90th Academy Awards Predictions: Best Actor

It’s been a long time since I provided an Oscar prediction column for you all. Actually, it’s been four months. My apologies, I’ve been busy with my other job and didn’t have time to write these, despite being my favorite column. Since that date, I’ve had a chance to see a few of the nominees, and it’s really changed my predictions. I know that The Big Sick is a major contender. I know that Dunkirk will struggle to get acting nominations, but will easily snag other nominations, and is the new frontrunner for Best Picture. I know that Detroit will most likely be nominated, even if it doesn’t win anything. And I know that, despite all of this, my Top Five Best Actor predictions have not changed.

Gary Oldman

That’s right, in terms of acting, this year is pretty back-heavy. There are only a handful of contenders from the beginning of the year, and they likely won’t make a dent in things, including Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver, Casey Affleck in A Ghost Story, and James McAvoy in Split. The same goes for those contenders who played “weird” roles that audiences love, but the Academy would never go for, like Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes. If there are any serious contenders that audiences have seen so far, they would be Algee Smith from Detroit and Kumail Nanjiani for The Big Sick. If anyone deserves one, it’s Nanjiani, who gives a Hugh Grant performance with twice the heart, and really makes that movie sing. If any Academy voter is reading this, put his name at the top of the ballot. Otherwise, I expect him to be on the outside looking in.

Daniel Day-Lewis, the GOAT

Now that we’ve established who won’t be nominated, let’s discuss who will. I’m going to start with the elephant in the room. There are some occasions where the actor is just a surefire nominee, and likely winner. Last year, Denzel Washington was that nominee. A few years ago, Daniel Day-Lewis was that nominee with Lincoln. This year, that nominee is Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. I will post the trailer for one of England’s greatest actors playing Winston Churchill later, but even if I didn’t have any proof of how great he was, I’d still have him at #1. Oldman is vastly overdue, having given a great performance in every film he’s ever been in, but he’s only received one nomination, for 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Now he has the weight, he has the director, and he has the role. It’s quite possible that someone could upset him, or the film bombs, but at this point, it’s Oldman’s Oscar to lose.

Speaking of someone upsetting him, hi Daniel Day-Lewis! It’s a given at this point that Day-Lewis is the greatest living actor, and he has the added benefit of his retirement. The Academy will be clamoring to nominate the greatest actor for his last performance, especially when he will be working with Paul Thomas Anderson. The last time the duo made a film together, it changed the game (seriously, if you haven’t seen There Will Be Blood, you need to change that now). The sexy thriller should make for a great send-off to one of the best, and should nicely bookend Day-Lewis’ career, who made his start in another sexy thriller, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (not nominated, by the way).

Damon looking jealously at Affleck’s Oscar

After that, things tend to become a little bit complicated. There’s Bryan Cranston and Kenneth Branagh playing formerly nominated roles in Last Flag Flying and Murder on the Orient Express, respectively. There’s beloved actors Javier Bardem and Tom Hanks in mother! and The Papers. And there’s the uplifting performances of Jacob Tremblay, LaKeith Stanfield, and Domnhall Gleeson in Wonder, Crown Heights, and Goodbye Christopher Robin. However, I’m going to fill a nomination by my favorite predicting technique: The Year. Last year, Andrew Garfield had A Year with Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. The Academy chose to award him for both performances with a nomination for Hacksaw Ridge, representing his year as a whole. And while Garfield is eligible again this year for Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, I’m going to look at the actor having A Year this season: Matt Damon. You see, while Damon has never won an acting Oscar, it’s clear the Academy likes what he does. He’s been nominated three times (Good Will Hunting, Invictus, The Martian), showing that they love him for pretty much everything. This year, he’s the lead in two of the most highly anticipated projects, Downsizing and Suburbicon. Both films allow him to show a range of emotions, from comedic to dramatic. Both films have beloved directors. And both films are written by the industry’s best, allowing him to chew on great dialogue. At the moment, I’m going to give him the edge for Downsizing, as I’m still not sold on Suburbicon’s Oscar prospects and Alexander Payne has received acting nominations for every movie he’s worked on for the past 17 years. I don’t expect this year to be any different. While it may be too weird a year for them, they did nominate him for The Martian, proving that nothing Damon does will be too weird for them except The Great Wall.

Hugh Jackman trying to look serious

This leaves us with two slots remaining. At this point, it would be a wise guess that the nominee will be coming from a biopic. Despite an original performance in last year’s winner Manchester by the Sea, Best Actor nominees are usually actors portraying a real figure. In fact, 7 of the last ten winners were real figures. This year certainly has its share of contenders, with Benedict Cumberbatch for The Current War, Tom Cruise for American Made, Steve Carell for Battle of the Sexes, Chadwick Boseman for Marshall, and James Franco for The Disaster Artist (a major contender, I hear). However, for different reasons, my final picks are Jake Gyllenhaal for Stronger and Hugh Jackman for The Greatest Showman. When it comes to Gyllenhaal, I’m giving him the nomination for no other reason than he’s due for another nod. Despite a stellar career that includes should-have-won performances in Nightcrawler, Zodiac, and End of Watch, Gyllenhaal has only been nominated for Brokeback Mountain – and not even for lead! He’s due a nomination, and considering the work he’s already done in Okja, the Academy is going to have to take a hard look at the work he’s doing. He’ll be playing Jeff Bauman, one of the victims who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing, in David Gordon Green’s Stronger. This is the type of performance the Academy loves to nominate, as we saw all the way back in 1994 with Lieutenant Dan. The trailer indicates it isn’t the Best Picture contender many of us expected, but his portrayal is strong enough to warrant notice. As for Jackman, the math is quite simple: The Greatest Showman is a musical. As we learned with last year’s La La Land (the lyricists of which provided the score for Showman), the Academy loves a well-told original musical. This grand showcase in the vein of the 1950s classics will surely win over a large group of the older Academy members, especially as Jackman’s only other nomination comes from his musical performance in Les Misérables. When you combine singing, dancing, acting, and a second strong performance in Logan, I would say Jackman is a surefire contender for a nomination, unless the film tragically bombs.

So that’s where we’re at right now. Obviously, there’s a chance I’m wrong: last year, I only got two and a half out of five eventual nominees. There’s a chance an indie film I’ve written off could sneak in, like Cannes winner Joaquin Phoenix for You Were Never Really Here or Timothée Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name. Perhaps Miles Teller receives a nomination for playing a PTSD-ridden veteran, or Denzel is nominated for being Denzel. Or perhaps Jeremy Renner or Sam Elliott end up sneaking in like Viggo Mortensen for last year’s Captain Fantastic. We’ll find out soon enough, and until then, you can check out the full list of Best Actor contenders here. Once again, here are the Top Five:

  1. Gary Oldman-Darkest Hour
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis-Phantom Thread
  3. Jake Gyllenhaal-Stronger
  4. Hugh Jackman-The Greatest Showman
  5. Matt Damon-Downsizing

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