If it was my final responsibility to chose the five 2021 Best Actor Oscar nominees, I would select…

1. King Richard‘s Will Smith — a fully convincing portrayal of a gnarly pain-in-the-ass who’s all about persistence, obstinacy and discipline…Smith is obviously the most likely winner;

2. The Power of the Dog‘s Benedict Cumberbatch — An unforgettable performance as Phil Burbank, the stinky and cruel closet case who “deserves to die” — obviously first=rate acting but at the end of the day people vote for the character as well as the technique, and in this case the ugly vibes are too strong to permit a win;

3. Cyrano‘s Peter Dinklage — will others please acknowledge what an assured, perfectly finessed and deeply felt performance this is?;

4 & 5. Tie between Red Rocket‘s Simon Rex and The Tragedy of Macbeth‘s Denzel Washington — I just saw Macbeth last night, and was seriously stirred and even surprised by Denzel’s haunted Thane of Cawdor. Rocket-wise, kudos to a brave and realistic capturing of the second most reprehensible lead male character of the year, secondly only to Adam Driver‘s Annette protagonist;

6. Being The RicardosJavier Bardem — a vivid and moderately complex rendering of the three personalities of Desi Arnaz — professional performer, cagey businessman, compulsive philanderer.

Among the others…

7. Pig‘s Nicolas Cage — An honorable, deeply felt portrayal of a traumatized loner, but Cage has become too well defined as Mr. Weird Oddball Schtick — to stand out he needs to act against his usual type.

8. Don’t Look Up‘s Leonardo DiCaprio — Good earnest frustration stuff but not enough for a nomination.

9. Tick, Tick … Boom!‘s Andrew Garfield — I found Garfield’s Jonathan Larson performance overly manic and frazzled and stressed out (yes, I know — that’s what Larson was going through). Plus I didn’t care for the songs at all. If the film had been about Larson finally putting Rent together and getting it produced and then tragically passing the day before previews began, I would probably feel differently.

10. Cmon C’mon‘s Joaquin Phoenix — I’m sorry but gentle and nurturing Joaquin doesn’t work for me…JP has been put on this earth to play nutters and eccentrics and wacky cigarette-smoking weirdos.

11. Belfast‘s Jude Hill — too calculatingly cute by half…no way.

12. House of Gucci‘s Adam Driver — An accomplished performance as Maurizio Gucci, but Driver really needs to be punished for his Annette performance

13. The Card Counter‘s Oscar Isaac — a close-to-perfect performance is ruined by Oscar’s (i.e., “William Tell”) decision to hook up with Tiffany Haddish‘s “La Linda,” whom I didn’t believe at all, and wasn’t helped his curiously unsatisfying decision to [redacted].