×

Oscars: Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale Lead Top Heavy Actor Race

The former 'American Hustle' co-stars may duke it out in a field that could mobilize #OscarsSoWhite

In contrast to the lead actress competition, a list of this year’s lead actor Oscar hopefuls runs out of home run contenders pretty quickly. But at the very top, just like their female counterparts, the leading men are led by a trio of front-runners in what may well amount to the eventual race for the gold.

Bradley Cooper’s career-best work comes in his own “A Star Is Born,” taking on a classic character that has longed for an empathetic rendering across the ages and finally gets one in the best version of the tale to date. An addict with a heart of gold — a talent facing twilight — the role of Jackson Maine was a showcase opportunity for Cooper and he seized it.

Curiously enough, Cooper and his “American Hustle” co-star Christian Bale highlight the race, with Bale delivering an uncanny rendering of former Vice President Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s “Vice.” The film is an immersive character study that has the actor front and center throughout, peeling back the layers of a true enigma.

In the shadow of that towering duo is Viggo Mortensen, quietly cranking out one of his best performances in Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” (Mortensen’s co-star Mahershala Ali will compete in the supporting actor category). But it’s a campaign facing a few challenges. Mortensen’s recent N-word gaffe will obviously do him no favors — particularly so with a film has been criticized as “corny” and “misguided” in its feel-good grasp of American race relations in the 1960s. Regardless, he’s overdue for an Oscar, and “Green Book” has far more champions than not.

Popular on Variety

After that, the category feels like a bit of a free-for-all. Every other contender seems notably vulnerable. Take Ryan Gosling, whose portrayal of Neil Armstrong in “First Man” was precisely what it needed to be: an emotionally clenched well of grief and determination. But it comes across as passive compared with other, more outward displays. Hugh Jackman faces a similar challenge with “The Front Runner,” and like Gosling, his work comes in a film that has underwhelmed at the box office.

As Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Rami Malek is probably in a better position than Jackman or Gosling. Critics savaged “Rhapsody,” but audiences arrived in droves, and Malek’s work has been singled out even by the movie’s detractors.

Perhaps the critics groups can help shed some light on the race. “First Reformed” star Ethan Hawke seems assured of a few notices in the coming weeks for his portrayal of a tormented priest. Willem Dafoe could be due a second wind after winning a prize at the Venice Film Festival for his depiction of Vincent Van Gogh in “At Eternity’s Gate.” A personal favorite is Joaquin Phoenix’s moody hit man in “You Were Never Really Here,” which recently picked up a Spirit Award nomination for the actor.

There are a pair of New Hollywood legends to consider in Robert Redford, supposedly calling it quits after “The Old Man & the Gun,” and Clint Eastwood, still unseen in “The Mule” but faced with a great opportunity to finally win an Academy Award for on-screen work. Either name would be a distinguished addition to the lineup.

From there, you end up just rattling off a list of qualifying competitors in films still angling for the Academy’s attention: Ben Foster is flawless in the critically adored “Leave No Trace”; Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly bring humor and Hollywood history as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in “Stan & Ollie”; Lucas Hedges has two drastically different shots with “Ben Is Back” and “Boy Erased”; and Kenneth Branagh is quite good as an aging William Shakespeare in his own “All Is True,” a last-minute hopeful from Sony Classics.

If you’re keeping score at home, you’ve noticed that this list of names could put the category on pace to be the first lineup lacking a person of color since the 2015 slate helped give birth to the #OscarsSoWhite movement. There are options — Malek, Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther,” Spirit nominee Daveed Diggs in “Blindspotting,” Stephan James in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Michael B. Jordan in “Creed II,” Lin-Manuel Miranda in “Mary Poppins Returns,” John David Washington in “BlacKkKlansman” — but no one is a slam dunk for a nod. Keep an eye on that.

The Screen Actors Guild will soon give the first real indication of where the actor race is going. Nominations for the group’s 25th annual awards will be announced Dec. 12.

More Film

  • SAG Awards Placeholder

    SAG Awards: The Complete Winners List (Updating Live)

    Awards season is in full gear as actors take the spotlight on Sunday. The Screen Actors Guild Awards, recognizing the best film and television performances of the year, is underway. Quentin Tarantino’s ode to old Hollywood, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”; Martin Scorsese’s mob epic “The Irishman”; and Jay Roach’s Fox News drama “Bombshell” [...]

  • SAG Awards Placeholder

    How to Watch 2020 SAG Awards Online

    The 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, honoring the top performers in film and television, is just a few hours away. Although the show is hostless, Joey King and Logan Browning are co-ambassadors of the ceremony, taking place on Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be broadcast live on TNT [...]

  • A Fall from Grace

    'A Fall from Grace': Film Review

    Why stay in your lane when you can veer into other roadways with your own turbo-charged vehicles? With “A Fall from Grace,” mogul Tyler Perry swerves back and forth between his usual woman-centered melodrama and a quasi-thriller. Shot over just five days in late 2019, As is his intriguing way, however, Perry delivers some grace [...]

  • 'Suppressed: The Fight to Vote' Review:

    'Suppressed: The Fight to Vote': Film Review

    In 2018, Stacey Abrams, having served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 10 years, ran as the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia. She was the first African-American woman in the United States to be chosen as a gubernatorial nominee by one of the two major parties. Abrams had tremendous support, and after losing [...]

  • Mike Lowrey (WILL SMITH), Marcus Burnett

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Crossing $100 Million Worldwide

    Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” the third entry in the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led action series, ruled over the global box office and is expected to cross the $100 million mark through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The threequel, directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, scored $38.6 million overseas, along [...]

  • The Case

    Bac Films Closes Deals on Psychological Thriller 'The Case'

    Bac Films has closed several deals on Bernard Stora’s “The Case,” a psychological thriller set in the South of France starring Niels Arestrup (“At Eternity’s Gate,” “A Prophet”). The film had its market premiere at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, a five-day showcase of French movies wrapping on Jan. 20. Arestrup stars [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content