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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.)

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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.

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