Like Best Actress, there are a few previous winners in this category looking for seconds. Namely, Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman for Netflix and Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood for Sony/Columbia.
These are bound to be two dynamic performances that take up a lot of oxygen this year. For De Niro, working with Scorsese again alongside his Goodfellas and Casino co-star Joe Pesci and with Heat co-star Al Pacino, this seems like a match made in Oscar heaven. With complicated de-aging process and visual effects, and Scorsese’s traditionally long post-productions, I’m sure we’ll see The Irishman hit some fall festivals at just the right time to build on its pre-buzz.
DiCaprio is only a few years off finally winning an Oscar and the first trailer for OUATIH looks to be giving him some of the best material of his career. The film is 99.9% destined for Cannes (we’ll know for sure in two days) and has a late July release date. Can DiCaprio keep momentum that long if he establishes himself as a frontrunner?
Adam Driver earned his first Oscar nomination this year (Supporting Actor for Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman) and this year has two really strong projects lined up that put him in lead contention. First is Amazon’s The Report, which debuted at Sundance. It deals with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, with CIA agents beginning to use extreme interrogation tactics on those they think were behind it. Driver received excellent reviews and it could be a big player for the streamer. But the one I’m keeping a closer eye on is his role in the upcoming (as of yet untitled) Noah Baumbach for Netflix. The story follows an unfolding divorce that spans from New York City to Los Angeles with Driver playing a version of Baumbach (he’s a theater director here) with Scarlett Johansson as a Greta Gerwig stand-in. Often Baumbach’s films can feel too small or too insular but I’m getting a Lost in Translation vibe from this and if it’s an accessible film then Driver becomes a strong contender. Driver is also the lead in the Jim Jarmusch Cannes-opener The Dead Don’t Die and a little film opening at Christmas called Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. The guy is going to be everywhere, all year long.
Michael B. Jordan was probably pretty close to awards contention last season for Black Panther as Killmonger (he should have gotten in) and I think that Hollywood has been ready to reward the young actor for a stellar body of work that also includes Creed and its sequel and his breakthrough performance in Fruitvale Station. This season he’ll have Just Mercy from Warner Bros. In the film, Jordan plays a civil rights defense attorney who recounts his experiences and details of the case of a condemned death row prisoner whom he fought to free. It’s potentially juicy material for Jordan and although WB is currently listing the film’s release as January 17, 2020, if it tests well and has a good festival run there’s no reason why they couldn’t bump it up. In a year that will have all awards races moved up into a very crowded January, it will almost be crucial to do so.
The next in my top five is definitely someone to take seriously. Netflix is going to have its hands full of Best Actor contenders (like De Niro and Driver above) but don’t sleep on Jonathan Pryce in Fernando Meirelles’ The Pope. It would be a first-time nomination for Pryce, a workhorse actor for decades who’s never really earned proper credit. Pryce plays Pope Francis to Anthony Hopkins’ Pope Benedict (who will probably go supporting) and explores the relationship and opposing visions between the two leaders in the Catholic Church, both of whom must address their own pasts and the demands of the modern world in order to move the church forward. Not only is this clearly baity material with potentially scenery-chewing greatness, the film was written by Anthony McCarten and there simply isn’t a writer with a more Midas touch today. Three of the last five Best Actor winners (Rami Malek, Gary Oldman and Eddie Redmayne) all won for McCarten-written films, playing over-the-top, real-life characters and all were nominated in Best Picture to boot. That isn’t simply a stat, it’s a trend. Do not sleep on this.
Below that is a pretty steep bench of contenders (as Best Actor almost always is) including Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman. It probably won’t light the box office on fire like Bohemian Rhapsody did but I’ll bet the reviews will be better. Daniel Kaluuya is looking to return to this category with Queen & Slim in a racially charged drama from Universal (Best Picture winner Green Book‘s distributor) and set for a Thanksgiving weekend release (just like Green Book). Dev Patel is looking for his second nomination (after Lion) for The Personal Life of David Copperfield but before that can happen the film needs to look for distribution. Three-time Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator,Walk the Line, The Master) wowed in the first trailer for Joker, which comes out in October, a very strategic awards date for a very non-traditional looking comic book-based film. Emmy winner Matthew Rhys (The Americans) will lead Marielle Heller’s Mr. Rogers film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as the film’s actual lead in the true story of the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers (played by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks) and journalist Tom Junod (Rhys). I’m also hearing phenomenal things about Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. It could be a huge comeback for him.
After that is a huge field of possibilities. Christian Bale and Matt Damon in the racing drama Ford v. Ferrari. Edward Norton in Motherless Brooklyn, which he also directs. Timothée Chalamet in The King and so many more.
Here are my unranked 2020 Oscar Nomination predictions in Best Actor for April.
|Robert De Niro – The Irishman (Netflix)|
|Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Sony/Columbia)|
|Adam Driver – Untitled Noah Baumbach (Netflix)|
|Michael B. Jordan – Just Mercy (Warner Bros)|
|Jonathan Pryce – The Pope (Netflix)|
|Daniel Kaluuya – Queen & Slim (Universal)|
|Eddie Murphy – Dolemite is My Name (Netflix)|
|Dev Patel – The Personal History of David Copperfield (TBD)|
|Joaquin Phoenix – Joker (Warner Bros)|
|Matthew Rhys – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/Columbia)|
|Christian Bale – Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)|
|Antonio Banderas – Pain & Glory (Sony Classics)|
|Timothée Chalamet – The King (Netflix)|
|Matt Damon – Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox)|
|Taron Egerton – Rocketman (Paramount)|
|Tom Hardy – Fonzo (TBD)|
|Ian McKellen – The Good Liar (New Line/Warner Bros)|
|Edward Norton – Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros)|
|Brad Pitt – Ad Astra (20th Century Fox)|
|Eddie Redmayne – The Aeronauts (Amazon)|
|Mark Rylance – Waiting for the Barbarians (TBD)|
|Adams Sandler – Uncut Gems (TBD)|