to get it.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRob

On the same page as chofer: "Jacob Tremblay wipes them all off the floor,AND THEN SOME"!(upper case and punctuation mine).The rest of chofer's comment is spot on also.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commenterdude99

Paul Outlaw - As someone who has had their fair share of mental health issues,Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys is on point.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

I'm sorry,but the biggest ham of all is Stallone.No one else comes close.Wonder how many voters his "buddy"Donald Trump will buy off for him.


February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

I agree with the above comment that the Supporting Actor category is nearly as hamtastic this year as Best Actor,and at least that category had more/better options on AMPAS radar.

I'd also agree with LadyEdith that Dicaprio is fundamentally miscast in The Revenant.He might have been able to overcome that if Inarritu had written him an actual character with personality traits,but what we're given is a suffering movie star turn from an actor who doesn't have the innate physical/psychological grit to convince me that he'd survive in those conditions.To be fair,I'm probably a lot harder to convince than most because I actually know people who've gone out in the wilderness for 6-8 months of the year,solo backpacking very difficult terrain.

I'll be fair to Redmayne and say that neither his script nor his director is giving him any help in discovering the interiority of his character,but he really does go too far in "performing"femininity.A similar,but far more effective character/performance this year can be seen in Francois Ozon's The New Girlfriend.

Love Matt Damon,like his work in The Martian,but he does better character work in The Bourne movies,which seems like it should be impossible.

Fassbender is far and away the best in this category.I rewatched Steve Jobs last night,and while he does have some weak moments,it really is incredible how much he overcomes his physical miscasting.It's by far his best star turn in the sense that while he's playing a damaged,supremely arrogant man,I fully believed that people would follow him because he's oddly charming (more than in any other film),particularly in his scenes with Winslet (someone give him a chance to play a rom-com--this proves he can do it).He's also really great with the little girls playing Lisa,removed and curious.And while the screenplay doesn't let him dig into deep emotional territory (which is maybe appropriate for a character this closed-off),he does register cognitive dissonance and makes minute changes across parallel scenes in the three acts ("You'll get the money";"We're never starting late",for example)

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate

If I had a ballot I would vote for Eddie.Fassy is very good,yes,but when I think of that movie all I can remember is Kate.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Totally agree that the concentration of ham is high this year on the best actor male side.If it were purely on merit,I would love to see Fassbender win.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

Agree to disagree,RobMiles.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I still haven't seen Steve Jobs -- it's rentable on iTunes as of next Tuesday.Right now my personal vote is for Leo,but maybe Fassy can top (ahem) him.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Fassbender is by far the best of the bunch here.Matt Damon is great too but very forgettable.Cranston and Redmayne are no good.And I have no intention of ever seeing The Revenant.
Best ham Oscar winner in recent memory is Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood.Aren't we due for another performance right about now?

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

@DO: Miss Blanchett gives GOOD HAM in The Aviator,Thank U V Much!

Come to tink of it,Blue Jasmine is also quite a hammy performance,but she nailed it BIG TIME!lol

February 11,2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran


You were biased against Leo in The Revenant since it was announced he'd star in it lol I can't.
You're free to find Leo overrated as an actor or dislike his acting but the way you project on him and let your hatred for him creep through in every comment of yours is so obnoxious.

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commenterlol

Anyways,Fassy is probs my favorite perf in this category,but I liked Leonardo and Matt too.The less said about Redmayne and Cranston,the better.LORD,fix it Jesus!They were f-cking horrible.Ugh,why TF were they nominated?

February 11,2016 | Unregistered Commenterlol

Paul Outlaw - I agree to agree to disagree :-)

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

In regards to the apparent 'lack of inclusive' in this year's 'Best' Actor category - although Michael B.Jordan is credited with a 'nuanced' performance in Creed - I somewhat feel that the kid from Room (Jacob T.) would've still gotten more votes than him (should the votes be unearthed by a FOIA plea.) Have we gotten to the point where certified acting coaches should be the deciders of what great acting entails?(His performance was nuanced,whereas this one was pure Ham.) And in Jordan's performance is being mentioned more favorably than Will Smith in Concussion,why the outrage that Will wasn't nominated?Must the Academy now reserve 1 acting slot for 'inclusive' and the 4 other belong to what the majority considers 'Best?' Should Mr.Cranston or Mr.Damon be vilified for their (hammy/undeserved (?)) nominations,or should it be their studios/PR departments who went after those nods,knowing that it would increase the project's box office receipts?Why not vilify the marketing departments/PR campaigns for Creed or Concussion for not putting more $ into securing a top nod?

February 12,2016 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

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