Awards Season Acting Races: The Most Dramatic Ever?

It seems like every year there’s talk about the acting races being the most competitive and unpredictable ever — the kind of hype typical of a “the most dramatic season ever” of ABC’s “The Bachelor.” But for the 2020 Oscars, there’s quite a bit of truth to the cliché.

Whereas the lead actress prize was practically handed to Renée Zellweger the moment “Judy” hit festivals in August, the lead actor race is tougher to pin down. And for the record, lead actress isn’t really a sure thing — just ask last year’s front-runner Glenn Close, who ultimately missed out on the Oscar to Olivia Colman. Zellweger will still have to fend off some impressive competition, like Charlize Theron in “Bombshell.”

But unlike the actress race, lead actor offers very few sure things. With so many great contenders, a remarkable performance isn’t enough — there’s the campaigning side, which many potential nominees might not be willing to do.

“Marriage Story” star Adam Driver won the Gotham Award and landed both Golden Globe and SAG Awards nominations; he has also been a steady presence on the Q&A circuit, so he might be the only safe bet. “Joker” lead Joaquin Phoenix also landed Globe and SAG noms and his lack of participation in events is mitigated by the fact his movie has made over $1 billion at the global box office. Any other year, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio would be assured noms for their work in “The Irishman” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” respectively, but both are previous winners and while they have done some campaigning, it’s been limited. Thus far it hasn’t hurt DiCaprio, who earned both Golden Globe and SAG noms, but De Niro was shut out at both. (Note: DiCaprio was competing in the less-crowded comedy/musical category at Globes.)

Popular on Variety

Compare that to contenders who have worked the circuit and turned in great performances, such as Taron Egerton
(“Rocketman”), who managed to earn a Globe nom and also make the final five of SAG Award nominees. The always-wonderful Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari”) also scored with both Globes and SAG, which caught some by surprise. Meanwhile, Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”) made the Globes cut, but missed out on a SAG nomination, yet it feels as if his campaign is just getting started. Then there’s Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory”), who took the actor prize at Cannes and picked up wins from some critics’ groups along with a Globe nom, but was shut out at SAG.

There are also actors who traditionally don’t do much press who are working the circuit, including Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems” and Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite Is My Name.” Sandler was named best actor by the National Board of Review and landed a Gotham nomination, and Murphy was nominated by the Golden Globes in the comedy/musical category, but both failed to make the cut for SAG Awards. Sandler’s movie is going wider the next few weeks, and as more people see it, his odds could improve.

There are some latecomers to consider, with actors such as Paul Walter Hauser (“Richard Jewell”) and George MacKay (“1917”) looking to pick up steam.

In short, with all these factors in play, it’s still impossible to predict who those final five will be.

More Film

  • 'The Salt of Tears' Review: Philippe

    'The Salt of Tears': Film Review

    Handsome twentysomething Luc is a trainee joiner, a craft inherited from his doting single dad: a man at once proud of his son’s continuation of their trade, and hopeful that he’ll do something greater with it. When Luc asks his father if he ever wanted to design furniture rather than simply build it, the reply [...]

  • Time to Hunt

    'Time to Hunt': Film Review

    As context for those unaware, South Korea does not have the equivalent of the United States’ Second Amendment. Instead, the country enforces strict gun control — privately owned weapons must be stored at the police station — and fatal shootings hardly ever happen there. That’s important to know when watching Korean movies: It explains why [...]

  • SF Studios, Cinematic Inc. Join Forces

    SF Studios, Cinematic Inc. Join Forces on 'Comet in Moominland,' 'When the Doves Disappeared,' 'Omerta'

    SF Studios is joining forces with Antti J. Jokinen’s leading Finnish production banner Cinematic Inc. to develop and produce the animated feature “Comet in Moominland” and “When the Doves Disappeared,” adapted from Sofi Oksanen’s bestseller. “Comet in Moominland” and “When the Doves Disappeared” are being made by both companies as part of a five-picture deal. [...]

  • Tiger Rising

    Exclusive First Look: 'The Tiger Rising' Starring Queen Latifah

    Queen Latifah and Madalen Mills star in Ray Giarratana’s “The Tiger Rising.” The drama is based on Kate DiCamillo’s New York Times Bestselling children’s book and produced by Deborah Giarratana and Ryan Donnell Smith.  Highland Film Group is handling worldwide sales, which are under at the European Film Market in Berlin. The Tiger Rising” is [...]

  • The Berlinale Bear is Seen in

    Berlinale Enlivened by Anti-Chile State Violence Protests

    A politically charged Berlin Film Festival was further enlivened on the third day of the European Film Market by a demonstration targeting Chilean armed forces. On Saturday, the Martin Gropius Bau, the site of the EFM, saw a group of anonymous protestors unfurl a big banner from one of the market’s upper floors, with activists [...]

  • Vadim Perelman, Ilja Zofin, Lars Eidinger

    'Persian Lessons' Eidinger, Perelman Say Film Offers Parallels for Today

    Director Vadim Perelman and frequent Berlinale film star Lars Eidinger on Saturday championed their new Holocaust-set “Persian Lessons” as a timely, very German tale of how that dark history is closer to us than it seems, made uniquely possible by the fact that most of the film’s production team is not German. The film’s world [...]

  • Uppercase Print

    'Uppercase Print': Film Review

    History is a fanged presence in Romanian director Radu Jude’s recent films. Since 2015’s “Aferim!,” in both fiction and nonfiction formats, culminating in the heady tangle of the two approaches that was 2018’s remarkable “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians,” Jude has interrogated various incidents and epochs in his [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content