While most of us saw this race early on as a 2001 rematch between Will Smith and Denzel Washington, Smith is the clear frontrunner here and has remained so since King Richard debuted at Telluride last September.
While it seemed a bit odd at first for Warner Bros to premiere the crowd-pleasing studio film at the fest it ended up being a very shrewd move; it vaulted Smith to the top and WB took the movie to several regional and smaller-sized festivals throughout the fall, scooping up audience awards along the way. King Richard ultimately ended up with six Oscar nominations with co-star Aunjanue Ellis joining Smith as well as that editing nomination, which helped solidify the film as a top 5 contender and lock Smith in here. That is, depending on how SAG plays out this weekend. I don’t think there’s too much debate that Smith should be able to win there but as SAG and Oscar matched up 5/5 in Best Actor this year it will be a real confirmation of where the industry is leaning when it comes to thinking it’s Smith’s “time.” If Smith were to somehow miss SAG though, I would start to get worried.
Is there a potential usurper to Smith’s pre-ordained crown? The closest would clearly be critic’s favorite Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog and the two are the only to earn all four precursors (he and Smith are the only Oscar nominees at BAFTA). Cumberbatch is in the stronger film, a Best Picture frontrunner, and these two categories often go hand in hand. Were Smith and King Richard weaker Cumberbatch would have an opening.
Precursor Watch: SAG is on February 27, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA are March 13. Oscar winner voting is March 17-22.
Here are my ranked 2022 Oscar predictions in Best Actor for February.
1. Will Smith – King Richard (Warner Bros/HBO Max) – GG, CCA, SAG, BAFTA
2. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog (Netflix) – GG, CCA, SAG, BAFTA
3. Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…BOOM! (Netflix) – GG, CCA, SAG
4. Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/Apple Original Films) – GG, CCA, SAG
5. Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos (Amazon Studios) – GG, SAG