×

Oscars: Two Top-Tier Choices Buoy Best Actor Category

For men in a leading role, it’s Casey or Denzel — the rest of the ballot is anyone’s guess

Beyond Casey Affleck’s emotional smolder in “Manchester by the Sea” and Denzel Washington’s yet-to-be-seen reprising of the “Fences” role that won him a Tony six years ago, it’s an uncharacteristically thin year for lead-actor Oscar contenders. But that just makes for an exciting race that leaves things wide open on the rest of the ballot. So let’s poke around…

Biopics are a good place to look for standout performances. The strongest of the real-life character roles could be Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss, the conscientious World War II objector in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge.” It’s Garfield’s most powerful work to date — but it may be bested by his turn later this year in Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.”

There are plenty of other contenders from biopics. And variety, too: from musicians (Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in “Miles Ahead,” Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in “Born to Be Blue”) to freedom fighters (Joseph Gordon Levitt in “Snowden,” Nate Parker as Nat Turner in “The Birth of a Nation”) to a wily con man (Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc in “The Founder”).

Joel Edgerton stars as the unwitting historical figure Richard Loving in Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” about two early soldiers in the battle for marriage equality. Like Affleck’s, it’s a quiet, withdrawn performance.

Miles Teller is on fire as boxer Vinny Pazienza in crowd-pleaser “Bleed for This.” That one comes from reigning best picture champ Open Road Films.

And let’s not forget Tom Hanks. In Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” he plays Chesley Sullenberger with a level of control and calm that speaks to the composure the pilot exhibited in landing his crippled aircraft on the Hudson.

It was initially expected that Warren Beatty would get a supporting-actor push for his performance as Howard Hughes in “Rules Don’t Apply,” his return to the director’s chair after 18 years. But the prevailing opinion following recent screenings is that Beatty is in fact the film’s lead, so that has become the campaign’s direction. A nomination in the Golden Globes’ comedy category seems assured, assuming the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. agrees with both classifications. (And with due respect to Mr. Beatty, who is emphatic that “Rules Don’t Apply” is not a biopic — it kind of is.)

Mark Wahlberg may also be part of the conversation. He starred as oil-rig worker Mike Williams in Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon,” and next he plays a composite character, representing several police officers, in Berg’s drama about the Boston Marathon bombing, “Patriots Day.” Matthew McConaughey also plays a composite character, in Stephen Gaghan’s “Gold,” which revolves around the 1993 Bre-X mining scandal.

Outside the realm of biopics, there are other actors to consider. Key among them is Ryan Gosling, singing and dancing with gusto in best-picture frontrunner “La La Land.” There’s also Ben Affleck, in his Prohibition-set picture “Live by Night.” And indie standouts include Dave Johns in “I, Daniel Blake,” Viggo Mortensen in “Captain Fantastic,” and Robert De Niro in “The Comedian.”

But many of these contenders may not have even drifted into the conversation in a more typically competitive year for the category. And voters may shift up the landscape even more: There’s always the possibility that those thought to be in supporting roles could draw lead votes; for example, Hugh Grant in “Florence Foster Jenkins” (he’s being submitted as a lead for Globes consideration) or Dev Patel in “Lion.” And Jeff Bridges has already landed a lead Gotham Awards nomination for his supporting “Hell or High Water” turn.

If there were any justice, voters would bend the rules to allow Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes a shared nomination for capturing the single spirit of the lead character of Barry Jenkin’s stunning “Moonlight.” Alas…

Ultimately, the race may simply boil down to (Casey) Affleck vs. Washington. It’s an interesting yin and yang: Affleck’s quietude against Washington’s bravado. Affleck would be seeking his first Oscar, Washington his third. But there are parallels, too. Both play world-weary fathers, conjured by preeminent playwrights, shaped by their blue-collar environments — the North Shore suburbs of Boston for Affleck’s Lee Chandler, Pittsburgh’s Hill District for Washington’s Troy Maxson.

Will fiction win out over truth?

More Film

  • Myst Computer Game

    'Myst' Film and TV Rights Sell to Village Roadshow

    “Myst,” the influential video game that helped usher in the CD-ROM era, may inspire an ambitious multi-platform film and television universe. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, the Australian-American co-producer and co-financier of the “Matrix” and “Sherlock Holmes” franchises, has acquired the rights to the first-person graphic adventure. For those born post-90s, “Myst” was wildly popular and [...]

  • ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion,

    ‘Half-Sister’ Director Damjan Kozole on Compassion, Learning From the Past

    Two estranged half-siblings from a small coastal town in Slovenia spend the better part of their young lives ignoring each other’s existence. But when circumstances force them to move into the same cramped apartment, they have no choice but to come to terms with the past that binds them, while trying to decide how to [...]

  • The Traitor

    MMC Studios, One of Germany's Biggest Production Facilities, Changes Hands

    Germany’s MMC Studios, which has hosted such recent international productions as Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller “7500” and Marco Bellocchio’s Cannes competition film “The Traitor,” is changing hands. Frankfurt-based investment company Novum Capital has acquired the facility in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest film and TV studios, from Luxembourg private equity fund Lenbach Equity Opportunities I. The [...]

  • Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' Kicks Off Tuesday With Solid $3.5 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “Annabelle Comes Home” collected a strong $3.5 million in Tuesday night previews. The supernatural thriller is expected to earn $30 million over its first five days in theaters. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” movie and seventh entry in the Conjuring franchise. Preview ticket sales are in line with [...]

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

  • monty-python-are-fifty-in-2019

    Previously Unreleased Monty Python Audio to Get Airing for Troupe's 50th Anniversary

    Michael Palin will exec-produce series of radio specials containing never-before-released audio from Monty Python as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the iconic comedy troupe. They will play on the BBC in the U.K. and then go out in the U.S. Palin and his fellow Pythons – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content