Last Update: January 7, 2020
As awards season enters the homestretch, we’re taking a look at the leading contenders for Best Actor at the 2020 Oscars. Over the past few months, this race has come into greater focus, filtering out the fringe contenders and pretenders and delivering yet another star-studded list. As per usual, Best Actor is one of the year’s stacked categories, with a number of performances deserving of taking home the award. It’ll be interesting to see who wins in 2020.
The Screen Actors Guild have unveiled their nominations, but cinephiles are still awaiting their winners. In the meantime, the Golden Globes took place this past weekend, providing some insight into how things could turn out. Without further ado, here are our predictions for the 2020 Best Actor nominees.
Of course, this list looks a tad different than the initial version published back in July 2019, when we were considering Tom Hanks for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (a leading Best Supporting Actor contender) and another Adam Driver performance for this award.
Todd Phillips‘ Joker is most definitely the most polarizing film of the 2019 awards season, but even those who have mixed feelings about the movie overall will admit Phoenix is remarkable in the lead role. The method actor went to great lengths to get into character, losing weight, driving himself crazy, and fully committing himself to the part. It’s a truly transformative and chilling turn that demonstrates Phoenix is one of the best at his craft. He’s also a three-time nominee without any wins, so he’s building an overdue narrative for himself.
Despite Joker dividing Academy members, awards voters have taken notice of Phoenix’s performance. In addition to receiving a SAG nomination, Phoenix won Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Golden Globe, which basically establishes himself as the frontrunner for the Oscar. Since 2012, every Globe winner in that category went on to secure the Academy Award, so if Phoenix loses, it would be bucking a longstanding trend. It remains to be seen if the actor’s infamously prickly relationship with awards shows will come back to bite him, but it hasn’t so far. Despite all the controversy Joker generated (warranted or not), Phoenix’s interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime seized the zeitgeist – not too unlike Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning portrayal in 2008.
As Rami Malek can tell you, one of the easiest ways to win an Oscar is to play a beloved icon in a biopic. Rocketman’s comparisons to Bohemian Rhapsody practically write themselves (even down to director Dexter Fletcher’s involvement), but the consensus was the Elton John musical was a much more interesting and better film. A lion’s share of the credit there has to be given to Egerton, who gave a transformative performance as John and even handled his own singing during production. He was definitely a highlight, but some wondered if Rocketman’s early release date (it came out in May) would be a detriment to its Oscar chances – Egerton included.
Fortunately, those fears were unfounded. Rocketman itself doesn’t look like much of a player in the Best Picture field, but Egerton should be there to represent the film. He earned a SAG nod, and won Best Actor – Musical or Comedy, beating out the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Eddie Murphy. That speaks to how beloved Egerton’s turn is, making him a serious contender. Since Joker clearly has more Best Picture heat than Rocketman, Phoenix is the favorite. But Egerton has emerged as a top rival, and if he manages to pull off an upset at SAG, then he could surge ahead.
As many people have noted, Driver is having himself a moment at the end of 2019. Reprising his career-changing role as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would be enough, but he also headlined two smaller films vying for attention on the awards circuit: Marriage Story and The Report. The latter was seen as a potential frontrunner following its Sundance premiere, but it was never able to maintain that momentum. Marriage Story, on the other hand, is a legitimate juggernaut, earning widespread praise out of Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. As great as it would be for the Academy to recognize Driver’s work as Kylo, his performance as Charlie in Marriage Story is where his best odds lay.
And it’s very deserving. Driver outdoes himself in Marriage Story, delivering a gut-wrenching and heartbreaking performance where he nails the quieter, intimate moments, goes for it in the big argument scene, and even breaks out into song. His Charlie is a complex and dynamic character, someone who audiences members can root for or against, depending on their perspective. Driver helped elevate what was already a fantastic Noah Baumbach screenplay, and he’s racked up the accolades. However, his loss at the Golden Globes hurts his Oscar odds. He needs SAG to go his way, or else he’ll have to wait for his next turn.
Snagging his elusive first Oscar back in 2015 for The Revenant, DiCaprio is back in the race for his turn in Quentin Tarantino’s ode to 1960s California. As Rick Dalton, DiCaprio is warranted the opportunity to demonstrate another side of his range, tapping into a washed-up actor’s crushing sense of mortality and failure. It’s a performance that’s extremely heartfelt and humorous, and DiCaprio earned several positive marks for his work. Though early release dates can be a detriment for films at the Oscars, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood held strong during the fall festival blitz, and at this point it’s hard to see the Academy passing this one up. Outside of World War II, there’s nothing they like more than movies about movies.
DiCaprio should be safe to land a nomination, seeing that he picked up nods at the Golden Globes (in the Musical or Comedy category) and SAG. However, he’s going to struggle to win the Oscar, since he lost the Globe to Egerton. DiCaprio no longer has the overdue narrative hanging over his head, meaning voters could feel less-inclined to vote for him this year (regardless of the strength of performance, this is always part of the Oscar process). Another strike against DiCaprio is that many consider Best Supporting Actor frontrunner Brad Pitt to be the film’s MVP. That’s not to say DiCaprio gets outshined in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – he and Pitt complement each other very well – but if either are going to win, Pitt probably has the better shot.
Initially, there was some question if Bale would run in the Best Supporting Actor category, but Fox made the unusual decision to campaign for both Bale and his co-star Matt Damon in Best Actor for James Mangold’s racing drama. Nominated in this category just a year ago for Vice, Bale once again displays his chameleon-like abilities to play Ken Miles, the fiery race car driver Carroll Shelby (Damon) recruits to drive at Les Mans. Both actors are in top form, but Bale has the showier role of the two, at times channeling the energy that made his Dicky Eklund (The Fighter) an Oscar-winning part back in 2010.
Ford v Ferrari’s Best Picture chances aren’t as strong at this point as some might have originally thought, but Bale seems to be safe for a nomination. Like many others on our list, he picked up nods from the Golden Globes and SAG, solidifying his place in the race. Bale’s certainly an Academy favorite, but he may not have the best odds of taking home his second Oscar this year. If he had surprised at the Globes, then it’d be a different story. With Bale unlikely to win at SAG, he’s a long shot.
The Safdie brothers helped redeem Robert Pattinson’s reputation as an actor a couple of years ago with Good Time, and they’re in the process of doing the same thing in 2019 for Sandler. Following a stretch of lowbrow, generic comedies, many were delighted to report Sandler is arguably at his best in Uncut Gems. This isn’t the first time Sandler’s appeared in auteur-driven fare to excellent results (Punch-Drunk Love is the go-to example), but Uncut Gems feels different in the sense there’s real Oscar buzz surrounding Sandler. And he may actually be able to crack the field.
Sandler is in the midst of a career renaissance, receiving Emmy nominations this year for hosting SNL and his Netflix comedy special, 100% Fresh. He’s having a comeback and people are rooting for him, which may be too good for Oscar voters to resist. Uncut Gems was a big winner at the NBR awards, with Sandler being named Best Actor, adding another intriguing layer to this story. Sadly, Sandler was snubbed by the Golden Globes and SAG despite all the praise he’s received, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Academy goes for him. He still has a shot, but it isn’t as strong as it was a while ago, so perhaps he’ll get to make good on his threat to deliberately make a bad movie in protest.
Like Adam Sandler, Murphy is a comedy icon having a nice bounce back year in 2019. He’s making an anticipated return to SNL as a host in December, and he’s enjoying some of his best reviews in recent memory with Dolemite is My Name. In the film, Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, who turned Hollywood on its head by making the Dolemite character an icon of 1970s Blaxploitaion cinema. Murphy is obviously a gifted performer and has one Oscar nomination under his belt for his turn in Dreamgirls. The Academy is a fan when Murphy works magic with the right material, and there’ll likely be excitement to get him a second nomination.
Murphy picked up a key nomination in the Best Actor – Musical or Comedy category at the Golden Globes, and Dolemite Is My Name has been recognized as one of the year’s best by NBR and AFI. That means there’s a lot of support for this film and people are making sure to catch up on it during awards season. However, Murphy was a notable SAG snub (as was everyone in the Dolemite Is My Name cast), so he’s still looking at a bit of an uphill climb to get back to Oscar Sunday. No doubt, Murphy’s fans are hoping the Academy has a surprise up their sleeves, but the Globes loss does hurt.
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