Phoenix Best Actor First Place - Riz Ahmed

Integral performances make these movies must-sees.

Who Should Win: Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone, a recovering addict and heavy metal drummer who abruptly loses his hearing. For a man whose post-addiction life revolves around music, Stone is understandably devastated when he can no longer hear.

Initially, he lashes out at his girlfriend, his car, and most of all, himself. Stone has to believe that his hearing loss is a sick joke, or something temporary, or face the facts and transition to a new period of his life.

Ahmed’s performance is angry, but not over-the-top. He communicates a real, raw emotion through frantic speech, constant bargaining, and taking out his frustrations on completely unrelated things. When his girlfriend – also the lead singer and guitarist of their band – tries to convince him to seek help, Stone laughs it off, saying “this is about the album, isn’t it?”
Up to this point, the two hadn’t even talked about a new album.

Most of Sound takes place after Stone has been checked into a rehab facility that caters to deaf people, run by Joe (Paul Raci). Though Joe is patient with him, Stone is difficult to work with.
Ahmed plays Stone as an empathetic, but single-minded individual. As he befriends the people around him, he is accepted into the deaf community with open arms, and forms what seem like real friendships. But when the opportunity arises to, in Stone’s mind, regain his hearing, he’ll drop all of that in a heartbeat. In a telling scene, Joe looks to Stone as he asks him for money to pay for hearing implants and says “to me, right now, you look like an addict.”

Sound is a career highlight for Ahmed, whose multi-layered, three-dimensional performance goes a long way towards making it one of the best movies of the year. Though this year’s Best Actor race is filled with strong performances, there’s no other quite like Ruben Stone.

Phoenix Best Actor Runner Up - Andy Samberg

Who Got Snubbed: Andy Samberg – Palm Springs

In Palm Springs, Andy Samberg plays Niles, a man who has relived the same wedding more times than he can remember. Niles is stuck in a time loop, but unlike Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, he has no idea how to escape it. When Sarah (Cristin Miloti), a fellow wedding guest, also ends up stuck in the loop, the two are determined to figure out how to make it to the next day at all costs.

Well, Sarah is, anyway. Niles is just along for the ride, but the two have excellent chemistry. And once Sarah finally gives up trying to escape, the series of skits they perform is the best part of the film.

Having literally gone through the same motions repeatedly forever, Niles is an avatar of hopelessness. At the start of the film, he’s relived one day so many times, he doesn’t even remember his life before. He bides his time with day-drinking, lounging in the pool, and boldly making a fool of himself for fun. His knowledge of everything that can happen on November 9th gives him the godlike ability to do whatever he wants with whoever he wants whenever he wants, as long it can be done in a day.

However, by the time the movie starts, he’s already done everything, which is seen in a clever and funny selection of flashbacks.

Palm Springs is a nice twist on a well-known trope, with great summer-comedy energy. But with Samberg in the lead, it rises above to be something more special and memorable.

Other Notable Snubs:

Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round, Tahar Rahim – The Mauritanian, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù – His House