Sun. Sep 20th, 2020

2021 Oscars: The Best Actor Contenders (February)

Looking over the Best Actor hopefuls for this year the striking thing is that there aren’t nearly as many potential first-time nominees as this category loves year after year. Lots of returning winners and nominees (like how Supporting Actor turned out last season) are taking up a lot of oxygen and the race hasn’t even begun.

While nothing is ever much of a surefire bet (with the exception of things like Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill) there are definitely a handful of contenders that appear a cut above the rest by virtue of their past success with Oscar and the subjects they’re playing.

First up is Oscar winner Gary Oldman in Mank, playing screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz during the tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941). Directed by David Fincher and from a screenplay by Fincher’s father it’s hard to imagine Oldman not being a top 5 contender all year long. It’s one of Netflix’s many films this year (they might even have a bigger slate than last season) but this is going to receive top priority status for the streamer, which just won its first acting Oscar last season with Laura Dern for Supporting Actress for Marriage Story.

Will Smith is a two-time Best Actor nominee and could be in the running for his first in 14 years playing none other than Richard Williams, coach and father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. Smith is enjoying a great comeback right now with the success of Aladdin last summer and Bad Boys For Life last month. King Richard is set for a Thanksgiving release from Warner Bros so you know they mean business with this. The one thing that could stand in Smith’s way could be a colorism controversy (similar to Zoe Saldana and her Nina Simone biopic) where Smith, a light-skinned Black man, is playing a dark-skinned Black man in Williams.

Sundance didn’t give us a lot in terms of prime Best Actor candidates with one exception – Anthony Hopkins in The Father. The raves for his performance as a man suffering from Alzheimer’s were through the roof (read our review here) and after a nice comeback nomination last season for The Two Popes, Hopkins will be at the top of the list for this Sony Pictures Classics release.

Another longtime return nominee and former winner last season was Tom Hanks. He’ll be back in a big way with News of the World from Universal. The film, about a Texan traveling across the wild West bringing the news of the world to local townspeople, agrees to help rescue a young girl who was kidnapped, pairs him with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass and has a Christmas Day release.

Like Margot Robbie in Best Actress, Christian Bale is set for Amsterdam (working title) for David O. Russell, who got Bale his first Oscar (Supporting Actor for The Fighter) and follow-up nomination (Best Actor for American Hustle). The script and story and a mystery (other than word that it’s about ‘a doctor and a lawyer,’ not much to go on) but Russell has been a gold mine for actors for the last 10 years.

If Joel Coen’s adaptation of Macbeth for A24 finds its way to a 2020 release then you can probably count on two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington being a major force in the race.

More from A24, again coming in with a very full slate, is new Best Actor Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix will be back with C’mon, C’mon for writer/director Mike Mills (20th Century Woman), Bill Murray in the On the Rocks, from Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola, playing a drunk playboy and Dev Patel in The Green Knight, a fantasy re-telling of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from David Lowery (A Ghost Story).

Hot off his Adapted Screenplay Oscar win, up next for Taika Waititi is Next Goal Wins for Searchlight with Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender. The story is a feel-good adaptation of the 2014 British soccer documentary which follows Dutch coach Thomas Rongen who attempts the nearly impossible task of turning the American Samoa soccer team from perennial losers into winners. Could be a Cool Runnings, could be an awards contender. Or both.

8-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (most recently nominated for Best Picture as a producer on Joker), if Guillermo del Toro’s just-started Nightmare Alley lands a 2020 release, pencil him in. He’ll probably want it that way so that it doesn’t derail his chances for his Leonard Bernstein biopic, currently in pre-production.

Daniel Kaluuya may be looking at another Best Actor shot, this time playing Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton in the Ryan Coogler-produced Jesus Was My Homeboy for Warner Bros. I’m a bit dubious about the film’s late August release date it could be a killer role for Kaluuya that co-stars Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, and Algee Smith.

Looking outside of those more obvious and traditional early picks we’ll find a lot of possibilities including Gabriel Basso in Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix), Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods (both Netflix), Anthony Ramos in In the Heights (Warner Bros), Ansel Elgort in West Side Story (20th Century), Rajkummar Rao in The White Tiger (Netflix), Max Harwood in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Searchlight) and John David Washington in Tenet (Warner Bros).

Check out a full list below of Best Actor contenders and my current top 10 (in alphabetical order) for February.

  • Christian Bale – Amsterdam (20th Century)
  • Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Father (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Michael Fassbender – Next Goal Wins (Searchlight)
  • Andrew Garfield – The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight)
  • Daniel Kaluuya – Jesus Was My Homeboy (Warner Bros)
  • Bill Murray – On the Rocks (A24/Apple+)
  • Gary Oldman – Mank (Netflix)
  • Anthony Ramos – In the Heights (Warner Bros)
  • Will Smith – King Richard (Warner Bros)


  • Ben Affleck – Deep Water 
  • Christian Bale – Amsterdam (20th Century)
  • Javier Bardem – The Roads Not Taken (Bleecker Street)
  • Gabriel Basso – Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix)
  • Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
  • Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
  • Timothée Chalamet – Dune (Warner Bros)
  • George Clooney – Good Morning, Midnight (Netflix)
  • Bradley Cooper – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight)
  • James Corden – The Prom (Netflix)
  • Matt Damon – The Last Duel (20th Century)
  • Matt Damon – Stillwater (Focus Features)
  • Jamie Dornan – Wild Mountain Thyme (Bleecker Street)
  • Adam Driver – Annette (Amazon)
  • Adam Driver – The Last Duel (20th Century)
  • Ansel Elgort – West Side Story (20th Century)
  • Michael Fassbender – Next Goal Wins (Searchlight)
  • Will Ferrell – The Prince of Fashion (Amazon)
  • Colin Firth – Operation Mincemeat (Cohen Media Group)
  • Colin Firth – Supernova
  • Ben Foster – Harry Haft
  • Andrew Garfield – Instrumental
  • Andrew Garfield – The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight)
  • Tom Hanks – News of the World (Universal)
  • Max Harwood – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Searchlight)
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Father (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Daniel Kaluuya – Jesus Was My Homeboy (Warner Bros)
  • Kevin Kline – The Good House (Universal)
  • Tomasz Kot – Nikola
  • Mads Mikkelsen – Druk
  • Viggo Mortensen – Falling
  • Bill Murray – On the Rocks (A24/Apple+)
  • Gary Oldman – Mank (Netflix)
  • Dev Patel – Green Knight (A24)
  • Sean Penn – Flag Day
  • Joaquin Phoenix – C’mon C’mon (A24)
  • Jesse Plemmons – I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)
  • Tahar Rahim – Prisoner 760 (STX Entertainment)
  • Anthony Ramos – In the Heights (Warner Bros)
  • Rajkummar Rao – The White Tiger (Netflix)
  • Eddie Redmayne – The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Paramount)
  • Will Smith – King Richard (Warner Bros)
  • Stanley Tucci – Supernova
  • Mark Wahlberg – Good Joe Bell
  • Denzel Washington – Macbeth (A24)
  • John David Washington – Tenet (Warner Bros)
%d bloggers like this: