With just over a week to go until the 87th Academy Awards Oscar nominations come out, Best Actor has become the most volatile category of the season. While many categories fill pretty solid with four semi-locked candidates and the question of the 5th, Best Actor has no less than nine legitimate contenders, in my estimation of order of likelihood, with Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), David Oyelowo (Selma), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner). Now, by all estimates the first three seem as locked as possible in this game at this stage. Although I’ll posit that Cumberbatch, having missed out on several critics nominations (as has director Morten Tyldum) is the most vulnerable to a surprise snub, that still leaves six guys fighting for two spots.
Gyllenhaal ranks the highest of the six with nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association (along with a healthy amount of critics nominations and wins). His film has been the surprise of the season and while some have likened it to 2011’s Drive, it’s far exceeded that film’s awards trajectory at this point.
Oyelowo comes in with a Globe nomination and a BFCA nom (in a field of six) but he missed out on SAG and his film missed the PGA this week, both due to a lack of screeners and visibility. He looks to be good for a BAFTA as the UK distributor for Selma, Pathé, has done a much better job getting screeners out than Paramount has done stateside. Paramount’s campaign for Selma, a film that could and should be a serious threat for Best Picture and Best Director, plus their inability to get ahead of the extra nasty accusations of historical inaccuracy, has been one of the worst fumbles I’ve ever seen in my 20+ years of Oscar watching.
Bradley Cooper enters this group with nothing but an illustrious ‘Best Actor in an Action Movie’ nomination from the BFCA. At first it seems odd since they obviously saw the film in time (Warner Brothers sent out screeners very early to all critics groups and guilds) but it seems like it was a film that was deemed by them to not be on the Oscar radar (which would also explain their overindulgence with Unbroken) and quarantined Cooper in one of their ‘please come to our show’ categories. But now, the film’s extraordinary early box office record shattering and strength with the tech guilds (it nabbed both ACE Eddie and Art Directors Guild nods) and a Producers Guild nomination (ahead of Selma and Unbroken) have me thinking that the film, Cooper and Eastwood is attempting to make a Million Dollar Baby play for the December shocker.
As Gyllenhaal and Cooper are both previous nominees (Gyllenhaal in Supporting for Brokeback Mountain in 2005 and Cooper for the last two years with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle), they would satisfy the beast of an Oscar stat that is the Best Actor all-newbie curse. Not since 1934 has the Best Actor lineup been comprised of first-time nominees and until a month ago it seemed like that curse would be broken. But with these two previous nominees not only in the mix but threatening to take out one or two early contenders, this game is about to crazy.
Steve Carell actually comes to the final leg of the Oscar race with the healthy combination of a Golden Globe (Drama) nomination and a Screen Actors Guild mention. His film also managed Best Picture (a field of five) nomination at the Globes but he missed out on a BFCA nod (in a field of six) as did his film (in a field of 10, no less). Yet there seems to be a disconnect of sorts between the film’s critical response (it has an 81 on Metacritic and an 86 on Rottentomatoes), its modest box office and what seems like a passionless campaign. Not to mention the recent crazed Twitter meltdown from Mark Schultz last week. Plus, one only has to look at Jim Carrey to see how AMPAS feels when comedic actors try for Oscar glory with dramatic roles.
On the outside of these two guys is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Now, he also would serve to cover the previous nominee quota for this category (for his 1993 supporting turn in Schindler’s List and his lead bid in for 1996’s The English Patient) and his film has also majorly over-performed this season, even more than Nightcrawler. He could be the spoil, especially if Wes Anderson pops up in Best Director (like he did with the Globes and BFCA). Fiennes comes in with a BFCA Best Actor nom and a Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Golden Globe nomination.
Cannes Best Actor winner Timothy Spall was expected to give some chase this season and grunt his way to a nomination but after being passed up by SAG, the Globes and the BFCA it doesn’t look like Spall has much of a path. He’s assured a BAFTA nom on the 9th but will that be enough to catapult him ahead of everyone else? It doesn’t seem likely and some comparisons to Gary Oldman and his long-coming nomination in 2011 for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy aren’t convincing enough for me. Oldman also came into the final leg of the race with only a BAFTA nom but he was certainly closer to a nomination previously in his career than Spall has ever been to this point.
So where does that leave us? There are many things to consider in an Oscar race but I think the two most important factors are passion and timing. When the two meet you have the perfect recipe for a nomination. The Oscar nomination period began on December 29th and wraps up this Thursday the 8th. Performances in films released in the fall benefit from having been seen and allowed to gain momentum with critics, box office and awards bodies. But sometimes fatigue can set in and people get tired of seeing the same five names trotted out like they’re the only ones allowed on the ballot. The non-stop onslaught of red carpet appearances from Eddie Redmayne and interview after interview of Benedict Cumberbatch have proven that Focus Features and The Weinstein Company (respectively) have run campaigns making their contenders so unavoidable you’d think they’d already been nominated. Sometimes voters want new blood or become passionate about the performance they’ve most recently seen. Bradley Cooper benefits from that, and the fact the film is directed by Oscar royalty on a bit of a comeback.
Right now, in this moment I’m thinking it will be Cooper/Cumberbatch/Gyllenhaal/Keaton/Redmayne but keep an eye on AwardsWatch as my and the rest of the Gold Rush Gang reveals their FINAL Oscar predictions next week. You can track us and our Best Actor predictions here for real-time, up to date action and upcoming podcasts.
Humor me a bit while I present what I think are the most likely makeups (in alphabetical order) of the Best Actor Oscar race and tell me which one you agree with:
[poll id = “7”]
Now, obviously there are a dozen more possibilities but these seem like the five we’re most likely to see on Oscar nomination morning. I kinda hope they go back to reading them off alphabetically to offer that one second of insight you get when you realize that someone’s been snubbed. And, oh yes, there will be snubs.