As the sun finally sets on summer heretofore possibly known as “the rainy season”, 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 had its big reveal at the Telluride Film Festival. The films of that festival (August 31 – September 3, 2018), along with the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 – September 8, 2018), the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, September 6 – 16, 2018) and, to a lesser degree, the New York Film Festival (September 28 – October 14, 2018), provide the majority of awards season fodder, and so begins the Oscar race. In fact, by this time last year, four out of five eventual Best Actor nominees were on the table following film festival premieres: Gary Oldman had become the frontrunner for Darkest Hour thanks to Telluride, the Sundance Film Festival gave us Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and TIFF
gave us Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.).
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) would follow in December after his film’s premiere in New York.
Before we peel back the layers of this year, let’s revisit the last one. Of the seven roles that were discussed here, four landed Best Actor nominations: Oldman, Chalamet, Washington, and Day-Lewis. From the outset, there was no stopping Oldman who after a 36-year career in the industry had not yet won an Oscar. The only person who gave him any chase was Chalamet who was never going to win because of his age and newbie status. And so, the veteran handily defeated the newbie.
As for the other performances discussed here, Christian Bale (Hostiles) was the only one left out in the cold, with Kaluuya taking the fifth slot. But Bale returns this year (see below). As for the others, the ship sailed on Hugh Jackman’s chances for a nomination when The Greatest Showman failed to deliver and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stronger did not have enough support to make it a contender.
This year, we have someone I would refer to as a frontrunner but its early and I am not willing to cash that check just yet.
THE ROCKSTAR: Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born (director: Bradley Cooper)
FYC: You have no doubt heard about the latest rendition of this timeless tale of love and stardom in which a musician (Cooper) helps a young songstress (Lady Gaga) rise to the top as his own career descends into darkness through his addiction.
With a current Metacritic Score of 88, it seems the fourth time is the charm for this version of the film. For a full summary of the other films’ brushes with Oscar, see last month’s column. Suffice to say that only the original (1937) had a Best Picture nomination, and the last time the film earned nominations for its stars was in 1954 (Judy Garland and James Mason). Cooper is mesmerizing as Jackson Maine—a man who spent most of his life on the road running away from his demons. The last time Cooper featured in the column was in November 2012 when the actor was first nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook—the same film that would nab Jennifer Lawrence her best actress trophy. Back then, Cooper was mostly known for his work in The Hangover film series, and that film marked the point where Hollywood began to take him seriously as an actor. The following year Cooper was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for American Hustle and the year after that he earned his second Best Actor nomination for American Sniper, which also netted him an Oscar as producer. As for his Oscar chances this year, Cooper has the trifecta: he is overdue for a win, the film is playing like gangbusters, and he’s great in the film. The only thing going against him is that a Best Actor nominee has only won twice for a film that he directed himself: in 1949 when Laurence Olivier won for Hamlet and most recently in 1999 when Roberto Benigni won for Life is Beautiful. In fact, it is far more common in such a case for the nominee to win for directing the film: five out of 10 times. The remaining three instances, the nominee didn’t win either award.
THE VEEP: Christian Bale – Vice (director: Adam McKay):
FYC: This biographical film stars Bale as Dick Cheney who rose from a bureaucratic Washington insider to the most powerful Vice President in America’s history, forever reshaping the country and the globe under president to George W. Bush. 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 for The Big Short in 2016. Based on the trailer, Bale appears to give a transformative performance something he did for The Fighter, where he lost 60 lbs. In Vice, he has packed on more than 40 lbs. But in a time when many are in dismay over the political climate, is anyone interested in revisiting another dark time in this country’s history?
THE SPACEMAN: Ryan Gosling – First Man (director: Damien Chazelle):
FYC: Chazelle’s much anticipated follow-up to La La Land is a biographical drama based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong and centers on the legendary Apollo 11 mission that led Armstrong (Gosling) to become the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969. Gosling was nominated for Best Actor in 2007 for Half Nelson and again just last year for La La Land—the same role netted him the Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). This win followed four other Golden Globe nominations, including two in the same category: Lars and the Real Girl (2008) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2012), and two in Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Blue Valentine (2011) and The Ides of March (also in 2012). Although Gosling will likely be nominated for his performance as the famous astronaut, the role is not showy. What’s more, if Leonardo DiCaprio’s long history of being overlooked by the Academy for a win is any indication, Gosling likely faces the same difficulty due to his own pretty boy status.
THE PHILANDERER: Hugh Jackman – The Frontrunner (director: Jason Reitman):
FYC: This biographical drama based on Matt Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid chronicles the rise and fall of American Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign when he is caught in a love affair. Although Jackman was nominated for Best Actor in 2013 for Les Misérables, most of his awards recognition has come from the HFPA who first nominated him for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical in 2002 for Kate & Leopold. He won that Golden Globe award for Les Misérables and earned a third nomination in the category this year for The Greatest Showman. The film faces the same uphill climb as Vice but additionally, Jackman’s role here is a departure from the others he has been recognized for because it is neither comedic nor musical in nature.
THE CONVERT: Lucas Hedges – Boy Erased (director: Joel Edgerton):
FYC: The coming-of-age drama based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name follows the son of Baptist parents (Hedges) who is forced to participate in a gay conversion therapy program. At 21, Hedges star has only begun to rise but he already has a Best Supporting Actor nomination under his belt for 2016’s Manchester by the Sea. In 2016, the same performance earned him recognition across several precursor awards as he earned nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and won the Breakthrough Performance – Male from the National Board of Review (NBR). He was also nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts EE Rising Star Award. Landing a spot in the top five may prove difficult for Hedges though because he has a second performance in contention for Ben is Back, which could work against him.
THE DRIVER: Viggo Mortensen – Green Book (director: Peter Farrelly):
FYC: In this film, a New York bouncer named Tony Lip (Mortensen) drives a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a tour through the 1960s American South. Mortensen has earned two Best Actor nominations, the first in 2008 for Eastern Promises and the second just last year for Captain Fantastic. He also has Golden Globe, BFCA, and SAG nominations for those films. Mortenson has a Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination for 2011’s A Dangerous Method and a third BFCA Best Actor nomination for 2009’s The Road. Green Book’s status as the People’s Choice Award winner at TIFF makes the film a serious Best Picture contender, which only helps Mortensen’s bid for Best Actor. The last six films to win the award went on to be nominated for Best Picture.
THE SINGER: Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody (director: Bryan Singer):
FYC: This biographical film is focused on front man Freddie Mercury (Malek) and chronicles the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985. Malek is best known for his work on television’s Mr. Robot for which he has two Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama and two SAG nominations for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, both in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Bohemian Rhapsody marks Malek’s first leading role in a major film, and regardless of its mixed critics reviews, notably for historical inaccuracies, there has been unanimous praise for his performance. It is important to note that unlike Gosling in La La Land, Malek lip-synchs throughout the film, which could impact his chances for a nomination as the awards season progresses.
THE POLICE OFFICER: John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman (director: Spike Lee):
FYC: This biographical dramedy, based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, follows Stallworth (Washington), an African American police officer from Colorado Springs who sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan branch. Washington is the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington and he only has eight acting credits to his name. Still, he is brilliant in this film as he deftly walks a tightrope between comedy and drama—all under the umbrella of a topic that carries as much relevance in America today as ever before: racism. This is to say nothing of the how Lee has used past events to amplify those in recent history, thereby delivering one hell of a powerful impact, which will likely be recognized in awards season and pull newcomer Washington along for the ride. But regardless of what happens in the awards race, Washington’s career is just beginning, and this film will forever mark a dark time in this nation’s history.
As always, there are more actors in the hunt for Oscar this year than I have the space to discuss. There’s Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate—he has more than enough goodwill leftover following his Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Florida Project this year. Given that the film has the most Gotham Award nominations, including Best Feature and Best Actor, could Ethan Hawke breakthrough for First Reformed, which saw its release back in May? Or could the Academy swing the other way and recognize Robert Redford for his final performance in The Old Man & the Gun or Clint Eastwood for his late-breaking performance in his own film The Mule? Other performances from leading men to consider include Stephan James for If Beale Street Could Talk, John C. Reilly for Stan & Ollie, and Steve Carell for Welcome to Marwen. With the fall film festivals in the rearview, it’s time for the critic groups to weigh in and for a consensus to build. Until soon, Oscar watchers!