Last Updated: December 26, 2018
Oscar season is in full force, so it’s time to take a look at who the leading candidates are for one of the top categories: Best Actor. While there are still a handful of titles waiting to premiere (such as Clint Eastwood’s crime drama The Mule), most of the expected contenders have already had their theatrical runs or screened for critics. As such, the awards race has started to come into clearer focus over the past few months. Of course, there’s still plenty of time for things to sort out before the Academy Awards ceremony in February 2019, but cinephiles have a better idea how things could play out, making it somewhat easy to make predictions.
Best Actor is typically a blood bath, and this year is no exception. Currently, there’s no “Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour” type of performance that’s the clear frontrunner, leaving things wide open as numerous actors jockey for position. The star power on display in the category is truly impressive, and it will be very exciting to see how things play out as the season goes along. With the race starting to heat up, here’s our updated Best Actor predictions.
Related: Screen Rant’s Best Supporting Actor 2019 Predictions
Christian Bale – Vice
Bale already won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Dicky Eklund in David O. Russell’s The Fighter, and now he could be in line for his first Best Actor win for Adam McKay’s Vice. In the upcoming dark comedy, Bale plays former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, and in just the trailer alone, he’s deserving of a nomination. As has become typical for Bale, he completely threw himself into his craft, pulling off yet another incredible physical transformation. His Cheney is eerily authentic, nailing the politician’s appearance and mannerisms. Even those who know it’s Bale in makeup do double-takes at the footage.
Based on the reviews, Vice is shaping up to be one of the more polarizing players on the awards circuit this season, but it looks like everyone can agree the performances are top-notch. Following the snub by the National Board of Review (which was likely a byproduct of Vice screening so late), Bale has emerged as a definite frontrunner. He’s earned nominations from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, and Critics’ Choice Awards, easily putting him in line to get some more Oscar love. Unless Vice’s divisiveness torpedoes the movie’s Academy chances in the next few weeks, Bale will be in contention and hard to beat. This is the kind of performance voters love to gravitate towards, so right now he’s the closest thing to a frontrunner.
Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born
Cooper’s remake of the classic musical drama is one of the darlings of awards season so far, earning widespread critical praise and $191.7 million at the domestic box office. The leading Best Picture contender found tremendous success with NBR, winning Best Director (Cooper), Best Actress (Lady Gaga) and Best Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott) and earning a spot on the 10 best list. A Star is Born actually tied the record for most wins in NBR history, matching the cumulative total (four) by Best Picture nominees Up in the Air and The Social Network. This is just the beginning for Star, which is expected to do very well as awards season continues.
Related: A Star is Born’s Ending is Bad (And Always Has Been)
Cooper was nominated for acting in three consecutive years earlier this decade, and it’s all but a guarantee he’ll net his fourth for Star. His turn as Jackson Maine ranks among the finest work of his career, as he was able to make the character sympathetic and charming while simultaneously diving into Jack’s self-destructive tendencies. Impressively, Cooper even did his own singing for the movie’s standout musical set pieces – the result of an 18-month training period. Awards voters took notice, as Cooper was recognized by the Golden Globes, SAG, and Critics’ Choice. One thing working against Cooper, however, is that it’s incredibly rare for a filmmaker to direct themselves to a Best Actor win. It’s only happened twice in history, most recently for Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful. So, Cooper will need to be a major outlier and buck some trends.
Viggo Mortensen – Green Book
In Peter Farrelly’s real-life dramedy, Mortensen plays Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer who takes a job driving African-American classical pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) through the deep South for a musical tour in the 1960s. Green Book became one of the year’s biggest Oscar surprises when it took home the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, basically guaranteeing it a Best Picture nomination. Some critics have taken issue with Green Book’s conventional handling of its subject matter and themes, but the general consensus is that it’s an entertaining, feel-good story for older moviegoers. It even won the NBR’s Best Film prize.
Mortensen was also a winner at NBR, securing the Best Actor award. Indeed, the performances by Mortensen and Ali are a primary reason why Green Book works as well as it does. A larger than life character, Tony Lip easily could have amounted to nothing more than just a walking stereotype, but Mortensen lends his natural skill and gravitas to the role. Balancing the comedic and dramatic aspects of the film with grace, the two-time Oscar nominee never loses sight of Tony Lip’s underlying heart and humanity, making him a fun and interesting individual to be around. Since his victory at NBR, Mortensen has also received nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG, and Critics’ Choice, making it quite apparent he’ll hear his name on Oscar nomination morning.
John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman
Denzel Washington is a frequent Spike Lee collaborator, and now the auteur is making films with Denzel’s son. In BlacKkKlansman, the younger Washington plays Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer who successfully infiltrates a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Lee’s film was praised for its deft handle of its tricky subject matter and tone, as it found both the horror and the humor of Stallworth’s situation (BlacKkKlansman is based on a true story). Washington was at the center of that, delivering a magnificent lead performance and proved he definitely has a bright future ahead of him.
Related: BlacKkKlansman’s Ending And What It Really Means
Premiering at Cannes all the way back in May, there were some concerns that BlacKkKlansman might have peaked too early and would be forgotten by the time awards season revved up. That hasn’t been the case at all, and now it looks like the film will be a major player in categories like Best Picture and Best Director. Washington might even be able to follow his famous father’s footsteps and become an Oscar contender himself. He’s earned nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG, and Critics’ Choice, checking off all the big boxes in regards to the precursors. As for winning, Washington has some big names to hurdle right now (the Academy may feel it isn’t “his time” yet), but he certainly deserves the nod.
Ethan Hawke – First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s drama premiered in U.S. theaters as a counter-programming option this summer, but definitely stayed in the minds of awards voters. The film follows Toller (Hawke), a New York minister dealing with questions about faith and morality as he works at a church. First Reformed recently got a much-needed boost when it was named one of the National Board of Review’s 10 best films of the year. Schrader (scribe of classics like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) has already earned multiple accolades for his original screenplay, which impressively deals with complex subject matter. He isn’t the only one from First Reformed walking away with hardware, as Hawke is picking up key notices.
Very early in awards season, Hawke announced himself as an Oscar contender by picking up wins at the Gotham Awards and New York Film Critics Circle. Since that time, however, he’s been very hit or miss. Hawke earned a Critics’ Choice Awards nomination for Best Actor, but was snubbed by both the Golden Globes and (more importantly) SAG. This puts him at a disadvantage when compared to the rest of the competition. While there isn’t always perfect correlation between the Oscars’ selections and SAG, it is essentially impossible for someone to win the Oscar after being snubbed by the guild. In fact, it’s never happened since SAG’s inception in 1994. Hawke may still be able to claw his way to an Academy nomination since voters like him (his work in Training Day and Boyhood), but he isn’t taking home the award this year.
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