Oscar Beat: Best Actor Predictions—It’s (Still) an Affleck/Washington Showdown

It didn’t always used to be this way, but for two years running now the Best Actress race is far deeper and more competitive than Best Actor. That’s not to say there weren’t some phenomenal leading male performances in 2016, but the Actress field is just that much more exciting. Still, this year’s Best Actor Oscar race is certainly interesting, with a pair of powerhouse performances going head-to-head to take home the trophy. The rest? Probably settling for a nomination.

For now, I’ve put together my predictions for how the Best Actor Oscar race stands. So let’s get started.

[Last updated January 8th]

Frontrunners

1. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

2. Denzel Washington – Fences

3. Ryan Gosling – La La Land

4. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

5. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic 

This category has been basically a two-man race for the last month or so. Casey Affleck—a Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford—came out of the gate swinging in January with a towering performance in the masterful drama Manchester by the Sea. The film earned heavy praise following its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, and as it began its theatrical rollout earlier this month, it’s been holding onto its strong status as a serious contender in multiple categories. That includes Affleck here, who gives the best performance of his career in a nuanced, haunted turn that stays with you long after you’ve left the theater.

But Affleck has serious competition in the form of Denzel Washington, whose lead performance in Fences—which he also directed—is being lavished with immense praise and heavy Oscar prognostication. Indeed, Washington won a Tony for the same role on Broadway, and the consensus seems to be that he is downright stunning in the film adaptation. If he were to win Best Actor this year he’d become one of only a handful of performers who have won more than two Oscars.

So which one has the edge? Affleck has picked up the bear’s share of the critics Best Actor awards, so he seems to be out front at the moment. But the SAG Awards could shake things up—if Washington wins there, it’s super close; if it’s Affleck, then he’s probably taking home the Oscar.

And then there’s La La Land frontman Ryan Gosling. The musical is the current frontrunner to win Best Picture and will no doubt land double-digit nominations, which I imagine will extend to Gosling for Best Actor. He’s a terrific performer and gives a wonderfully layered turn here, but while he’s the co-star, La La Land is really Emma Stone’s movie. That doesn’t mean he won’t get nominated, but his chances of winning are slightly diminished when compared to the one-man-show turn of Affleck in Manchester or the true lead of Washington in Fences.

Outside of these three, things get less certain/more interesting. Andrew Garfield had been earmarked for a nomination for a while, but it was unclear if Silence or Hacksaw Ridge would be his best bet. Silence has had a somewhat muted response with a near shut-out of the various guilds honors (not just SAG but editing, writing, etc.), and SAG went with Hacksaw Ridge here, so it certainly looks like that’s going to translate to Oscar.

But the SAG nominations also threw a curveball into the mix in the form of Viggo Mortensen for his undeniably terrific performance in the Sundance indie Captain Fantastic. The film scored a Best Ensemble nod as well, and while the WGA nominations didn’t follow suit, I have a feeling Mortensen’s gonna land in the Oscar pack here for a perfect match up with the SAG nominations.

In the Mix

6. Joel Edgerton – Loving

7. Andrew Garfield – Silence

8. Tom Hanks – Sully 

Honestly, outside the frontrunners pack there’s maybe one or two other performances that have a decent shot of getting in. Otherwise, it’s a pretty thin field.

Joel Edgerton’s quiet turn in Loving has been in the conversation for a while now, and while I definitely think he has a shot, the film itself has cooled a bit over the last month or so. It was always a question of whether it was too nuanced to make the cut, and with a shutout with SAG, Edgerton’s chances have fallen a bit.

And as previously mentioned, Garfield gives a fantastic performance in Silence, but the film itself doesn’t seem to be catching on as well as Paramount had hopes. Still, a nomination for Garfield isn’t out of the question.

Sully also at one point seemed like a very confident nominee, and now it’s a big ol’ question mark. Tom Hanks missed out on a SAG nomination and has been outright ignored by most critics and precursor groups, but he is still Tom Hanks, so if there’s a “surprise” nominee this year it could be him.

Outside Contenders

9. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water

10. Matthew McConaughey – Gold

11. Warren Beatty – Rules Don’t Apply

12. Michael Keaton – The Founder

13. Adam Driver – Paterson

Hell or High Water is a curious film this Oscar season. It wasn’t on too many folks’ radar in the lead up to its release, but bolstered by universally positive reviews it became the highest grossing indie of the year. Now, CBS Films has Oscar in its sights, and given that it has a shot at a Best Picture nomination, I also think Chris Pine is probably somewhere in the mix for Best Actor. It may be tough for him to squeeze into the front of the pack, but I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if he landed a nomination.

But beyond Pine, I really don’t seen any of these contenders actually making the Best Picture cut. Gold has been outright fumbled by The Weinstein Company, so the only thing going for it is Matthew McConaughey‘s clout; Rules Don’t Apply was one of the year’s biggest box office bombs and has basically disappeared off everyone’s radar; and The Founder is another TWC fumbling situation. Adam Driver is maybe a spoiler candidate given that he’s scored a few critics awards, but Paterson is possibly a bit too off the beaten path for the Academy.

Of course there could be more moving and shaking in the coming weeks so I’ll be updating this post as the Best Actor race shifts, but nominations arrive on January 24th so we’re coming down to the wire. For now, if you missed any previous Oscar Beat pieces click here. And peruse the links below for more predictions.

Best Picture

Best Actress

Best Director

Image via Summit

Image via Paramount

The Weinstein Company

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