Brendan Fraser in The Whale was the Best Actor frontrunner before the film even debuted at Venice but now, post-TIFF and the responses to his performance as well as those of some of his nearest competitors, it’s all but a done deal. I know it’s not always wise to call someone a lock before festival season is over, much less before awards start getting handed out, but the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the film, of his performance, and most assuredly his unbeatable narrative, has pushed him into a status that few this season will be able to come close to. In fact, no one will.
Looking outside of the top spot, Venice and TIFF gave us so much to chew on, with Colin Farrell (The Banshees of Insherin), Jeremy Pope (The Inspection), Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Chevalier) and Gabriel LaBelle (The Fabelmans) all make big moves up. This month also sees Cannes holdovers Park Hae-il (Decision to Leave), Harris Dickinson (Triangle of Sadness) and Paul Mescal (Aftersun) finding their chances reignited after TIFF audiences saw them. We even finally got the first look and trailer for Damien Chazelle’s Babylon during TIFF, giving newcomer Diego Calva front and center status (along with Margot Robbie) as a leading man.
On the flip side, both South Korea and Japan opting to not go with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker plummets Song Kang-ho’s shot at a first nomination significantly. Two Netflix lead actors, Daniel Giménez Cacho (Bardo) and Adam Driver (White Noise) find themselves adrift as well. The divisiveness of Bardo just might be too big a hill for Cacho to climb and for Driver, unless NYFF turns the car around, there hasn’t been a whisper for White Noise since its quiet Venice bow. Then there’s Hugh Jackman in The Son. I know I’ve been a vocal opponent of The Son, but middling reviews from Venice turned into surprisingly stinging ones at TIFF and Sony Pictures Classics might need to consider a dramatic strategy shift to Bill Nighy in Living, a performance and film that’s received far better reviews. Both The Son and Living are set for multiple regional fall fests so the tides haven’t been settled yet. Jackman would have to crumble with precursors to truly fall out.
Joining the group in a big way is Daniel Craig, reprising his role as Benoit Blanc in Glass Onion, a phenomenal audience hit at TIFF. Also, Tom Hanks? His remake of the Swedish Oscar nominee A Man Called Ove (changed to Otto here) is set for release on December 14 by Columbia Pictures but why has the studio been dead silent on it? The two-time Best Actor winner used to be an Academy fave, then it took nearly 20 years between his last two nominations and this year holds the distinction of having not one but two of the year’s most bizarre performances in Elvis and Pinocchio. And what to do with Will Smith? Kyle Buchanan of The New York Times, one of our most trustworthy and hyerbole-free pundits, recently commented that the industry is buzzing with the prospect of Apple actually dropping Antoine Fuqua’s slave drama Emancipation in the 2022 season. We already have an AFI opener and closer so would they just just release it without a festival showing and hope that the stain of last season’s Oscar slaptermath has worn off? We won’t know until we know but it would be an interesting move strategically, especially with Napoleon and Killers of the Flower Moon (still presumably) dropping in 2023.
One more thing to think about, and it’s a big one; this year seems ripe for a host of first-time nominees and we know that in the past this category definitely likes one or two first-timers, either young actors to anoint or veterans getting their first. But four out of five, as I’m predicting this month, hasn’t happened since 1984. If you have, for example, my top 5 with Jackman out and let’s say Bill Nighy in, that’s all first-timers. When was the last time that happened? 1934. When there were only three nominees and the Academy Awards were just seven years old and two years before supporting actor was even added to the regular lineup. Outside of Jackman, looking down the list (way down) the only previous nominees are Adam Driver, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Timothée Chalamet, Christian Bale, Ethan Hawke and…Tom Cruise. Make of that what you will.
Here are my 2023 Oscar predictions in Best Actor for September 2022.
Green – moves up ↑ Red – moves down ↓ Blue – new entry ♦
1. Brendan Fraser – The Whale (A24)
2. Austin Butler – Elvis (Warner Bros) ↑
3. Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures) ↑
4. Hugh Jackman – The Son (Sony Pictures Classics) ↓
5. Diego Calva – Babylon (Paramount Pictures)
6. Daniel Giménez Cacho – Bardo, or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Netflix) ↓
7. Bill Nighy – Living (Sony Pictures Classics)
8. Micheal Ward – Empire of Light (Searchlight Pictures)
9. Park Hae-il – Decision to Leave (MUBI) ↑
10. Song Kang-ho – Broker (NEON) ↓
11. Daniel Craig – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix) ♦
12. Paul Mescal – Aftersun (A24) ↑
13. Jeremy Pope – The Inspection (A24) ↑
14. Kelvin Harrison Jr. – Chevalier (Searchlight Pictures) ↑
15. Gabriel LaBelle – The Fabelmans (Universal Studios) ↑
16. Adam Driver – White Noise (Netflix) ↓
17. Will Smith – Emancipation (Apple Original Films) ↑ – 2022 or 2023?
18. Harris Dickinson – Triangle of Sadness (NEON) ↑
19. Tom Hanks – A Man Called Otto (Columbia Pictures) ♦
20. Jim Parsons – Spoiler Alert (Focus Features) ↑
Other contenders (alphabetical)
Christian Bale – The Pale Blue Eye (Netflix) ↓
Timothée Chalamet – Bones and All (MGM/UAR)
Tom Cruise – Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures)
Jalil Hall – Till (UAR/Orion)
Ethan Hawke – Raymond & Ray (Apple Original Films)
Ewan McGregor – Raymond & Ray (Apple Original Films)
Jack O’Connell – Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Netflix)
Photo: Scott Garfield