The Best Actor Oscar race this year is insanely competitive, and at its earliest stages there was any combination of 10-15 men who had a decent shot at landing in the nominations circle. Things have narrowed down a bit in recent weeks with the SAG nominations and the Golden Globe awards, so we now have a better idea of what this category might look like when Oscar nominations are announced next Monday.
So ahead of that announcement, here are my current Best Actor predictions for who has the best shot at landing a nomination, and who’s our frontrunner right now. Actors are listed in order of likelihood to be nominated.
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Taron Egerton — Rocketman
Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Joaquin Phoenix gives the “physical transformation” performance of the year, disappearing fully into the title role in the divisive Joker, and he is very much the frontrunner to win at this point. He won the Golden Globe, but more than that actors have been raving about his performance for months now. The Academy can’t resist a great “transformative” performance (see also: Best Actress this year), and despite Phoenix’s, uh, awkwardness up on the stage, I think he’s in line to win his first ever Oscar.
Filling out the rest of the category, Leonardo DiCaprio has been on the awards circuit for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, although not hitting it as hard as he did in the past. Likely because with The Revenant, my dude finally got his Oscar. Still, he’s an Academy favorite and genuinely gives a great performance, so I think he gets in.
Ditto Adam Driver in Marriage Story, which for my money is the performance of the year. He’s been picking up accolades left and right, but unfortunately for him, his turn in Noah Baumbach‘s family drama is one of subtlety and restrained emotion. For the Oscars, they love them some big performances, so Driver’s nomination is probably his prize here.
Then things get interesting with the final two slots. Robert De Niro had been considered a major contender for The Irishman, but he was shut out of both the SAG nominations and the Golden Globe nominations. I have a bad feeling that might repeat with the Oscars as well, leaving him out in the cold for his best performance in years.
In his stead? Taron Egerton for Rocketman. The Kingsman actor has been hitting the awards circuit hard all year after the Elton John biopic came out in the spring, and he not only scored SAG and Golden Globe nominations, but he beat DiCaprio to win the Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. He’s likable and is genuinely great in the movie, and it’s hard to argue with a nomination here when Rami Malek won the Oscar for dong far less in a much worse musical biopic.
Then there’s Antonio Banderas giving his best performance in years in Pedro Almodovar‘s Pain and Glory. It’s a tremendous turn and momentum has been building up around Banderas for months now, so I have a feeling that’s going to translate to a Best Actor nomination.
In the Mix
George MacKay – 1917
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
Eddie Murphy – Dolemite Is My Name
Christian Bale – Ford v Ferrari
Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems
So who does this leave out in the cold? De Niro, for one, but also Eddie Murphy, who has been riding a comeback narrative for his excellent turn in Dolemite Is My Name. He’s great in the movie, but the film itself doesn’t really dig too deep into Rudy Ray Moore’s personal life. Murphy shines, but the film lacks the kind of narrative that usually propels performances to the winner’s circle. He could still get in (and I genuinely think he deserves to), but it’s looking a bit less likely now. Ditto Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, a swell, critically acclaimed performance that hasn’t gotten as much traction within the industry as Banderas.
And if you’re of the opinion that 1917 has a shot to win Best Picture, watch out for George MacKay to earn a surprise nod. It’s rare for a movie to win the Oscars’ top prize without an acting nomination, and his is the likeliest of the bunch.
So that’s about it for now, allowing for a surprise or two on Monday. But as it stands now, this is how I see things shaking out.