Benoît Poelvoorde did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ben in Man Bites Dog.
Man Bites Dog is a faux documentary that goes along with a camera crew as they follow a serial killer go about his life. Benoît Poelvoorde's performance is not one that attempts to find any sort of reality within the idea of the serial killer, this is not Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In fact his performance seems more akin to say Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless, and not simply due to his appearance and the fact he speaks French. The reason rather is Poelvoorde playing the character named merely Ben seems as though he is in some way above it all, even though that involves killing people, and unlike in Breathless this involves many many people. Poelvoorde's performance is of course this style through that which seems necessary given the tone of the film, that is at least slightly absurd given the concept at its core. Poelvoorde's approach technically matches this in that this must be an almost unrealistic, though then again The Jinx does exist, portrait of a psychotic. As it is about a man willing to go around showing his methods, and just doing his murders from place to place. Fitting to this Poelvoorde has that casual quality of any comfortable documentary subject who is ready just to give the filmmakers some insight into his day to day life.
Poelvoorde in this approach does end up being extremely chilling even with this random set up that one would imagine would be more of a dark comedy which is only truly so with this film in terms of the contexts that it places our murderer in. Even with that potential comfort this is an unnerving performance to watch since Poelvoorde is so natural in any given scene whether he is randomly beating down a mail man to death, shooting person upon person, committing home invasions, coming up with new tricks of the trade such as killing a heart patient merely through fear. Poelvoorde's performance is consistently unnerving because of how at home he plays the whole thing, and even though he's not creating a normal reality of this serial killer he does realize the reality within the film. That creates this most unpleasant, yet effective realization of the killer as Poelvoorde makes the character so at home with this life of a specific violent crimes. There is never a real wink to comfort us even with the core setup of the black comedy. Poelvoorde makes the man rotten to his core within the film as he plays with the concept and gives it a life, a peculiar one, but one that is most unsettling to witness.
Although much of the time is spent killing not all of the film is as we do get to see the man's life past his brutal murders. We spend some time as he visits his girlfriend or sees his parents. Now in these scenes Poelvoorde actually gives a consistent performance to the rest of his work, in that he really is not a different man as he presents the same comfort with a normal life then he does going around murdering. His delivery, his approach, establishes that it is very much all the same time him. To the point Poelvoorde does not even portray much concern just a knowing smile when Ben's mother comments that she would prefer that a murderer, not knowing it is Ben, would suffer the most severe punishment. Poelvoorde's work emphasizes a man who loves his life, and portrays not a hint of true empathy just a man above it all in his sinister amorality. Again though the amorality is not something that sets him back, or slow him down. Throughout the film there are little asides on one subject or another for Ben to philosophize on a bit. What Poelvoorde does is remain once again true to the man he has always established which is to show someone who portrays such joy in whatever it is he is doing whether it is just talking or committing one violent murder after another. There is no separation yet this is effectively so. Poelvoorde's work is this specific to the intention of the film which is to be this documentary subject, and Poelvoorde makes Ben a great one. A man you just get to know and learn about with his unique insights and way of life. Those insight and way of life just happen to be terrifying. Poelvoorde's performance realizes the concept in a vivid and oh so horrible way, yet that is the only way for the film.