Best Actor is a race that started in January of 2020, even before the Oscars announced Joaquin Phoenix as the current winner. The Father premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and the raves for Anthony Hopkins performance as a man slowly succumbing to dementia earned career best raves. Career best, of a 60-year career. He became one of those early locks and not an ‘on paper’ one, one that had been seen and heralded out of the gate.
This was, essentially, pre-pandemic, and that Sundance would be the first and last fully in person film festival in the U.S. for that year and essentially change the awards race and turn it upside down. It took the race in a new direction, where online visibility became key. After a quiet spring and the fate of theaters up in the air, summer came in with Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods and with it a new, emerging contender in Delroy Lindo. But Netflix had yet to settle on how the category placement was going to break down. Could Lindo go supporting? During this time, the streamer had a stealth contender waiting in the wings among its huge slate that would eventually be revealed.
We knew that Mank was coming and that penciling in a spot for Gary Oldman was probably a no-brainer (it was). But they had Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. The buzz from the few that had seen the film just before Boseman passed away in August of last year was very strong, game-changing strong. But like Da 5 Bloods, we didn’t know where he’d fall – lead or supporting. That’s on top of Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah, who most had in lead and supporting, respectively, at this time. We all know how that turned out. Same with Steven Yeun in A24’s Minari. It wasn’t until late October that both Netflix and A24 both committed to Boseman and Yeun going lead. It took even longer for Netflix to officially announce that all of the guys in The Trial of the Chicago 7 would be campaigned in supporting. Still, that opened an unexpected door for Boseman not just for Ma Rainey, but for Da 5 Bloods. After earning a critics win from NYFCC and even a SAG nomination, he became a contender there as well, albeit for a short while. Even Lindo faded quickly, failing to earn Globe or SAG nominations.
After Cannes was canceled, Venice charged on and the fall festivals in North America did their best with largely virtual versions. The dust finally began to settle on category placement and the race was on. Even Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) entered and Oldman secured the place that felt mostly guaranteed, this has truly only been between Hopkins and Boseman and it might be closer than you think.
While Boseman was able to posthumously collect wins from Critics Choice, SAG and the Golden Globes, he fell just a bit short of a full sweep when Hopkins came in and swooped up the BAFTA. I know it’s probably easy to say that a win for Hopkins there wasn’t difficult as he was on his home turf. This was also where Olivia Colman turned the tables on Glenn Close just two years ago. If you pay attention to the Oscar ballots that various outlets have selectively dropped you’d begin to think that Hopkins could indeed upset here. There’s also a reasonably valid theory that voters might think Boseman is easily going to win this so voting for Hopkins won’t change the outcome. But, if enough people think that way that’s how shocking things happen – like the Best Director race of 2012.
There’s another theory at play, albeit probably a lesser likely one, and that’s that when all of the attention is focused on just two players in a race that opens the door for a third to truly upset. I think about the 2002 Best Actor race that was a back and forth between two Oscar powerhouses: Jack Nicholson, won the Globe and Daniel Day-Lewis, who won SAG, BAFTA and tied with Nicholson at Critics Choice. No one saw Adrien Brody coming because the attention that season had been too myopic. Heavily on Brody’s side, The Pianist also found itself the upset winner in Best Director as well as the Adapted Screenplay winner. It also won the BAFTA for Best Film and that can’t be discounted as a part of the groundswell brewing for Brody.
The only person other than Hopkins and Boseman to hit all four precursors this year is Riz Ahmed. While Sound of Metal isn’t nominated for Best Director (it is in screenplay and is widely predicted to win in sound and film editing), is there an outside shot for him because we’ve only been paying attention to the perceived top 2? Or could it be Steven Yeun, whose film is nominated for Best Director that truly surprises?
The 93rd Oscars will be held on April 25 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and the Union Station in Los Angeles.
Here are my ranked final Oscar predictions in Best Actor.
- Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) – BAFTA, BFCA, GG, SAG
- Anthony Hopkins in The Father (Sony Pictures Classics) – BAFTA, BFCA, GG, SAG
- Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios) – BAFTA, BFCA, GG, SAG
- Steven Yeun in Minari (A24) – BFCA, SAG
- Gary Oldman in Mank (Netflix) – BFCA, GG, SAG