Ones to Watch, Vol. 2 Edition
With the summer film festivals, namely Venice (August 30 – September 9), Telluride (September 1-4), and Toronto (September 7-17) behind us, it’s time for the second of a three-part series, which examines the roles that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race. In recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner has premiered at Telluride, and so begins the Oscar race. By this time last year, Venice had given us the performances of Ryan Gosling (La La Land) and Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), and those of Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) and Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) had hailed from the Sundance Film Festival. The only performance from an eventual nominee that we hadn’t seen was that of Denzel Washington (Fences).
Similar to last year, we have little to go on because most of the films that have been screened so far have centered on a female, not a male, lead. The last time the Academy awarded Best Picture to a film with a female lead was Million Dollar Baby back in 2006—not the greatest stat for Battle of the Sexes and Lady Bird to be up against following their praiseworthy Telluride premieres, but I digress. Unlike 2016, this year appears to already have a frontrunner who may prove unstoppable.
Before we delve into this year, let’s put a cap on the last one. Of the seven roles that were discussed here, two went on to secure Best Actor nominations: Washington and Affleck, and the race came down to those two men. We had Washington—a veteran looking for his third win, and Affleck—the scrappy guy from Boston hoping to net his first. Even though Washington delivered hands down the best performance of the year, Affleck was able to outrun his past (more on this shortly) to take the prize.
Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation) topped the snub list, which included Joel Edgerton (Loving), when his issues with the law were exhumed as I described last year. At that time, I portended that if he didn’t get nominated, racism was to blame. It would appear that I was right because later on in the Oscar season it was revealed that Affleck too had some “past indiscretions,” to put lightly. However, Affleck was legally barred from speaking about his alleged reprehensible behavior and so, walked away from the ordeal squeaky clean, and likely as dirty as sin on the inside.
As for the others discussed here, Ang Lee’s big gamble, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was shot at 120 frames per second, flopped, leaving the film’s star Joe Alwyn out in the cold. Dev Patel (Lion) was recognized in the Best Supporting Actor category, and Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) was campaigned in supporting, but failed to land a nomination.
THE PEACEMAKER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour (director: Joe Wright)
FYC: This British war drama follows new Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) during the early days of WWII when Hitler closed in on Britain, forcing Churchill to decide whether to negotiate or fight back. The film bowed at Telluride, earning rapturous reviews. Oldman was nominated for Best Actor in 2012 for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. His performance here has earned him frontrunner status, and given that it comes from a film that is in pole position for Best Picture, with director and actor accolades, he may be unstoppable.
THE DESIGNER: Daniel Day-Lewis – (Untitled) (director: Paul Thomas Anderson):
FYC: Not much is known about this American drama set in the fashion world of 1950s London, where a dressmaker (Day-Lewis) is commissioned to design for members of high society and the royal family. But what is known is that the dressmaker is Charles James, and the film is reportedly the last of Day-Lewis who will retire following a career that has spanned four decades. Day-Lewis won three Best Actor Oscars beginning with My Left Foot in 1990, followed by There Will Be Blood in 2008, and most recently Lincoln in 2012. He is widely considered one of the best actors of our time, and all eyes will be on Day-Lewis to see if he can snatch the Oscar away from Oldman.
THE FIGHTER: Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger (director: David Gordon Green):
FYC: This biographical drama, based on the memoir of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter, depicts the inspiring true story of Bauman who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The film, currently in theatres, screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where it won over critics who praised Gyllenhaal’s performance. The actor has one Best Supporting Actor nomination under his belt for Brokeback Mountain in 2006. But now that Leonardo DiCaprio has finally been awarded his first Best Actor Oscar, it seems that Gyllenhaal has taken up the mantel of the younger heartthrob destined to be overlooked for several years by the Academy. Recently, he delivered consistent performances that have earned him some awards heat such as last year’s Nocturnal Animals, and 2014’s Nightcrawler, but how many more of these will he have to deliver of equal caliber before the Academy rewards him?
THE RECORD HOLDER: Denzel Washington – Roman Israel, Esq. (director: Dan Gilroy):
FYC: In this legal drama, Washington stars as the titular character: a driven, idealistic, liberal defense attorney who discovers some unsettling things about his law firm and ends up in a crisis that leads to an extreme action. Because I discussed the actor’s history with the Academy in last year’s column, I will refrain from expanding on it here, except to say that last year Washington, the record holder for the most nominations for an African-American actor, should’ve won his third Best Actor trophy. Buzz on the film following its premiere at TIFF is lukewarm, if warm at all, but Washington could get in through an I.O.U. from the Academy.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: Christian Bale – Hostiles (director: Scott Cooper):
FYC: This period war drama, based on an original story by Donald E. Stewart, follows an English army captain who escorts a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family back to his tribal lands in 1892. The film earned rave reviews at TIFF and was subsequently scooped up for distribution this year. Somehow, I have yet to discuss Bale’s award history in this column, though he has been mentioned regularly. Unlike most actors, Bale won the first time he was nominated for his supporting role in The Fighter in 2011. He has since been nominated for Best Actor in 2014 for American Hustle and Best Supporting Actor last year for The Big Short. Because much of the acclaim of Hostiles pinpoints Bale’s performance, he stands a good chance of being nominated.
THE PERFORMER: Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman (director: Michael Gracey):
FYC: In this biographical musical drama Jackman portrays P.T. Barnum, a man who rose from nothing and started the spectacle that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jackman was nominated for Best Actor in 2013 for Les Misérables, but hasn’t been featured in an Oscar-baity film since. Musicals can be a hard sell, but if anyone can do it, it’s Jackman who won a Tony award for his performance in The Boy from Oz in 2004.
THE ADOLESCENT: Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name (director: Luca Guadagnino):
FYC: This coming-of-age drama, based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman and written by James Ivory (more on this below), depicts the passionate relationship that develops between a young man named Elio and an academic (Armie Hammer) who has come to stay at his parents’ Italian villa in the 1980s. Through one unforgettable summer the two bond over their sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and love for life and all it has to offer. The film premiered at Sundance where it received universal acclaim, particularly for Chalamet, Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays Elio’s father), as well as for direction and writing. It is important to note that Ivory directed and was nominated for A Room with a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day. Furthermore, each of those films earned a minimum of eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. For these reasons it is a formidable candidate for a Best Picture nomination and therefore should have a strong presence in the Oscar race. However, a nomination for the 21-year-old newcomer Chalamet, perhaps best known for his eight-episode stint on TV’s Homeland is not yet a slam-dunk (though, having seen the film, he should be)—the last time an actor was nominated for Best Actor while in their early twenties was in the 1920s.
There are several other actors with the pedigree to earn a nomination this year. We don’t know if Tom Hanks’ role in Steven Spielberg’s greatly anticipated The Papers will be a supporting or a leading role, or if the Academy will decide to bestow a heap of good will onto Andrew Garfield who stars in Breathe. Other performances from leading men this year that could ignite include Chadwick Boseman for Marshall, Bryan Cranston for Last Flag Flying, and James Franco for The Disaster Artist. What we do know is that the critic groups will weigh in, and then it’s all over but the shouting. Until soon, Oscar watchers!