41 years. That’s how long it’s been since the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards was comprised entirely of previous winners or nominees. In fact, in 93 years it’s only ever happened three times (1975 and 1979 were the others) so even if you’re not a huge stat person (and stats do fall nearly every year) it seems hard to go against it even in a year overflowing with winners like Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joaquin Phoenix and Nicolas Cage and nominees Will Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch and Bradley Cooper. So how does one break through that to land a first nomination?
As it turns out, it’s a slim year for first-timers, and while we could see that four-decade old stat fall, there are a few actors who are poised to keep it in place.
Clifton Collins, Jr. has been one of the most prolific character actors working with over 125 film and television credits since he started in 1990. Digging his way up from glorified extra roles to episodic television parts on the likes of ER and NYPD Blue, he was often cast as thugs and gangsters before breaking out of that typecasting in feature films like 2000’s Oscar-winning Traffic (which earned him a SAG ensemble award), 2005’s Oscar-winning Capote, where he played Perry King, an Emmy nomination for 2006’s Thief and the lauded TV series Southland where he found himself on the other side of the law playing Detective Ray Suarez. It’s only been up from there (TV’s Ballers, Veronica Mars, Westworld) but earlier this year came his biggest starring role to date, Jockey. Premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Jockey earned Collins the U.S. Jury Prize for Acting and vaulted him into a new era with the definitive performance of his 30-year career.
Everyone knows Peter Dinklage best as Tyrion Lannister from HBO’s blockbuster TV series Game of Thrones, which won the actor a record-setting four Emmy wins as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. While his television work on that landmark show may overshadow his fantastic film work, Dinklage has been feature film staple for over 25 years. Whether it’s his first feature, 1995’s Living in Oblivion (already blowing the doors off what actors of his size could do or even be cast to do), his SAG-nominated performance in 2003’s The Station Agent or his wickedly funny gangster in 2020’s I Care A Lot, Dinklage is ready to leave TV behind for a bit and focus on his film work. That begins with his work in Cyrano, a musical adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, based on the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand. Dinklage played this role for the stage in 2018 but explodes on the screen with a heart-rendering performance and rich live vocals. Dinklage was feted with a Tribute Award at this year’s Telluride Film Festival earlier this month where Cyrano world premiered.
Can one (or both) of these actors break into this deep bench of previous Oscar winners and nominees or have they been there all along?
Here are my ranked 2022 Best Actor Oscar predictions for September 2021.
Green – moves up ↑ Red – moves down ↓ Blue – new/re-entry ♦ Black – no movement ↔
1. Will Smith – King Richard (Warner Bros/HBO Max) ↑
2. Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/Apple) ↓
3. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog (Netflix) ↔
4. Bradley Cooper – Nightmare Alley (Searchlight Pictures) ↔
5. Peter Dinklage – Cyrano (MGM/UA) ↑
6. Joaquin Phoenix – C’mon C’mon (A24) ↓
7. Clifton Collins, Jr. – Jockey (Sony Pictures Classics) ↔
8. Leonardo DiCaprio – Don’t Look Up (Netflix) ↔
9. Nicolas Cage – Pig (NEON) ↑
10. Adam Driver – House of Gucci (MGM/UA) ↓
Other contenders: Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos (Amazon Studios), Antonio Banderas – Official Competition (Sony Pictures Classics), Timothée Chalamet – Dune ↓ (Warner Bros/HBO Max), Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…BOOM! (Netflix) Jude Hill – Belfast (Focus Features), Cooper Hoffman – Licorice Pizza (MGM/UA), Amir Jadidi – A Hero (Amazon Studios), Caleb Landry Jones – Nitram (TBA), Jonathan Majors – The Harder They Fall (Netflix)
Lead or Supporting? Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos (Amazon Studios), Jamie Dornan – Belfast (Focus Features)
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics; Peter Mountain/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures