41 and 77. Those are the two numbers that Best Actor will be all about on Oscar nomination morning because they represent the number of years that stats or streaks in this category have gone undisturbed for and both of them involve one person, Peter Dinklage.
It’s been a 41-year streak that Best Actor has had a first-time nominee in this category. Pretty impressive and speaks to the acting branch’s willingness to seek out new talent or nominate someone who’s been just outside of the conversation before. It doesn’t have to be someone from a Best Picture nominee or even a pedigree that makes you say ‘Oh, of course, that guy!’ But it does usually require some precursor attention to be sure they’re on the voters’ radar.
This year is so packed with previous winners and nominees that early in the season even trying to find who could fit that bill was difficult. Even as the season started to take shape the choices were limited. Would it be Peter Dinklage in the musical Cyrano, which premiered at Telluride? What about Clifton Collins, Jr. in the quiet character drama Jockey, which was at Sundance 2020? Simon Rex in the horny af Red Rocket? Nah, way too outside for the Academy. So it was narrowed down to Dinklage and Collins, Jr.
On the surface, Collins, Jr., as a veteran who has worked with everyone and being backed by Sony Pictures Classics made a lot of sense. He would still need a strong and early critics’ backing and at least one good precursor to get there (much like Demián Bichir in 2011’s A Better Life, who landed a spot in Entertainment Weekly’s very early Oscar predictions and then hit SAG) and have a good festival run. He had some of the latter but not the former and SPC needed to do a lot more than they did for him as sometimes it felt like he was running his own campaign.
For Dinklage, that early September premiere was great and he earned Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations, he was on his way. Then the SAG snub. Then BAFTA. Worse, the film isn’t even out yet. It won’t even be out for a full two weeks after Oscar nominations. Granted, MGM/UAR has more films to juggle this season than it ever has and had to make some tough choices. They dropped Respect in August, No Time to Die in October, House of Gucci at Thanksgiving (their box office hit) and Licorice Pizza at Christmas after a monthlong limited release. Where was Cyrano to land? It ended up being pushed further into 2022 each month, all while other actors kept scooping up nominations. Javier Bardem (Being the Ricardos) at SAG. Leonardo DiCaprio at BAFTA.
The other wild bit of Oscar history is that it’s been 77 years since we’ve had two Best Actor nominees come from musicals. Oddly enough, while actresses have been nominated and won several times for musicals over the years, actors haven’t had as much luck. The last two were Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald for 1944’s Going My Way. But even that comes with a huge asterisk as Fitzgerald was nominated in both lead and supporting (winning the latter), prompting the Academy to enact a rule that would never happen again. This year, we could see it happen again, for different films, if Dinklage is nominated alongside Andrew Garfield in tick, tick…BOOM! Despite missing BAFTA, Garfield is pretty assured a nomination in a film that also stands a good shot in Best Picture. Cyrano is a contender for categories like costume design, production design and makeup & hairstyling.
Everyone who’s followed me from the beginning of AwardsWatch (and before) knows that I usually rely hard on statistics and history as the foundation of my predictions. It’s still a good starting point but over time stats and streaks are broken so it’s often just knowing or having the instinct of when they will. Through eras of different voting, different membership makeups and the ever-changing landscape of the world these changes happen. I don’t think voters, as a whole, care that much about stats and history in the same way. They’ve let multi-nominated actors go winless as often as they’ve given an overdue win, or never even nominating someone like Donald Sutherland. It will always be about passion in the moment and this year, whether there is enough passion behind a performance for a first nomination. Either way it goes, Peter Dinklage will hold a place in history no matter what happens.
Here are my final 2022 Oscar nomination predictions for Best Actor.
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. Peter Dinklage – Cyrano (MGM/UAR) – GG, CCA
6. Leonardo DiCaprio – Don’t Look Up (Netflix) – GG, BAFTA
7. Javier Bardem – Being the Ricardos (Amazon Studios) – GG, SAG
8. Mahershala Ali – Swan Song (Apple Original Films) – GG, BAFTA
9. Nicolas Cage – Pig (NEON) – CCA
10. Cooper Hoffman – Licorice Pizza (MGM/UAR) – GG