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EW's film critics point to Nicholson

He Said/She Said: Who should win Best Actor? Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman want the same guy. But they’re not sure the Academy will agree

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Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum
He Said She Said Illustration by Eric Palma

EW’s film critics point to Nicholson

Lisa Schwarzbaum
March 4, 2003 9:55 PM
Maybe I’m just in a mellow mood tonight, Owen, but I think every one of the five Oscar nominees for Best Actor this year is a worthy contender. Really, each turned in a great performance; each is a credit to the Screen Actors Guild. Don’t worry, I’ll work up the expected lather in a moment defending my own choice for the award, and I’m sure you’ll respond with passionate arguments of your own. But at the moment I’m struck by what a marvelous, state-of-Hollywood range of masculine acting STYLES this quintet represents, from the mad-dog, scenery-chewing ferocity of Daniel Day-Lewis as a 19th-century brute in ”Gangs of New York” to the underplayed longeurs of Michael Caine as a 1950s jaded British journalist in ”The Quiet American.”

Picking a favorite, then, is as much a matter of personal taste as it is of measurable elements such as the ability to play two people at once (in which case the award goes to Nic Cage’s exhilarating, career-reviving double turn in ”Adaptation”). And my own taste, you probably know, is for modest performances rather than show-stopping big numbers. It so happens that I loved Day-Lewis’ Grand Guignol outbursts and glass-eyeball-tapping antics in ”Gangs” because they fit the chutzpahdik scale of Scorsese’s project. But I suspect it’s no surprise to you that my Oscar choice for Best Actor is Jack Nicholson in ”About Schmidt,” for the pleasure of seeing an actor capable of scenery-chewing with the best of ’em — that famous Jaaaaacccckness — pull himself back and down into the smallness of one retired Omaha actuary with such maturity and unironic lack of vanity.

Whatever I expected to think of Warren Schmidt was undone by Nicholson’s delicacy in the role. Whatever I expected to think of Nicholson was undone by Schmidt’s saga. Oscars are given for pleasure like that, or should be.