Next in a series of posts as awards season heats up, a breakdown of Oscar acting categories.
All year, even before anyone saw any of the films, Gary Oldman has been considered the heavy frontrunner to win for his performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. On paper, it’s the perfect Oscar performance; a beloved veteran actor with a strong overdue narrative (just one nomination, zero wins) doused in heavy makeup playing a historical figure in an assumed Best Picture contender. We’ve seen this type of performance win many times, especially when the British angle (an important “vote” within the Academy) is played up, a la Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. When the film screened at Telluride and Toronto, our suspicions had been confirmed. Critics and festival-goers called Oldman’s turn a powerhouse performance and reaffirmed the notion that it’s his Oscar to lose (even if overall word on the film wasn’t quite as kind). But the first few precursors of the season have ignored Oldman, bringing in some doubt. He should still be considered the frontrunner, and critics groups often intentionally go against the grain when an early frontrunner is declared. But one thing is for sure, Oldman isn’t going to sweep the entire season the way Daniel Day-Lewis did five years ago for Lincoln, and the more precursors that go to other names, the more voters in the acting branch will have reconsider what at one time seemed like an obvious vote.
Speaking of Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time winner may be Oldman’s main challenger. He’s back teamed with Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread. The last time the two worked together was There Will Be Blood, for which DDL won an Oscar. The film is still under embargo but early whispers say that it’s major and he’s great in it. The fact that it’s supposedly his final performance could be an added narrative boost for one of the Academy’s favorites. Also establishing himself as a contender thank to NY Critics, and someone who’ll surely pick up more critics notices, is Call Me By Your Name breakout Timothee Chalamet. He’ll turn 22 in a few weeks, so he’s very young for this category, but his work has drawn raves since Sundance and the film is a Best Picture contender. He looks like a lock for a nomination.
A trio of strong contenders will likely battle for the final two slots. James Franco, previously nominated for 127 Hours, has emerged as a strong player for The Disaster Artist, which he also directed. The dramedy, chronicling the making of cult disaster/classic The Room, is sure to resonate with other actors and there’s a nice comeback narrative surrounding Franco after a five year stretch without much high-profile, acclaimed work. Tom Hanks, who hasn’t been nominated since Cast Away despite doing some of the strongest work of his career in films like Captain Phillips and Sully, surprisingly won Best Actor from the NBR for Steven Spielberg’s The Post. The film, while a major threat to win Best Picture, is said to be more of a Meryl Streep show, but there’s already premature talk of a Silence of the Lambs type sweep for it with Oscar. I don’t think Hanks can win this year, but he is a popular actor and a strong bet to ride the film to a nomination. Also in play is Jake Gyllenhaal, who many think was snubbed for Nightcrawler a few years back. He’s got a strong overdue narrative himself and does exceptional work as Boston Bombing survivor Jeff Bauman in Stronger, but I’m worried that if Franco and Hanks continue to rise then Jake’s film not really being an Oscar contender anywhere else could keep him out.
As for dark horses, Oscar favorite Christian Bale is said to be great in Scott Cooper’s western Hostiles, but the film (from a new distributor) needs a late rise. After seeing him rise at the last minute and almost win for The Big Short, I will never rule him out. Denzel Washington was nominated again last year and is back with Roman J. Israel, Esq, but reviews for the film are very mixed and it probably will sit the season out. Andrew Garfield got his first nom last year and afterglow noms are a very real thing but Breathe is being ripped apart by many as shameless Oscar bait. It doesn’t seem to have any traction. Daniel Kaluuya and Robert Pattinson give two of the year’s best turns in Get Out and Good Time, respectively, but will both need a number of critics groups and/or SAG to cite them to really jump into serious contention. Kaluuya is a better bet to do that considering his film is a likely Best Picture nominee.
Current Predictions: Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Timothy Chalamet, James Franco, Tom Hanks
What a loaded field this is. Along with Best Original Screenplay, it’s the most interesting race of the season. At the top right now appear to be three ladies who have all hit with Oscar before. First, there’s Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress in Oscar history (20), who seemingly has something major on her hands as the lead in The Post. Her winning the NBR confirmed that she will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Streep’s last win came six years ago for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Her three noms since then have all been for less serious work, but now she’s in a Best Picture frontrunner and is a real threat to win her third Oscar. Two-time nominee (despite being just 23!) Saoirse Ronan has already begun what figures to be a dominant run with critics groups for her work in likely Best Picture nominee Lady Bird. She’s the youngest contender in a field loaded with big names but Oscar has shown that they like her and the work is really, really good. She is a serious threat to win. I’m still unsure of how the Academy will respond to Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri given how absent it’s been from the season so far, but Frances McDormand should be a safe bet for a nom. Many critics and festival-goers are saying her work in the film is even better than what she did in Fargo, for which she won this award.
The next tier looks real strong as well. Sally Hawkins is receiving a lot of praise for The Shape of Water, and the branch has nominated her before. It’s a unique performance that may not resonate with everyone but will have vocal supporters. Margot Robbie, quickly becoming one of the most popular actresses in the game, is getting strong word for her work as Tony Harding in the black comedy I, Tonya but it remains to be seen if the film (from new distributor NEON) is a real Oscar contender. Can it hit with a few precursors? In such a loaded field, it’s hard to see anyone getting in if their film doesn’t hit with the Academy on a larger level. Jessica Chastain, two-time nominee who pretty much everyone realizes should’ve won for Zero Dark Thirty over Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, appears to have a strong turn in Molly’s Game, the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin. But like Robbie, I have concerns that the film just isn’t going to last the season and hit big with the Academy.
There’s also another Academy favorite in play with Kate Winslet. Her film, Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, didn’t land as the contender most expected but her performance is being praised and she can never be ruled out. If SAG goes for her, she’s in. Emma Stone, fresh off her win, has a baity role in Battle of the Sexes but the film also didn’t land too strong. She’s got a great shot at a globe nom though. The legendary Judi Dench is playing Queen Victoria again in Victoria & Abdul but the film doesn’t appear to be a player. She 100% needs SAG to notice. A couple of dark horses to watch are Vicky Krieps for her supposed breakout turn in Phantom Thread and Academy favorite Michelle Williams if she’s a true lead in All the Money in the World and if the film is actually good.
Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) may have had some early momentum, but the field is too strong for her to crack it. Same goes for the young Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project).
Current Predictions: Frances McDormand, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Sally Hawkins, Jessica Chastain
Best Supporting Actor
Some clarity has been given to this field over the last few weeks, but the fact that four films still each have two contenders keeps it a relative mystery until more critics groups and SAG weigh in. Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), fresh off wins from both the NBR and NYFCC, is certainly a lock for a nom and the early frontrunner to win. This is a spot for the Academy at large to award The Florida Project as a whole when final voting goes down. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri appears to have two real contenders in Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. I haven’t yet seen the film, but based on what I’m reading, Rockwell appears to be *slightly* more likely to hit. Then again, he’s never been nominated before whereas Woody has two. I doubt they both get in unless the film is a real threat to WIN Best Picture. Same goes for the men of Call Me By Your Name, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg. Hammer is being pushed harder by Sony Pictures Classics and is playing the circuit very well but Stuhlbarg is older with a major snub on his hands years ago (A Serious Man) and is also in Best Picture player The Shape of Water. Stuhlbarg also has a clear “Oscar scene” that can be edited into promotional material easily. But much like with the Three Billboards guys, we need more clarity.
The Shape of Water has both Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon. Jenkins is more of a highlight based on reviews but after Shannon’s out-of-nowhere nomination for Nocturnal Animals last year you can never rule him out. The acting branch loves him. If Netflix’s Mudbound can find a way to actually land with Oscar, there could be some split votes in the acting branch between Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund. Both are very good in the film, but it seems to be more of Mitchell’s moment right now.
Other strong contenders include previous winner Mark Rylance (Dunkirk) carrying his film’s acting chances and therefore Best Picture chances on his shoulders, Bryan Cranston (Last Flag Flying) whose work will appeal to older voters, Will Poulter (Detroit) whose film never landed strong but looks to get a late push from Annapurna, Bob Odenkirk (The Post) who’s reportedly a scene-stealer, and Idris Elba (Molly’s Game) if his film can get off the ground.
Current Predictions: Willem Dafoe, Armie Hammer, Sam Rockwell, Richard Jenkins, Bob Odenkirk
Best Supporting Actress
Is this really the two-horse race between Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) and Allison Janney (I, Tonya) that it once appeared to be? Metcalf is the frontrunner. She’s already started picking up what will ultimately be a huge number of critics prizes and her film is at the top of the Best Picture hierarchy right now. Janney is still very much a contender but I wonder if she can really win if her film doesn’t land elsewhere, which could very well be the case. Both ladies are respected veterans of film and television and should duke it out for industry awards all season long.
Octavia Spencer received her second nom last year and she’s the acclaimed comic relief in The Shape of Water. But there are multiple performances in the film that figure to draw more attention. Sony Pictures Classics picked up Novitiate thinking Melissa Leo could win. Oscar loves her but the film is *very* small. The surprising NYFCC for Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip) established her as a very real part of this race. Raunchy comedies aren’t traditional Oscar material but Melissa McCarthy was nominated for Bridesmaids and Haddish has a ton of vocal support. Will more critics groups get behind it or was NYFCC just trying to stick out?
Holly Hunter is carrying The Big Sick on her shoulders. The film has a lot of fans and she’s a previous winner and four-time nominee. Mary J. Blige is really, really good in Mudbound but it remains to be seen if Netflix can hit with Oscar in the major categories. A SAG nom would be huge for her, but then again, Idris Elba got a SAG nom for Beasts of No Nation and still missed with Oscar. Folks love Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour) and while the film is obviously all about Oldman we often see lead actor juggernauts carry in supporting players (think Sally Field getting in for Lincoln).
Some dark horses include Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread and Hong Chau for Downsizing. The former needs to to emerge as a talking point from her film, whereas the latter already has but needs to film to play better with voters than it did with critics and festival audiences.
Current Predictions: Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Holly Hunter.
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