Last Updated: December 18th
The Oscar race is off and running, and while I posted my inaugural predictions a few months ago, we’ve already have some major movements in a few categories. One of those is Best Actor, a category that’s now finally starting to take shape after what seemed to be a wide open field—aside from one.
Indeed, this one very much seems like it’s Gary Oldman’s to lose. The beloved performer turns in a wholly transformative performance in Joe Wright’s World War II drama Darkest Hour, in which he plays Winston Churchill. Oldman is as good as everyone’s saying, and bolstered by an Anthony McCarten script that gives him multiple explosive speeches—which he subsequently hits out of the park—this is a film chock full of “Oscar clip”-worthy scenes. He hasn’t one a single critics award yet, but the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes have weighed in, and yep, he’s definitely a hit within the industry.
But beyond Oldman, there are some exciting possibilities. Timothee Chalamet should absolutely be in contention for his star-making turn in Call Me By Your Name, which continues to rack up critical support after first bowing at Sundance earlier this year. It’s a major contender in multiple big categories, and while younger performers don’t usually score Best Actor nominations, Chalamet has been winning Best Actor prizes from critics groups left and right. Even when SAG largely ignored Call Me by Your Name, Chalamet got in, so I think he’s a pretty safe bet for a nomination at this point.
And with Phantom Thread now finally being unveiled, we can probably save a spot for Daniel Day-Lewis. The acting giant has already announced this is his final performance, and with a story in the vein of Rebecca that looks to be a 100% acting showcase for the performers involved, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s latest could very likely land his sixth Oscar nomination.
There’s also James Franco, who I pegged as an outside contender but nontheless worth in my initial predictions. Now The Disaster Artist is finally being seen by more critics, and all are starting to get onboard the “James Franco for Best Actor” train. The versatile performer (and director) turns in a truly stunning performance as Tommy Wiseau in the true story comedy/drama about the making of The Room. The film is great, as is Franco, and while the Academy doesn’t love to recognize comedic performances, this one may be hard to deny. Franco landed a spot in the SAG nominees, which is key, so let’s see how this one shakes out.
And then we have a couple of fringe contenders who looked formidable but may be falling by the wayside. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances of his career in Stronger, but the film failed to take hold at the box office and for whatever reason, despite earning strong reviews, seems to have been somewhat forgotten. There’s always a chance for a resurgence, but the lack of love from the SAG or Golden Globe nominations may be a harbinger of things to come. Andrew Garfield is also somewhat in the mix for his impressive turn as a paraplegic in director Andy Serkis’ true-story drama Breathe, but again the film has been forgotten somewhat and Garfield missed the cut at the SAG Awards and Golden Globe nominations, which would have given a much-needed boost for a film that received mediocre critical reception.
Denzel Washington, on the other hand, could sneak in. He came thisclose to winning last year for Fences, and the buzz was that he could be back with a vengeance in a starring role in the new film from Nightcrawler writer/director Dan Gilroy. But that film, Roman J. Israel, Esq., got a pretty muted response at TIFF and the performance is, honestly, a little off. It’s a showy role to be sure, but the film has trouble coalescing and the performance is one of those that could be divisive—some may say it’s brilliant, others underwhelming. But SAG went for it, as did the Golden Globes, giving the film a boost in profile just a few weeks before Oscar voting is about to begin.
And then there’s Tom Hanks reuniting with Steven Spielberg for The Post, which could shake up the race in a big way. The true-story drama tackles incredibly timely material like Freedom of the Press and Presidential corruption/overreach, and Hanks plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. The Academy has a habit of snubbing Hanks lately, overlooking the performer for both Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies (in fact, he hasn’t been nominated since 2001 for Cast Away), so this one’s far from certain but definitely one to keep an eye on if The Post really pops at the box office
Something of a late-coming surprise contender is Daniel Kaluuya for his tremendous and nuanced work in Get Out, which is looking more and more like a major Oscar movie every day. Kaluuya earned recognition from the SAG Awards, scoring a Best Actor nod, and if a film is to win Best Picture an acting nomination of some sort is usually in the cards. So if Get Out is as big a hit with the Academy as I think it could be, Kaluuya could get a much-deserved nomination.
There’s also Hugh Jackman, who leads the P.T. Barnum musical/biopic The Greatest Showman on Earth. It’s unclear if Jackman’s a serious contender (the film is embargoed until day of release, which isn’t a great sign) but 20th Century Fox is also making a push for Logan, so there’s the slightest chance that buzz could come back around for that superhero movie. But, given the Academy’s snubbing of the genre over the years, Greatest Showman is likely his best bet and that’s probably where Fox will put most of its campaign money.
On the outside looking in, Christian Bale turns in a terrific performance in the incredibly bleak Western Hostiles, but that film was snatched up by Entertainment Studios after TIFF, whose biggest release thus far is 47 Meters Down. The Oscars are very much a campaign game, and Hostiles isn’t exactly the most palatable of films to begin with (it’s very bleak), so this one may have a tough time catching on.
As for Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049, if the film really hits with the Academy I think he has a small shot at sneaking in, but it doesn’t really look like that’s going to happen. Harrison Ford would appear to be the sequel’s best shot at an acting nod, and even then the film’s disappointing box office may harm its overall chances as the year progresses. At this stage, Warner Bros. looks to be putting all of its chips on Dunkirk.
As always, the Oscar race is incredibly fluid. I’ll be updating this post regularly as the weeks go by with new rankings, thoughts, and notes, but for right now here’s how I see the race’s standings.
Note that these are listed in order of likelihood of being nominated—it’s definitely too early in this race to start picking winners, even if Oldman feels like a lock.