FINAL 2023 Oscar Predictions: BEST ACTOR
A comeback narrative vs the biopic of an icon has been the foundation of the Best Actor race for most of the season in a category that broke with over 85 years of Oscar history with a lineup of entirely first-time nominees.
90s megastar Brendan Fraser largely left the limelight in the mid-2000s after PTSD from his sexual assault by then HFPA president Philip Berk in 2003 and multiple injuries on set that often put him out of commission. He came back in a big way this year with Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, as a 600-lb. recluse trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter one last time. The film was met with mixed reactions, largely positive from critics, with conversations swirling about ‘fat suits’ and the negative impact on telling a story where obesity was a death sentence and how the film presents Fraser’s character’s struggle. Fraser lost the Globe, as most expected (he publicly refused to attend the show or accept the award if he won) but bounced back with Critics’ Choice and the SAG award right at Oscar voting was about to kick off.
But Fraser is missing a key component to lock down the Oscar: a Best Picture nomination. For myself, I had Fraser winning and The Whale in Best Picture since last May on a contingency; since the expansion of the Best Picture lineup in 2009 there has only been one Best Actor winner to come from a non-Best Picture nominee – Jeff Bridges in 2009’s Crazy Heart. You can certainly make the argument that both Bridges and Fraser were/are veterans at the time of their nominations but Bridges had already secured four previous Oscar nominations before his win here. His main competition that year was from Colin Firth in A Single Man, the only nomination from his film (who bested Bridges at BAFTA). For Bridges, his film won another Oscar (Original Song) and received a surprise Supporting Actress nomination for Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The Whale seemed primed for a Best Picture nomination after its surprise nod with the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and decent showing at BAFTA. Although Hong Chau landed a Supporting Actress nomination (less of a surprise than Gyllenhaal), missing Best Picture (and, to a lesser extent, Adapted Screenplay) and as charming as he’s been on the circuit and no matter how many festival accolades he takes, this makes Fraser’s climb much, much harder. Since 2009 we’ve looked at many years with ‘is he the one to break the no BP streak?’ yet it continues to hold. Look no further than Chadwick Boseman two years ago.
As the only performer in this category that’s playing a real-life person, Austin Butler in Elvis finds himself in a very good position (he’s also most likely to be the only acting winner to portray a real person). Not only does he have the Golden Globe (for Drama) in hand but the BAFTA too. His film is obviously more loved by the Academy than The Whale and is likely going to win elsewhere. Like Fraser, it’s a physically transformative performance as well and say what you want about Butler seemingly not dropping his Elvis voice, it’s not something that’s hurt him on the circuit at all. He’s also charmed, showed up everywhere and been in the race since the film came out last summer. I can’t say how or if the recent sudden death of Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley (just days after she was at the Globes with Butler) will offer much in the way of sympathetic impact but I’m not sure it will (again, see Chadwick Boseman two years ago). Working against him is that, unlike Fraser and Colin Firth in The Banshees of Inisherin, Butler collected just two critics’ wins along the way among dozens spread out between Fraser and Farrell with a scant number between fellow nominees Bill Nighy (Living) and Paul Mescal (Aftersun). Butler’s closest comparison is exactly who you think its, Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody.
They key to who wins could come early in the night with the Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar. Both Elvis and The Whale are nominated there and this has become an increasingly connected category to lead acting winners. Marion Cotillard (2007), Meryl Streep (2011), Matthew McConaughey (2013), Gary Oldman (2017) and last year’s Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain all benefited from playing real life people and having makeup as a part of their transformations, adding another win to their films. At the Makeup and Hairstyling guild (MUAH), Elvis won Period Hair and Period Makeup while The Whale won Special Makeup Effects. That favors Elvis here as no film that has only won Special Makeup Effects has turned that into an Oscar win, yet.
After an absolutely chaotic period between 2000 and 2003, things started to even out and largely align between SAG and BAFTA with no less than 13 years of agreement between the two and the Academy. All things equal, with no eligibility issues or missing nominations, we have two examples of the Academy going for the SAG winner over BAFTA (the aforementioned Bridges plus Sean Penn in Best Picture nominee Milk on his way to a second win over Mickey Rourke’s comeback narrative in non-BP nominee The Wrestler, from Aronofsky) and just one going for the BAFTA winner (Anthony Hopkins in Best Picture nominee The Father over Boseman in non-BP nominee Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).
But, regardless of these splits it always comes back to the Best Picture connection. Even in those wild first four years, three winners still came from a Best Picture nominee or winner. Only Forest Whitaker (2006’s The Last King of Scotland) was able to completely defy everything and be the sole nominee from his film. But he swept that year, hard. Critics, precursors, everything; he was undeniable. No performer has that this year, not even slightly.
Here are my final 2023 Oscar winner predictions for Best Actor.
|1. Austin Butler – Elvis (Warner Bros) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|2. Brendan Fraser – The Whale (A24) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|3. Colin Farrell – The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|4. Bill Nighy – Living (Sony Pictures Classics) – BAFTA, CCA, GG, SAG|
|5. Paul Mescal – Aftersun (A24) – BAFTA, CCA|