Borat for Best Actor: Four Great Reasons Borat IS NICE, I LIKE!


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences doesn't think much of comedy, generally speaking. Of the 30 films that have been nominated for best picture in the 21st century, only one was a comedy (Alexander Paine's "Sideways"). In that same timeframe, 60 actors and actresses have been nominated for Oscars for lead performances. Of those 60, four were for comedies -- Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents" (more of a lifetime achievement nomination), Diane Keaton for "Something's Gotta Give," Jack Nicholson for "About Schmidt" (same) and Nicholas Cage in "Adaptation." There are a few borderline cases ("Gosford Park," "Lost in Translation"), but the point remains the same. Indeed, three of the four actors nominated Dench, Nicholson and Cage) are known primarily as dramatic actors. The one comic actor nominated, Bill Murray, was nominated for an almost comically self-serious role. This is all to say, in the words of a man who narrowly missed a Best Actor nod for "Ladybugs," that comedy gets no respect.

So what does it take to win an Oscar for comedy? A performance that's truly transcendent. One that breaks the rules so thoroughly that it writes new ones. Someone who captures our hearts at the same time they incite our laughter. A bolt from the blue that makes us re-evaluate what comedy and comic acting can be.

In other words, Borat.

Borat is a tornado, tearing apart our cultural landscape. Sneak previews and festival screenings of the film started building buzz a few months ago. One of the most respected comedy writers I know went on record saying that he thought it might be the funniest movie ever. Reviewers have been effusive, parroting that comedy writer's praise. The film opened number one in the country on only 800 screens, and is shaping up to be a cultural juggernaut. At the center of it all, of course, is Borat -- or more specifically, actor Sacha Baron Cohen, playing the role of his life.

I'll say it right now: if Sacha Baron Cohen doesn't take home an Oscar for this film, the Oscars are irellevant.

What's so amazing about his performance?

- The transformation. The Academy has already shown it's prediliction for the showy, transformative performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the self-parodic Truman Capote, or Jamie Foxx as the eyes-glued-shut Ray Charles are only the most recent examples. Cohen's Borat is even more remarkable. This bizarre creation must functional not only in the fictional confines of a carefully scripted drama, but in the real world, where normal people buy into his reality even as he spouts absurdities. A man at the rodeo warns him to shave his mustache, so he won't be mistaken for Muslim. Borat tells him he isn't Muslim, he is a Kazakh: "we follow the Hawk."

- The creativity. Cohen's character work must be so well-grounded that he can carry it anywhere, and it must be flexible enough to use in real life. He can certainly prepare in advance for a scene, but to succeed, he has to generate ideas in the moment, not only to ground the reality, but to create the laughs. An amazing achievement.

- The empathy. Perhaps the most amazing part of the Borat phenomenon is the love he generates from the audience. No matter how vile his comments about gypsies and jews, or how bizarre his behavior, the audience remains sympathetic to him and indeed identifies with his journey. Balancing on that razor's edge is unbelievably difficult, and Cohen has done it perfectly.

- The... newness. There's never been a character like this, or a film like this. The film isn't completely without precedent -- there's certainly a bit of "Spinal Tap," a bit of "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," a little Foreign Man, a little Peter Sellers and even a bit of Dogme and Mike Leigh. But to create something new, and do it so succesfully, is amazing. And it all comes back to Cohen's stunning performance.

In short, a filmic comedy performance can't get any better than Cohen's in "Borat." It's a once-in-a-lifetime tour de force. It's magic. And if the Academy can't see that... what are they good for, anyway?

AND FURTHERMORE: I talked to Stephen from Borat Online, and we've decided to launch the BORAT OSCAR CAMPAIGN! Share your bright ideas on how we can make this dream a reality!