Oscars Spotlight: Best Actor

The Best Actor category is finally beginning to take shape. There is a whole slew of contenders this year, but when we really boil it down, there are only a handful that have a shot at the Oscar. This year there is a healthy dose of actors portraying both fictional and historical figures, the bulk of them in the latter category. Let’s take a look.

Where We Are At:

First and foremost, I think it’s important to declare a frontrunner at this stage. Some may agree or disagree with this choice, but I see Bradley Cooper as a safe bet and a solid placeholder to occupy that top spot. He gives a career-best performance as the fictional Jackson Maine. Also, rewarding him in Best Actor would be the most likely scenario for him to gain awards recognition from the Academy. Cooper writes, directs, produces and stars in his film, to go along with songwriting. As of now, I find it difficult to see him winning for director or screenplay, so Actor is the next logical choice as he fully commits to his performance as an alcoholic rock star on the verge of imploding.

Next, we have Ryan Gosling portraying American icon Neil Armstrong in First Man. While it is a quiet, understated performance it is also tailor-made for Gosling, who has a knack for portraying the “strong-silent types.” The performance is an intense one that deals with grief for the loss of a child and the mental and physical cost of the seemingly impossible achievement of landing on the moon. The only question mark is if this performance is “showy” enough for the Academy to garner a win? Either way, Gosling is a surefire nominee for his portrayal of Armstrong.

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Willem Dafoe finds himself back in the awards conversation for his turn as painter Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate. This performance won Dafoe the Best Actor award in Venice just a week ago and is said to be an honest and vibrant look at Van Gogh’s inner struggles as a misunderstood artist. Dafoe is placed right in the thick of this Best Actor race with some pundits giving him the top spot. I’m a little more reserved as CBS Films handles his Oscar campaign and this performance could likely be the only nomination for At Eternity’s Gate. Still, this could be seen as a makeup Oscar for Dafoe’s loss last year in Supporting Actor for his work in The Florida Project.

Next, we arrive at Christian Bale for his role as Dick Cheney in the yet untitled Adam McKay film. This is the major unknown in the race as we have yet to see a single picture or trailer from this film with a current December release date. Bale is the only actor in my top five that has already won an Oscar and name recognition alone has kept Bale in this race without seeing any evidence to prove it. However, given his tendency to absolutely transform into his characters there is no way I’m removing him from the conversation, especially since he gained over fifty pounds and shaved his head for the role. He could very well find himself catapulted to the top, but it’s tough to say with these late-breakers.

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Lastly, I have Rami Malek rounding out my top five. Playing the role of Freddie Mercury immediately makes you a contender. However, it’s tough to tell how this film will actually dig into his turbulent lifestyle. If the film is a watered-down version of the Queen frontman that would be troublesome for Malek’s awards chances. However, Malek certainly looks and sounds the part so I guess we’ll just wait and see how well the film is received by audiences and critics.

On the Fringe:

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in the crowd-pleasing Green Book. They both turn in excellent performances and are well-liked by the Academy. Ali could go supporting.

Robert Redford in the Old Man and the Gun. A sort of greatest hits amalgamation of past performances in Redford’s final farewell to acting. Could be a player just unsure if it’s enough for Oscar attention.

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed. A terrific leading performance but an early release for a small, independent film. He should be higher, but there’s not enough room.

Other Possibilities: 

Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased.

Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy.

Hugh Jackman in The Front Runner.

How I’d Rank ‘Em:

  1. Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born)
  2. Ryan Gosling (First Man)
  3. Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
  4. Christian Bale (Backseat/Vice/Adam McKay film)
  5. Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
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