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2018 Oscars Contenders: Best Actor

Best Actor top contenders: Gary Oldman, Chadwick Boseman, Timothée Chalamet, Donald Sutherland and Benedict Cumberbatch
2018 Best Actor top contenders: Gary Oldman, Chadwick Boseman, Timothée Chalamet, Donald Sutherland and Benedict Cumberbatch

Where last year might have seemed a bit thin for Best Actor, this year looks to be another cup runneth over Oscar season for men.

Way out in front right now is Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. It took Oldman decades to get his first Oscar nomination (for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011) but this year he’s playing Winston Churchill in a film by Joe Wright and it’s one of those perfect ‘on paper’ convergences that makes for an easy prediction in early March. From the Oscar-nominated producer and screenwriter of The Theory of Everything (that won Eddie Redmayne his Oscar) and a Thanksgiving release date from Focus Features it makes it near impossible to not put Oldman up at the top.

Marshall features Chadwick Boseman playing Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice of the United States, in a film directed by a former Oscars show producer, released in mid-October (a hot Oscars-release month) and from Open Road Films, who distributed the Oscar-winning Best Picture two years ago, all making for a pretty undeniable prediction. A standout in Captain America: Civil War last year as Black Panther (he’ll be headlining his own Black Panther movie next year), Boseman’s profile is pretty big right now. Some thought he was going to break through with Tate Taylor’s James Brown biopic a few years ago but, despite strong notices for Boseman, it didn’t pan out. This biopic could be right down the (new) Academy’s alley though.

As a three-time Best Actor winner it would be foolish to count out Daniel Day-Lewis as a major contender. His starring role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s new 1950s era fashion extravaganza is still currently filming and pretty secret. But with the backing of Focus Features (who also have Oldman to contend with) and a presumed 2017 release, this will remain high on predictions lists.

Oscar winner Matt Damon has a pair of hopeful contenders this year; George Clooney’s Suburbicon and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. It’s hard to pin down which film and/or role could be the one that does it for him. Suburbicon, which was co-written by Clooney, Grant Heslov, and the Coen Brothers, sounds like a rich satire and dark comedy of 1950s blackmail, revenge and betrayal, and that is a pretty deadly Oscar combination of talent. Payne’s Downsizing is a high-risk and gimmicky premise; Damon plays an occupational therapist who undergoes a new procedure to be shrunken to four inches tall so that he and his wife can help save the planet and afford a nice lifestyle at the same time. The film has a December 22nd release date but here’s where it gets tricky; both Suburbicon and Downsizing are from Paramount Pictures.

Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) could be back at the Dolby with a new biopic, The Current War, about electricity titans Thomas Edison (Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse, who compete to create a sustainable system and market it to the American people. The Weinstein Company film doesn’t have a release date yet but I’ll bet you right now it lands the Thanksgiving release like TIG and Lion did. Fellow Oscar nominee Michael Shannon plays Westinghouse but it remains to be seen if both roles are Best Actor competitive or if one will be pushed supporting. 

Is 20-year old Timothée Chalamet too young to be a Best Actor contender? The Academy hasn’t looked too fondly on young actors for its highest honor and in fact, often puts lead or co-lead young actors into the supporting category. We’ve seen it with Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) and with Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People). Call Me By Your Name, from visionary director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), was a massive hit at the Sundance Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival earlier this month and currently sits at a 98 on Metacritic. Based on the scorching, best-selling novel by André Acimen, the subject matter of a somewhat older man (Armie Hammer, playing 24) and the intense sexual relationship he has with 17-year old Elio (Chalamet) is sure to flood the internet with think (hit) pieces and likely references to Woody Allen or Roman Polanski and feels ripe for preset backlash. It will depend on how Sony Pictures Classics gets ahead of and handles this potential controversy that will make or break the film’s, and Chalamet’s, chances.

What is it going to take for Donald Sutherland to earn his first Oscar nomination? From MASH to Don’t Look Now to Ordinary People, his career is littered with missed opportunities for one of Hollywood’s most reliable and respected actors to receive that top honor. But yet it eludes him. That could all change this year with The Leisure Seeker. Sutherland plays a man suffering from Alzheimer’s and Helen Mirren plays his wife (a likely Best Actress contender), who decides to stop her cancer treatment. There is potential here for a film that is humorous without being slight and if it strikes that right balance, Sutherland is in. The film is being released by Sony Pictures Classics and I can see Sutherland being a priority over the young Chalamet (above) for a campaign.

Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) is a possibility for Battle of the Sexes. His co-star, newly minted Best Actress Emma Stone (La La Land) made it on the Best Actress Contenders list so he gets a spot here.

Hugh Jackman (Oscar nominee for Les Misérables) has a potentially rich role in The Greatest Showman, as American showman P.T. Barnum, founder of the circus that became the famous traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Interestingly enough, Ringling Bros. announced in January that it will be shutting down this May after 146 years as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’ The film is set for a Christmas Day release from 20th Century Fox so you know they’re looking for some gold. With Logan looking to be a huge box office and critical success, that only bolsters his chances.

It’s unclear if Inner City, with Denzel Washington, will shoot and be released in 2017 but if it does he could be a contender here. It sounds more like one of Washington’s mildly received but box office type of films rather than an awards contender like Fences was but I won’t discount his chances, especially after his Best Actor loss last month.

Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is reteaming with Steven Spielberg on The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, which has been fast-tracked for a late 2017 release. Their last collaboration, The BFG, was a big dud but this story, of a young Jewish boy in 1858 Italy who is secretly baptized and forcibly taken from his family to be raised as a Christian, sounds like pretty juicy material. But then, last year’s serious take on Christianity from an Oscar-winning director, Silence, didn’t fare too well.

Joaquin Phoenix, playing a war veteran’s attempt to save a young girl from a sex trafficking in You Were Never Really Here, sounds like solid potential. No release date yet but with Amazon Studios behind it, it’s something to keep an eye on. He also has Mary Magdalene with Rooney Mara.

Liam Neeson could be back in the Oscar race for the first time since 1993’s Schindler’s List with Felt, the story of Mark Felt, who under the name “Deep Throat” helped journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the Watergate scandal in 1974. With the current scandals enveloping the White House and intrepid journalists having a Deep Throat-era resurgence, the timing of this couldn’t be better. The only drawback – the film has yet to secure a distributor. 

Ben Stiller takes a stab at serious work with Brad’s Status. From writer/director Mike White (Chuck & Buck, TV’s Enlightened), producers Plan B (this year’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight) and Amazon as distributors, this could be a major player in this race. Stiller plays a father takes his son to tour colleges on the East Coast and meets up with an old friend who makes him feel inferior about his life’s choices. Not the most exciting premise but White’s sense of place and humor could be a perfect fit for Stiller.

About Erik Anderson

Erik blames his mother for his love of all things Oscar, having watched them together since he opened his eyes. They also watched Miss Universe religiously every year (the pageantry!) and Erik came to the conclusion that the combination of these two things ultimately led him down the path to obsessing about awards and ACTRESSING. He began at GoldDerby, led by Tom O’Neill and then migrated over to Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), headed up by Sasha Stone before breaking off to create AwardsWatch. He is a member of the International Cinephile Society, GALECA (Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association), the International Press Academy and is the founder/editor of AwardsWatch.

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