A composer, a con man, a truffle hunter, a Shakespearian usurper, and an evil ranch owner. What do all these men have in common? Each of these performances have been nominated in the Little Movie Awards for Best Lead Actor. It was a difficult decision. I know… much like all the other categories that came before this. However, this winner came out of nowhere and surprised me at the 11th hour. I guess sometimes you have to give in to the hype. Here are the Little Movie Award nominees and winner for Best Lead Actor.

5. Bradley Cooper (Nightmare Alley)

I might be one of the few who genuinely appreciates Bradley Cooper’s performance as Stan Carlisle in Nightmare Alley, but I find it incredibly refreshing for Cooper’s filmography. Cooper goes against the grain by playing something so unlike his usual “good natured” type, as he plays Stan so well. Stan is a mysterious man—a con artist—known to want more and more as he leaves his past far behind in—literal flames. But Stan’s rampage of toxicity is brought to a screeching halt when others are more vicious that he. The whole premise of Nightmare Alley is a brilliant vehicle for Cooper to really sink his teeth into something sinister and psychologically tormenting. Cooper gets better with each passing scene—the farther Stan’s mental faculties further escape him. This is another side of Cooper that I’m just aching to see more of.

4. Nicolas Cage (Pig)

If you saw Nicolas Cage’s second to last film, Prisoners of Ghostland, you’ll understand my apprehension in watching Pig. Cage’s career of late is what I would describe as intaking too much sugar into your system and not enough veggies. It makes you sick. Well consider Pig those much needed delicious veggies! Cage plays Rob, a once famous chef now turned truffle hunter who has his pig stolen from him one evening. Rob searches the Portland city to find her, only to find the troubling parts of his past, and himself in the process. Cage is pensive and quiet in this role; he’s everything I want in a dramatic performance. With a man like Cage, notorious for accepting basically any role that comes his way, Pig is a great escape from that monotony. This is more than a decent performance, it’s truly great. Dare I say, it may be the best thing he’s ever done.

3. Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

It’s been awhile since Denzel Washington has taken on William Shakespeare’s works. His last one—and one of my personal favorites, no matter what anyone says—was Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. This time however, it is a dance with Shakespeare’s creepiest tale, Macbeth, in Joel Coen’s, The Tragedy of Macbeth. Washington embodies Macbeth, wholeheartedly, as a man slowly losing touch with reality. This is Washington’s best performance since Fences—as I’ve stated in my review for the film. The anger, the fear, the sadness—all the emotions suffocate his senses, and blinds Macbeth to the consequences that soon befalls him. Washington takes on these sequences, some of which are him and him alone, with such haunting poeticism. It’s a difficult task to take on a character such as this. Only a true actor can play this part, and play it with this spectrum of emotions.

2. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)

Much like Cooper’s performance in Nightmare Alley, I believe the same goes for Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog. Cumberbatch, though on the prickly side as Dr. Strange in the Marvel Universe, has never been as deeply sinister as he’s been here. If he has been in this type of role before, then it was a rather forgettable performance. However, The Power of the Dog is not an unforgettable performance. His character, Phil, is mysterious, but malicious—spitting his venom in every direction, at anyone who he deems worthy of his hatred, especially his brother and his brother’s new wife. Benedict has often stepped into the realm of dislikable characters, but they usually come with redeeming qualities. Phil has no redeeming qualities. He’s just a ball of anger. With that, Cumberbatch completely transforms into something that is truly sinister to watch.

  1. Andrew Garfield (Tick, Tick…Boom)

I’ll say this, for the longest time I had Cumberbatch at number one. His performance was so striking from the beginning, I found it hard for any other actor to remove him from the top spot. But here we are and Andrew Garfield has slipped in to take the Little Movie Award for Best Lead Actor. Tick, Tick… Boom looked a bit hit and miss. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Lin Manuel Miranda, or his directing. He’s average at best. Then I saw a particular scene in the film that made Garfield’s performance look like something bordering on a fever dream. I hesitated for the longest time, but pushed myself for the sake of this list. Wow! That’s all I can say is, wow! Garfield’s interpretation of the real-life Jonathan Larson, the creator of the Broadway smash-hit musical, Rent, is outstanding. It’s a tragic story, but one that’s also filled with hope. As I sat and watched Garfield play this talented composer, I no longer saw an actor playing a part. No, he morphed into Larson—enveloping the life of the man he was set out to play. I didn’t want Garfield to leave the screen. He’s absolutely flawless.