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2020 Oscar Circuit: Lead Actor

leading actor

Oscar Predictions: Welcome to our annual “Oscar Circuit” series – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the nominees are:

  • Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (Sony Pictures)
  • Adam Driver, “Marriage Story” (Netflix)
  • Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” (Warner Bros)
  • Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes” (Netflix)


Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo

antonio banderas

Nominated For: “Pain and Glory” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Oscar Scene: Staring longingly at his ex-lover as he departs after reuniting

Re-teaming with Pedro Almodóvar for “Pain and Glory,” a character study of personal significance to the Spanish auteur, Antonio Banderas becomes one of a small group of actors nominated for a foreign language performance. For someone in the business this long, it’s about time Banderas was recognized by peers of his he’s repeatedly been passed over for. The performance works on an insular level, expressed with subtle delicacy rather than broad strokes of emotion. Banderas plays a director forced to replay his childhood when one of his old movies is selected for a film festival retrospective.

Despite the ailments that come with old age, what really chokes the life-force out of Banderas’ Salvador is the fear of what ghosts of lovers’ past can return with this re-release. The biggest challenge is authentically portraying a gay man past his prime without appearing like it’s chiefly being done for “transformation” awards baiting. Entrusting Banderas to play an autobiographical version of himself, the Oscar-winning director recognizes that no other actor knows him better than the one who has been with him since the beginning. This is a role sewn tight and humanely by a compassionate artist who adores his inspiration. It might have been a hurdle to make it into this race, but no one who watched this foreign language contender would argue its meritorious inclusion.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton

rick dalton

Nominated For: “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” (Sony Pictures)
Oscar Scene: “I’m a ‘Has-Been'”

The last financially viable movie star left in the world shows he still has more in his acting repertoire post-Oscar win. In Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays a frustrated has-been television star with “serious actor” aspirations. Unable to escape either his typecasting as a cowboy Gunslinger or his insecurities playing a leading man, DiCaprio derives humor from these satirical misfortunes. Next to “The Wolf of Wall Street,” DiCaprio has never put his funny side to better use, especially when it comes to scene improvisation. Had the revered actor somehow lost the Academy Award for “The Revenant,” he’d be a slam-dunk frontrunner this year. As it stands, DiCaprio’s dark comedic brilliance reiterates just how multifaceted his onscreen talents are.

Adam Driver as Charlie Barber

adam driver marriage story

Nominated For: “Marriage Story” (Netflix)
Oscar Scene: Reading his wife’s marriage counseling letter

Steering his way towards the podium based on early projections, Adam Driver’s frontrunner status came to a halt once Todd Phillips’ “Joker” released. All the attention turned towards Joaquin Phoenix’s ferocious version of the iconic pop culture villain. While viewers broke down watching Adam’s Charlie read a letter detailing his wife’s (Scarlett Johansson) true feelings towards him, it wasn’t enough to re-position the rising star back in the driver’s seat. With fragile emoting and impressive singing in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” Adam Driver continues to cement himself as one of the most reliable actors around. He will certainly garner an Oscar soon, but playing a character who is possibly even more unlikable — by irrational moviegoer standards — than Joker hurts his final standing.

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker


Nominated For: “Joker” (Warner Bros)
Oscar Scene: Therapist meeting confessing his inner change

If the “Best Actor” category is a circus, then Joaquin Phoenix is their ringleader. As Arthur Fleck, Phoenix pours embroiled rage and despair into a man pushed to metamorphic brutality. As a former Oscar-winning performance, the pressure was on for Phoenix to deliver something drastically different from Heath Ledger’s renowned rendering of Batman’s maniacal nemesis. To no one’s surprise, Phoenix made the infamous role his own, originating Joker’s rise as a mental breakdown from societal abandonment while playing unreliable narrator. Under the makeup is a frail, troubled soul with a debilitating condition requiring chronic medication. The debate might rage forever whether viewers are meant to empathize with Joker’s actions or not, but Phoenix’s complex portrayal ensures the only united certainty is Oscar.

Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis/Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

jonathan pryce two popes

Nominated For: “The Two Popes” (Netflix)
Oscar Scene: Reliving Bergoglio’s controversial past through admission

It quells stormy injustice to finally see Jonathan Pryce with an Oscar nomination after decades of profound work. Normally regarded for his pronounced villainy, Pryce performs a morality reversal with his benevolent yet guilt-ridden Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes.” The future Pope Francis makes the perfect leader: reluctant for power and is hard on himself for not doing more for the lives of others in his troubled past.

The softness Pryce exudes is a rarity among the papacy, as his liberal leanings aren’t done out of contrarian conviction but genuine understanding that the world is changing for the better. In this sense, Pryce positions Bergoglio as a man closer to God than any previous Pope, one whose faith evolves because of the encouraging will behind human adversity. Pryce’s Argentinian accent work is flawless and culturally considerate, and the only thing holding back an Anthony McCarten script from deriving a third “Best Actor” nominee in a row is the film’s absence in the “Best Picture” lineup.

WILL WIN: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”

POTENTIAL SHOCKER: Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”

SHOULD WIN: Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”


Will anyone triumph over frontrunner Joaquin Phoenix, or else someone else has the last laugh? Let us know in the comments below!

What do you think?

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Written by Joseph Braverman

My name is Joseph Braverman. I am 31 years old and a graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. I love watching and analyzing films and television shows. I live in Los Angeles, CA, enmeshing myself in the movie industry scene in any way possible. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @JBAwardsCircuit.


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I mean, yeah it’s Phoenix. Good call on George Mackay as the should’ve been. I would argue that Driver is the potential shocker just because of the year he’s had + just nominated last year + this year for a Best Picture nominee, not like it will matter though.


I just want to point out that Pryce’s dialogues in Spanish are dubbed. He did learn how to say his lines in Spanish and delivereed that way, but he was dubbed anyway. He is still great in the role, nevertheless.


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