With the Oscars just one week away, it is time to dive into a particular fake category I love to observe: The best year by an actor, aka the Domhnall Gleeson award. You can tell this has been a lifelong passion of mine as a movie nerd because I name this award after actor Domhnall Gleeson’s spectacular 2015 in which he had major roles in Brooklyn (best picture nom), The Revenant(Best Picture nom, best Director winner), Ex Machina(critical darling, multiple Oscar nom, inspiration for countless YouTube video essays), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens(highest domestic grossing movie of all time). You would think among all the awkward comedy bits and forced political messages at awards shows, someone could have taken a moment to give him a shout-out for a great year appearing in films(or maybe his agent for setting it up).
Criteria: We need to establish the criteria first. While there is no true formula(believe me, there could be), there are some basic guidelines that need to be followed. One black and white issue is number of appearances. You MUST appear in more than 3 productions. That is the fun of the award, the stars aligning to allow for an actor to have a range of appearances. Leo DiCaprio most likely has more screen time in The Wolf of Wall Street than Gleeson’s entire 2015 slate, but it is only one role in one movie. It is also not enough to have a prolific year appearing in movies. Bad movies will count against you. Sandra Bullock won an Oscar and appeared in 3 studio releases in 2009…but one of those was All About Steve(7% RT, earned Bullock a RAZZIE). For Gleeson, the aforementioned movies were his only roles in 2015. He was 4/4.
Having said that, in 2016 there simply was not a true Domhnall Gleeson. There is a catch-22 present. Any actor that was in enough movies to be considered was in 1 or 2 poorly reviewed, non-successful vehicles. But, like with the Academy Awards, even on down years we have nominees and a winner. Here are the 2016 nominees in alphabetical order.
Amy Adams: Arrival, Nocturnal Animals, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Adams’ inclusion comes closest to violating the spirit of the Gleeson award. I just have to give credit to someone turning in lead performances in two highly regarded movies in very different genres. Arrival and Nocturnal Animals were critical successes with the former surprising many with a profitable box office performance. Batman V Superman brings her down, although it is hard to ignore the amount of money that it made. It is a wrinkle in the consideration of this award. Box Office success helps when you pursue the Gleeson, but a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes is hard to overlook. This is the kind of slate that would require Adams to play a supporting role in one more Oscar-type movie to be seriously considered.
Mahershala Ali: Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Free State of Jones, Kicks, Marvel’s Luke Cage, House of Cards Season 4
Another candidate that would upset Gleeson purists, but why would TV roles not count? The comparison here is Oscar Isaac in 2015, who, if you include his performance on HBO’s Show me a Hero, would give even this award’s namesake a run for his money. Ali is a front runner for best supporting actor in Moonlight, and has a purposeful supporting role in best picture nominee Hidden Figures. He is hurt by the fact that Free State of Jones faltered at the box office and with critics, an no one saw Kicks, though the reviews were fine. Ali relies on television to boost his year, but what a boost it is. He is outstanding in Marvel’s Luke Cage, playing the primary antagonist Cottonmouth, and reprises his role, albeit in a smaller capacity, as Remy in season 4 of House of Cards. He is a favorite for the award.
Adam Driver: Silence, Midnight Special, Paterson, Girls Season 5
This is a prime candidate. He is the lead in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, which is receiving critical praise. He had a substantial role in Midnight Special, one of the Indie sleepers of early 2016. He is most notably the second lead in Silence, the Martin Scorcese epic, and finally in the hand that originally fed him, he never disappoints in another season of HBO’s Girls. The biggest knock against Driver is his lack of a financial hit in the mix, which sounds crazy since The Force Awakens made a huge chunk of its money in 2016. Nevertheless, he is restricted to these four performances, which still give him an impressive resume.
Idris Elba: The Jungle Book, Zootopia, Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond, 100 Streets, Bastille Day
This is why no one should envy my job in giving out this award. If there is going to one day be a specific formula for the Gleeson, animated voice roles will need to have a variable value, considering the circumstances under which those performances are given. Still, we have to acknowledge what Idris Elba was a part of in 2016. Despite never having to dress in anything nicer than sweatpants, Elba lent his voice to a combined $3 Billion in Worlwide Gross between The Jungle Book, Zootopia, and Finding Dory. Add in his solid performance in one of the few bright lights of the summer, Star Trek Beyond, and he secured a spot on this list. He gets deductions for 2 sub-par irrelevant international performances and the fact that 2 of his voice performances are minor, and again, voice performances.(Make no mistake, though, Shere Khan may just be a voice, but Elba is incredible).
Michael Shannon: Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Loving, Frank & Lola, Elvis and Nixon, Complete Unknown, Salt & Fire
Shannon definitely takes the cake for most prolific year. Depending on how you view the official release dates of movies, he was in 8 titles this year, ranging from lead performances in Indies, mainly Midnight Special, an Oscar nominated turn in Nocturnal Animals, and overall an impressive range of talent showcasing, including playing Elvis Presley in Amazon’s Elvis & Nixon. Special note, I do not count his role in Batman v Superman, due to the fact that he was just a corpse.
Michael Stuhlbarg: Arrival, Doctor Strange, Miss Sloane
By far the weakest submission, I like the inclusion of Stuhlbarg almost as an honorary nominee for the years in the past that he has Gleeson’d. This year he plays support in 3 well received, successful movies. The volume of the role will be what keeps him from winning this year. **Remember him if I do a retroactive Gleeson award for past years. His 2012: Men in Black 3, Lincoln, Seven Psychopaths, Hitchcock, and Boardwalk Empire
WINNER: Mahershala Ali
He embodies the spirit of the award best. 2 best picture nominated films, 4 total films, a la Gleeson in 2015. Then on top of that, two supporting performances in well received and widely viewed Television programs. Idris Elba probably comes in second. It is almost hypocritical to deduct him points for voice roles, despite Gleeson’s roles being small in 2015, but there are also 2 extra sub-average movies on his slate.
Epilogue: I did not want to distract from the main part of the piece by going on a sports analogy tangent, but the best I can think of is a player in basketball attaining a 5 by 5 game. The box score is balanced, with no one particular category being overly important, save for maybe the defensive stats. Since I like the actor’s year to have box office and Oscar pedigree as well, hitting for the cycle in baseball is my next best comparison. Domhnall Gleeson: Brooklyn(Single), The Revenant(Double), Ex Machina(triple), Star Wars(homerun)??? Let me hear your thoughts.