This year, the Oscar races are both longer than ever and harder to call: amid the lingering pandemic, the ceremony has been postponed to April 28 (films released until February 28 being eligible), and the usual circuit of pomp, celebration and pageantry has almost evaporated, leaving in its wake a series of buzz-free projection links.
Still, there’s at least one higher category where I feel comfortable anointing a favorite: In the crowded Best Actor race, Chadwick Boseman has the edge for his outstanding work in My Raineys Black Bottom. Offering this great opportunity to recognize the late superstar, Oscar voters are sure to be sure to grab it.
Still, don’t expect a final five that’s just filled with Boseman and four pushovers. This year, the category might be one to remember, as the familiar faces of the Oscars are vastly outnumbered by youngsters looking to win their first nomination.
What are the names most likely to break through? Here are my projections.
Riz Ahmed, sound of metal
Ahmed has done sensitive support work in films like Nightcrawler and The Sisters Brothers, but his lead role in Sound of Metal is a step beyond: as a drummer with addiction issues who cannot come to terms with his sudden hearing loss, Ahmed is just overwhelming. . A recent Gotham Award victory over Boseman suggests he had the means to earn his first Oscar nomination; lets hope voters also include her wonderful co-star Paul Raci, so touching as leader of the Ahmeds recovery group.
Kingsley Ben-Adir, one night in Miami
While this civil rights-era drama (expected Friday from Amazon) puts its four-person set of equal weight, the streaming services’ rewards game aims to position Ben-Adir (playing Malcolm X) and Eli Goree (Muhammad Ali) as the main cast, while Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke) and Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown) are expected to race in the supporting categories. It’s a risky strategy, but Ben-Adir feels like a potential best actor escape: the future Briton has an intimate take on Malcolm X that gives this icon a gratifying human feel.
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Raineys Black Background
While Bosemans’ death creates a sense of urgency to honor him, his work in this August adaptation Wilson would have earned Oscar attention no matter what: he’s just great in a daring role and brash who is a far cry from his stoic performance in Black Panther. Posthumous Oscar wins are hard to come by, but Boseman remembers Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, who achieved one of his most acclaimed performances at the end of his too short career.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Next film
With Borats’ knack for frenzied parties, a dark horse like Baron Cohen shouldn’t be counted, especially as the writer-actor debuted Borat won a Golden Globe victory and an Oscar nomination for the best suited scenario. The two are very much on the line again this time around, though the best actor momentum that Baron Cohen may have incorporated into his much more likely nomination as a supporting actor for playing Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
Tom Hanks, News of the World
A supporting actor nomination last year for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood broke a nearly two-decade Oscar drought for Hanks, whose most recent performances have often been taken for granted. If voters by default pick big names this year, Hanks will stand a good chance, but his role as a Civil War veteran in News of the World is terribly muted and is in danger of getting lost in a sea of flashy suitors.
Anthony Hopkins, the father
Things would have to turn out very badly for Hopkins to miss a nomination: As a patriarch who begins to lose his place in the world due to dementia, Hopkins becomes a late-career cornerstone. (The film is due out Feb. 26.) Roles this good don’t come very often for an 83-year-old actor, and in any other year, that sense of timing could have guaranteed Hopkins his second Oscar. But will voters overlook their one real opportunity to give this year’s award to Boseman?
Delroy Lindo, donate 5 bloods
Lindo is extremely convincing as a Vietnam War veteran in Spike Lees’ drama, and the 68-year-old, never-nominated, has been the beneficiary of a major critical surge, earning the Best Actor reviews of the New York Film Critics’ Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. As he is the only nominee on this list to come from a summer film, these continuing laurels will help keep him front and center during an Oscar season that will drag on for a few more months.
Gary Oldman, Mank
Maybe this year Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, an expensive period movie about the movie industry that earns a lot of nominations but struggles to convert them into victories? Oscar veteran Oldman certainly serves the kind of performance voters go wild for: every one of his line reads, delivered in a voice that creaks like a screen door, is filled with great choices. Yet the constituents I spoke to respect the film more than they love it.
Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
This belated drama about the assassination of Black Panther frontman Fred Hampton will reshape the supporting cast race, as Daniel Kaluuyas braved the performance while Hampton got the head fire. (The film is due Feb. 12.) What does that mean for Stanfield, the film’s lead role, who plays a treacherous FBI informant infiltrating the Hamptons inner circle? If the film goes online, the talented actor might be drawn to; While the motivations of his characters remain a bit unclear, Stanfield still delivers from scene to scene.
John David Washington, Malcolm and Marie
After landing just outside the five finalists for Best Actor in the BlacKkKlansman Oscar race, Washington may have better luck with his performance at 11 in Malcolm and Marie (February 5), a two-stroke quarantine film in which he plays an obnoxiously wealthy filmmaker who berates his girlfriend (Zendaya) for an hour and 45 minutes. It’s certainly the showiest and most talkative performance on this list, although voters may sympathize more with Zendaya as she resists her harangues.
Steven Yeun, Minari
Yeun deserved Oscar’s attention for his artful supporting performance in Burning 2018, but voters will soon have a chance to catch up. In the acclaimed Threatening (expected Feb 12), Yeun plays an immigrant father who moves his family to Arkansas to start a farm, and you feel his pride and frustration even when the scenes unfold with little dialogue. But in a group of thunderous monologists, can a performance like Yeuns break through? Even the independent-minded Gotham Awards snubbed him of a nomination, and his Oscar competition will be even tougher.
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