With precursor awards starting to roll out, the Oscar race is sharpening. Two weeks ago, I ranked the heated Best Actress standings. Now it’s the gentlemen’s turn.
What’s the word on Best Actor? It’s a snooze fest. Mostly a two-hander between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington, this contest has a few potential spoilers and a herd of wannabes. Nominations aren’t announced until Jan. 24, allowing plenty of time for temperatures to change as studios’ campaigns intensify. For now, here’s your Best Actor overview.
As the details of Nate Parker's resurfaced rape allegations
worsened, one trivial question lingered: Will they hurt his awards odds? After all, "The Birth of a Nation" was instantly billed as a potential #OscarsSoWhite
antidote, having premiered at Sundance shortly after this year's whitewashed nominations were announced. Then, the heavily debated film about Nat Turner went full DOA: Its box-office receipts stalled at a disappointing $16 million
, failing to recoup the whopping $17.5 million
that Fox Searchlight ponied up for the slave-rebellion biopic. Parker's awards prospects were laid to rest.
When Sony Pictures Classics slotted "The Comedian" for a December release and booked it at AFI Fest, the movie seemed poised to produce Robert De Niro's eighth Oscar nomination. Not anymore. "The Comedian" wants desperately to be an old-school Woody Allen comedy; instead it's a crass midlife-crisis jumble that wastes De Niro's talents. The Golden Globes will gladly opt for star power, though, so don't count him out there.
I'm not convinced the Academy will take to Tom Ford's artsy melodrama
, but a few prognosticators on the awards-handicapping bible Gold Derby still rank Jake Gyllenhaal
among their Best Actor predictions. Wishful thinking? The dude couldn't even manage a nomination for his mesmerizing turn in "Nightcrawler."
"Miles Ahead" found little mileage at the box office in April, but reviews called Don Cheadle's depiction of jazz maestro Miles Davis "fully inhabited
" and "the best performance of his decades-long career
." Nominated in 2005 for "Hotel Rwanda," Cheadle might rank higher had this impressionistic drama opened later in the year. Because he's playing a musician, he can squeeze into the Golden Globes' comedy/musical categories, possibly eking out some consolation there.
It's easy to mistake Chris Pine for a pretty face, at least until you see his Texas drawl and conflicted morality in "Hell or High Water." One of the year's sleeper hits, the neo-Western heist drama played well with critics and audiences, and some Oscar pundits insist
it's all over the Academy's radar. Pine's work is more internalized than that of co-stars Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster, who are campaigning as supporting players. With subtler results and fewer serious-actor bona fides, Pine will need to pine hard for a slot in this race.
Adam Driver will win an Oscar one day. It won't be for "Paterson," the intimate Jim Jarmusch dramedy in which the "Girls" actor plays a New Jersey bus driver (Driver the driver!) with a gift for observational poetry. Driver made the Gotham Awards' Best Actor shortlist
, but "Paterson," while lovely, is too small for the Oscars. He would have better luck gunning for a supporting nod for "Silence."
Ben Affleck is surrounded by scene-stealers in "Live By Night," his fourth directorial feature. Too bad he isn't one of them. Though he's become a celebrated auteur, Affleck has never received an acting nod from the Oscars. This time around, he's stuck competing with his younger brother, whose performance in "Manchester by the Sea" is almost guaranteed recognition. That fun sibling rivalry won't benefit the elder Affleck. Next to Casey, he doesn't have the range.
" is too inaccessible for the art-house-averse Academy, but Colin Farrell can probably count on a Golden Globe nomination, as this dystopian satire qualifies
in the less-crowded comedy/musical arena. The problem, aside from the movie's weirdness, is that Farrell's performance is purposefully droll and methodical -- the opposite of the emotive showboating that attracts the Academy's votes.
Once the McConaissance pops, it just can't stop. For his latest dramatic act, Matthew McConaughey plays a hapless businessman hunting for gold. It's just the sort of schlubby transformation that could strike Oscar gold, particularly with the backing of awards mastermind Harvey Weinstein. The timing isn't promising, though: "Gold" will chase limited-release momentum during the Christmas rush, and it won't see a wide-release boost until after nominations are announced.
After oil-spill disaster flick "Deepwater Horizon," "Patriots Day" is Mark Wahlberg's second 2016 collaboration with director Peter Berg that depicts a recent tragedy. Both movies are surprisingly good, particularly the latter, which chronicles the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. There's a good case for "Patriots Day" across the Oscar board -- the heroism it depicts is a triumph of the American spirit in a time when that sort of message is desperately needed. The film's salutations are swelling thanks to its inclusion on the National Board of Review's year-end list
. As for Mark Wahlberg in Best Actor? He gives a solid performance, but he's never been the Oscars' darling, missing out on nominations for "Boogie Nights," "The Fighter" and "Lone Survivor."
In the cooker since the 1970s, "Rules Don't Apply" is Warren Beatty's passion project. What Warren Beatty wants, Warren Beatty gets. Except when it comes to reception: The romantic dramedy, in which Beatty plays the eccentric Howard Hughes, made an embarrassing $2.2 million
in its Thanksgiving wide release. Spotty reviews don't help. But if there's even been a movie-star god among men, it's Warren Beatty. The Oscars have nominated him for writing, directing and acting -- all of which he does in "Rules Don't Apply," even if Alden Ehrenreich is technically the film's lead.
Viggo Mortensen has but one nomination to his name, for 2007's "Eastern Promises." He is dynamite in "Captain Fantastic," playing a bohemian father raising his six kids off the grid. The movie did modest business at the summer's close, but young distributor Bleecker Street has capitalized on Mortensen's Sundance kudos
, hosting Academy receptions and ensuring his status as a dark horse.
"The Founder" was initially slated for a summer release, but The Weinstein Co. nixed that plan, hoping a December bow
would signal an awards contender. Early reviews speak fondly of Michael Keaton's performance as ruthless McDonald's titan Ray Kroc, even if the movie suffers from the ever-tidy direction of John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side," "Saving Mr. Banks"). After nearly winning for 2014's "Birdman," Keaton was left off the supporting actor ballot for last year's "Spotlight." This could be a mea culpa for the well-liked actor, who's had a topsy-turvy few decades in Hollywood.
"Loving" premiered at Cannes back in May, and it's hard to gauge the affecting interracial-marriage drama's position in the overall Oscar derby. Despite many fervent reviews and a decent box-office haul in limited release, "Loving" is too muted to stoke the Oscar flame all the way to victory. Where does that leave potential first-time nominee Joel Edgerton, who plays a man of few words? In a tough spot, sandwiched among scenery-chewing industry veterans. Edgerton is making the campaign rounds with acclaimed co-star Ruth Negga, and there's still time as this politically resonant story expands to more screens.
Because a performer cannot earn two nominations in the same category, I wouldn't normally lump two projects together. Hear me out. No one has seen "Silence" yet. Word on the street: It's Andrew Garfield's movie. But it's been 29 years since one of Martin Scorsese's lead actors won this prize, and Garfield will have to split his votes with the lucrative WWII drama "Hacksaw Ridge," for which Lionsgate has mounted a full campaign. Garfield tackles accents and religious convictions in both. We'll have a better sense of his odds when the "Silence" reviews break ahead of its Dec. 23 release, but these heavy period pieces comprise a solid twofer for the charming lad.
Ryan Gosling is fundamentally himself in "La La Land." He doesn't stew and brood like he did in "Half Nelson," the source of his only Oscar nomination, or in "Blue Valentine," a movie that should have won him a nod. But he is a modern-day Gene Kelly, dancing and romancing through Hollywood in a way that will nourish the Academy's navel-gazing tendencies. "La La Land" is Emma Stone's movie, but if the musical sweeps the awards, as it very well may do, spare a slot for Gosling, too.
Tom Hanks missed out on a nomination for 2013's "Captain Phillips," his best performance of the decade. Why would "Sully" be his golden ticket? Box office and mainstream valor. The Clint Eastwood-directed biopic about heroic pilot Chesley Sullenberger collected an impressive $124 million
. It helps that "Sully" could be retitled "The Tom Hanks Show." Whereas most of the gentlemen on this list are ensemble players, Hanks gets his own showcase, as he tends to do in Oscar-nominated roles (see: "Cast Away," "Philadelphia").
"Fences" was one of the final awards movies to screen for press. Clinging to buzz from the lauded 2010 Broadway revival, this adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning play is a literary landmark brought to the big screen. A marked shift away from two consecutive years of #OscarsSoWhite, its racial themes feel especially pronounced in America's divided political climate. And boy is Denzel Washington powerful as Troy Maxson, a bitter 1950s patriarch struggling to provide for his family. Washington won a Tony for the role. The only strike against him: As a movie, "Fences" seems like it's still staged in a Broadway playhouse. The rhythmic theatricality feels uncinematic, so he'll have to preach the gospel of August Wilson to rise above the competition.
Anointed an Oscar hopeful
at Sundance in January, Casey Affleck has been riding this wave all year. It's amazing his momentum hasn't waned. In fact, with the tragicomic "Manchester by the Sea" finding favor at the box office
, Affleck's turn as a reserved handyman weathering emotional defeat seems only to gain propulsion. This week, he scored the season's first two processors: the Gotham Award
and the National Board of Review honor
Affleck's win would deviate from the outsized transformations of recent Best Actor champs like Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant," Eddie Redmayne in "The Theory of Everything" and Matthew McConaughey in "Dallas Buyers Club." Profiles of Affleck have billed him as a Hollywood outsider, which is largely untrue but makes for a nice little Oscar narrative. One lingering conflict: Recently resurfaced sexual assault allegations
could dog his reputation as the more austere Affleck brother, especially in light of the treatment Nate Parker received. Affleck's case was settled, but if the press keeps debating its severity, the actor could face a bumpy campaign trail.