I’ve been a fan of awards shows for as long as I can remember. Even as a little kid I enjoyed the self-congratulation bonanzas an unreasonable amount. To be fair, the only awards shows I used to watch as a kid were Bollywood ones and let’s face it — there’s way too much going on there for people to focus on insignificant things like actually handing out awards for cinematic achievement. There’s an insane amount of song and dance, just the right amount of controversy and an unhealthy number of actors making painfully awkward jokes during the ceremony. Rewarding the people involved in film seems almost incidental to the entire process.

It was only when I got older, invested more time in film and, most importantly, began to watch movies from the West, did I begin to appreciate award shows for what they were … or what they could be. There’s something about Western awards shows that oozes class. It seems to me like everyone cares about the pageantry and everything is done in earnest. I’ve wasted hours on end on YouTube on the official “Oscars” channel, looking up clips from award ceremonies through the years.

It was a lot of fun while it lasted.

Despite the fun I used to have while watching these awards, I could never really shake the feeling that it was ultimately pretty pointless, especially when it came to the “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” awards. I only really cared about the acting awards — the others were just distractions that stood in the way of the main event. I fell out of love with the whole process when I realized that you can’t really rank the performances of actors and actresses across different roles in different films throughout the year — the fundamental purpose of awards shows.

What is acting? Taken literally, it’s basically trying to be someone you’re not. The best acting performance has to be judged on how difficult it is to play the character, or how far the character is from the person playing it. Some roles might inherently be easier to play for some people, simply because it’s closer to who they are. Some people might have to go to great lengths to skillfully portray their character … perhaps this is where method acting comes in?

Though it’s hard to judge performances in a single year, it’s easier to dissect and judge performances over a period of time. Time allows actors to experiment with roles and explore their ranges, bringing in the element of versatility. Versatility is the defining element of a great actor. Because judging single performances is inherently subjective, it only makes sense to judge actors over a period of time at how convincing they are in different roles.

Two actors that continue to impress me for this reason are Jessica Chastain and Christian Bale. Each of them are eye-catching in very different roles, movies and situations. Whether she’s playing a CIA intelligence analyst (Zero Dark Thirty), a fun-loving girl who turns suicidal (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) or a frustrated daughter pining for the return of her father (Interstellar), her performances are striking in their ability to convince that she is actually that character. Christian Bale is a complete wizard when it comes to this, as can be seen by the variety of his performances. Granted, the roles are almost always dramatic in nature, but no one can deny his ability to pull off anything thrown at him.

Ultimately, this all comes down to the fact that individual performances show signs of a talented actor, but performances analyzed over time show proof of versatility; the latter is the more important when actually judging performances. Question is — according to this logic, if you choose to accept it — how many legitimately great actors are out there?

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