Sizing Up: Best Actor

Ladies and gentlemen, we come now to part 3 of the Sizing  up series. This one is as close to an all-encompassing grouping of the hopefuls for Best Actor as possible (excluding some no shot contenders). I’m looking to categorize them by their assumed likelihood of a nomination come the big morning, but clearly there’s plenty of guesswork at play here as well. For my money, this is the most competitive category outside of Best Picture and possibly Best Director. There’s a bunch of top-tier contenders that all could win, let alone get nominated, so this is a bit of a top-heavy category.

The “Wishful Thinking” Category

First of all, let me throw out a few names that have zero chances of getting nominated this year. I’m fully confident that people such as Willem Dafoe for The Hunter, Robert De Niro for Being Flynn (though Supporting Actor for a different film is another story), Clint Eastwood for Trouble with the Curve, Jake Gyllenhaal for End of Watch, Tom Hardy for Lawless, Emile Hirsch for Killer Joe (the same goes for Matthew McConaughey as well for the same flick), Sean Penn for This Must Be The Place, Josh Radnor for Liberal Arts, Andy Samberg for Celeste and Jesse Forever, and Jason Segel for Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Some of them did fine work that will be unrewarded, some underwhelmed when we finally saw their work, but all are out of the race. Moving on though, let’s go and focus on the people who might actually have a shot worth talking about, starting with, of course…the longest of the long shots.

The “Dark horse/Long shot” Category

This first grouping consists of 10 actors that I think almost certainly won’t be big contenders for the prize, but aren’t out of the race yet and deserve at least a small mention. They either have films that won’t make much headway in the race at this point, performances that won’t really appeal to enough Academy members, or just don’t have any real traction of note at this point. Some of them are/were bigger contenders than others and maybe one could wind up surprising you, but for me I’m inclined to bet against each one of them now. The men in question are as follows:

  • Christian Bale- The Dark Knight Rises
  • Paul Dano- Ruby Sparks
  • Colin Farrell- Seven Psychopaths
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt- Looper
  • Tom Holland- The Impossible
  • John Magaro- Not Fade Away
  • Mads Mikkelson- The Hunt
  • Paul Rudd- This Is 40
  • Michael Shannon- The Iceman
  • Channing Tatum- Magic Mike

I really don’t see any of them winding up with even a sniff at a nomination, but if any of them have a shot, it’s probably either Colin Farrell or Tom Holland, with Paul Rudd an interesting X factor that’s likely just wishful thinking. The only reason this trio aren’t 100% out is that their films are still evolving in the race, with the first contender possibly appealing to hip members of the Academy looking to nominate Farrell, and the second hoping to ride a wave (no pun intended) of love for the flick, and the third talented enough to be under some extra consideration if the film hits with Oscar in any real way. Consider them each 95% out or so. These aren’t the heavy hitters, even if I wish the Academy would finally recognize JGL for something (though we’re not finished with him in this series), but we’ll be getting to those very soon…

The “Second Tier” Contenders

These particular gentlemen are solidly in play for attention in the Best Actor field, but have serious questions to answer before that can happen. Some questions are in relation to their film, but others are just because of them or their performance. I think they all will wind up fading fast and more or less forgotten by the big morning, but it’s possible one of them could ride a bunch of precursor love to a surprise nomination. There’s 10 of these particular actors that would like to be considered bigger time contenders. I don’t see them as those sort of ones, but like I said, they’re not far off, to differing degrees. The ones I see in this particular light are:

  • Jack Black- Bernie
  • Jamie Foxx- Django Unchained
  • Martin Freeman- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Richard Gere- Arbitrage
  • Tom Hanks- Cloud Atlas
  • Tommy Lee Jones- Hope Springs
  • Frank Langella- Robot and Frank
  • Logan Lerman- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Liam Neeson- The Grey
  • Suraj Sharma- Life of Pi

If you forced me to make predictions I couldn’t amend (please don’t, by the way), I wouldn’t bet on any of these guys getting nods, but I think Jack Black could surprise and Richard Gere is a slowly emerging threat of sorts, though both would have long roads ahead of them for nominations. Earlier on this season I think more of them had a shot, especially Liam Neeson, but that’s just the way that the cookie crumbles sometimes during a tough Oscar season. Perhaps I’m underestimating some of these actors, and maybe someone like Jamie Foxx is set to wow us before the year is out, but perhaps not as well.  I could be wrong about Suraj Sharma not being likely since I’ve already seen ‘Life of Pi’ and don’t feel amazingly strongly about it, but I really don’t think that I am. In any event, I’d expect none of them to make it.  We certainly shall see about them all soon enough…

The “Pole Position” Contenders

These are the dozen most likely contenders for Best Actor in my little black book of Oscar prognostication. My personal Staff predictions in this specific category are contained within this grouping, along with 7 others who could easily take their place. They each have a nice amount of things going in their favor and seem to be in position for some precursor attention in the coming months, if nothing else. They’re also the stars of some of the most mentioned films so far this year, especially in my Sizing Up series, and I don’t exact that to change anytime soon. The twelve talented men that I speak so highly of? They are:

  • Ben Affleck- Argo
  • Bradley Cooper- The Silver Linings Playbook
  • Matt Damon- Promised Land
  • Daniel Day-Lewis- Lincoln
  • John Hawkes- The Sessions
  • Anthony Hopkins- Hitchcock
  • Hugh Jackman- Les Miserables
  • Bill Murray- Hyde Park on Hudson
  • Joaquin Phoenix- The Master
  • Brad Pitt- Killing Them Softly
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant- Amour
  • Denzel Washington- Flight
  • -(Philip Seymour Hoffman- The Master)-

Notice that I mentioned a 13th contender? Well, if Harvey Weinstein decides to campaign Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Best Actor category as well as/instead of Best Supporting Actor, that could change the race a bit. I’m going to assume that he stays Supporting and deal with him in that article soon, but if he goes Lead then mark him down for a likely nod. As for the other dozen guys, I don’t see any situation where Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix don’t get nominated. They’re the closest things to locks and the frontrunners to win now. Right behind them is John Hawkes, who is almost assured of a nod too, though Fox Searchlight is somewhat hedging their bets by placing Anthony Hopkins into the race as well. After that, things get interesting. I’m not nearly as confident in Hugh Jackman’s chances as many are, but I realize that he’s clearly in play and more likely to get nominated than not. Likewise, I may be higher on Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, and Anthony Hopkins than most, give or take Hopkins, but especially with Affleck I have a good feeling. Bill Murray obviously is fading fast, but he’s one of the few elder statesman of the race in this category, so that could definitely help him even if the film is the least respected of the bunch. Rounding out the top players are Brad Pitt and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both of whom are at the bottom of the pile, but still very in play. I see Pitt being a dark horse for sure, but I’m not sure Killing Them Softly will have the appeal that other players might have, especially some of the first one mentioned in this section. Trintignant is slightly overshadowed by his co-star in the film, but he’s still outstanding. All of these guys though are going to get precursor love, so it’s just a matter of which ones the Academy likes best and feels like honoring. Stay tuned to find out!

Obviously this list will whittle down a decent bit as the season changes, but for now there’s a lot to look at and consider in this assembly of actors, even if things are a little top-heavy. I think the ultimate nominees for Best Actor will come from my pole position contenders (shocking, I know), but we shall see what happens in the end and who gets their names called out on nomination morning. I concede that anything is possible and I love that that’s the case. I know I’m excited to see how the race shapes up, and I bet you all are too. It’s going to be a lot of fun to figure this category out, that’s definitely a sure thing…and one of the only sure things this year. Stay tuned for more!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!