It has generally been
challenging to celebrate men in Hollywood this year. Nevertheless, some lucky gent will pick up a Best Actor trophy at the Academy Awards.
By our count, 19 guys have a chance of landing one of the five available slots when the nominations are announced on Jan. 23. A few others, like James McAvoy (“Split”), Jeremy Renner (“Wind River”) and the late Harry Dean Stanton (“Lucky”), are hovering just outside the upper tier of this contest, proving it’s been a varied year for Hollywood’s leading lads on-screen.
Here are the semi-finalists, ranked according to how likely it is ― right now, before most of the precursor accolades have been revealed ― that they’ll cinch a nomination.
Mark Wahlberg, "All the Money in the World" As noted in last week's Best Actress rundown
of Kevin Spacey in "All the Money in the World" could give this Ridley Scott movie a little extra oomph, assuming those reshoots don't deter its Dec. 22 release date. Mark Wahlberg plays a former CIA operative negotiating the release of kidnapped aristocrat John Paul Getty III. The extent of his role is yet to be seen, but latecomers have been known to upend the Oscar course before (see: "Million Dollar Baby").
More Chadwick Boseman, "Marshall"
Another biopic, another distant position in the Best Actor race. Chadwick Boseman's name has appeared on early prognostications before, first for playing Jackie Robinson in "42" and later for boogying down as James Brown in "Get on Up." This time, he
to play Thurgood Marshall defending a black chauffeur falsely accused of raping a white socialite. Open Road Films, which recently marched "Spotlight" toward a Best Picture victory, hasn't updated its for-your-consideration website since last year's Oscar contest, which implies the distributor doesn't have much mojo in its awards casket this time around. "Marshall" isn't a phenomenal movie, but Boseman deserves higher placement in this ranking.
More Matt Damon, "Downsizing"
This is not Matt Damon's year. He didn't walk away from the
Harvey Weinstein fallout
looking great, and the dreadful "Suburbicon" fizzled around the same time. "Downsizing" could have been his redemption card. Paramount primed Alexander Payne's overpopulation parable to be its signature awards bid, giving the movie an Oscar-friendly Christmas release. Unfortunately, it's a dull mess that fails to live up to its premise on almost every level. Payne's actors have always had luck with the academy -- think Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates ("About Schmidt"), Virginia Madsen and Thomas Hayden Church ("Sideways"), George Clooney ("The Descendants"), Bruce Dern and June Squibb ("Nebraska") -- but the studio will need to hatch a creative campaign if it hopes to outpace the stronger contenders in this field.
More Jamie Bell, "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool"
Imagine stealing a scene from Annette Bening. Few people have managed that feat, and Jamie Bell is one of them. He plays young actor Peter Turner, who romanced Old Hollywood luminary Gloria Grahame in the final years of her life. The movie's distributor, Sony Pictures Classic, is staking most of its awards energy on "Call Me By Your Name," so the question here is whether enough voters will pay attention to "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" to boost Bell's profile.
More Story Continues Steve Carell, "Battle of the Sexes"
Steve Carell could have been a twofold contender, were "Last Flag Flying" not DOA. His unremarkable stint as tennis champ Bobby Riggs will keep him alive, though. Fox Searchlight sent "Battle of the Sexes" screeners to awards groups this week, re-upping a pleasant movie that should have found more commercial success. Without any "Foxcatcher"-style prosthetics, a Golden Globe nomination is Carell's surest bet.
UPDATE: Carell will instead compete for Best Supporting Actor. More Kumail Nanjiani, "The Big Sick"
That we had cause to be surprised by the healthy box office that accompanied "The Big Sick" is disheartening. That the film made a leading man out of Kumail Nanjiani is not. It has a primo shot at a screenplay nod for Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon -- that's where comedies shine brightest at the Oscars. Nanjiani's performance isn't actorly enough to strike the academy's fancy, but the Golden Globes' comedy category will probably work in his favor. The "Silicon Valley" star has won a lot of points thanks to his good-guy charm, quippy Twitter presence and bright "Saturday Night Live" debut.
More Adam Sandler, "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)"
Yes, you read that correctly: Adam Sandler is in the running for an Oscar nomination. Technically, he's been here before: The funnyman finagled a Golden Globe nod for "Punch-Drunk Love" in 2003. Sandler, who to this day remains a veritable movie star, is even better in "The Meyerowitz Stories," playing a onetime musical prodigy whose neuroses redouble as his father nears the end of his life. Netflix's original titles haven't fared well in the acting categories, but maybe this will be the year the streaming service enters the big leagues.
More Hugh Jackman, "The Greatest Showman"
"The Greatest Showman" hasn't screened for press yet, but trailers indicate it will be a doozy. Fox is also desperately pushing "Logan," but performers can only receive one nomination per category. Assuming that months-old superhero joint doesn't attract some strange 11th-hour resurgence, Jackman's circus-musical extravaganza, in which he portrays P.T. Barnum, will have to do the heavy lifting. Because of their lavish production design, musicals are catnip for the academy -- even "Nine" managed four nominations.
More Robert Pattinson, "Good Time"
"Good Time" is small in scale and gritty in style, which doesn't scream Oscar. It's the type of film made for the Independent Spirit Awards. Trendy distributor A24 is throwing more weight behind "Lady Bird" and "The Florida Project," rendering this low-budget thrill ride a better fit for the Gotham Awards, which inaugurate the season each year. If nothing else, the movie proved Robert Pattinson is an underrated master. Expect to see his work in this movie appear on plenty of year-end lists.
More Christian Bale, "Hostiles"
Most recent headlines about Christian Bale relate to his forthcoming role as Dick Cheney, for which he gained weight and shaved his head. "Hostiles" isn't attracting the same attention, but Bale has been tossed into Best Actor conversations for his turn as a racist calvary officer in 1892. Known for being a shape-shifting Method dude, Bale has a sort of perpetual serendipity that has already netted him three nods, all for movies in which his physical stature was key ("The Fighter," "American Hustle," "The Big Short").
More Andrew Garfield, "Breathe"
In "Breathe," Andrew Garfield displays two of the Oscars' favorite traits: a physical ailment (polio) and a real-life inspiration (he plays British medical pioneer Robin Cavendish). That pairing worked for Eddie Redmayne in "The Theory of Everything," Colin Firth in "The King's Speech" and Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot," to name a few. But all of those movies garnered far more commercial recognition than "Breathe," a cloying glob of sap that's probably too safe even for the academy's taste.
More Daniel Kaluuya, "Get Out"
When "Get Out" became a sleeper sensation, the early Oscar chatter that followed seemed like something of a pipe dream. Universal Pictures has held onto those dreams, hosting campaign events and keeping director Jordan Peele's name in the mix while 2017 wanes. As a result, the excellent Daniel Kaluuya, who is gearing up for February's "Black Panther," might break through, especially if the academy is eager to avoid another #OscarsSoWhite scandal.
More Jake Gyllenhaal, "Stronger"
Jake Gyllenhaal's one piddly Oscar nomination needs company. The academy has repeatedly ignored his best work -- "Zodiac," "Prisoners," "Nightcrawler" -- leaving his "Brokeback Mountain" nod to fend for itself. Maybe "Stronger" will be Gyllenhaal's ticket. Like Andrew Garfield, he can claim the awards-friendly double whammy of playing a real-life person with a physical ailment. Unlike Garfield, his was a good movie.
More Denzel Washington, "Roman J. Israel, Esq."
Denzel Washington has two wins and five additional nominations to his name, making him one of the Oscars' most reliable fixtures. Playing a crusading lawyer with compulsive tics, Washington's performance in the uneven "Roman J. Israel, Esq." is more mannered than most of his previous work. It's unlike anything the actor has done, which isn't entirely a compliment. But given Washington's track record, this actorly bout could provide his eighth nomination.
More James Franco, "The Disaster Artist"
James Franco never really went anywhere, but the one-two heft of "The Deuce" and "The Disaster Artist" lends him a decent comeback narrative nonetheless. He's especially great in the latter, uncannily playing
, who helmed the proverbial worst-film-ever-made, "The Room." Franco is electric in the role, a bravura sendup that typical biopic performances don't often nail. The academy loves movies about movies, and "Artist" has an accessibility that should appeal to mainstream audiences when it opens next month.
More Tom Hanks, "The Post"
It's high time the academy atones for disregarding Tom Hanks' performance in "Captain Phillips," some of the best work of his career. Steven Spielberg's "The Post" hasn't screened for press yet, but the movie's first trailer, which premiered this week, doubled down on its well-established buzz. One of only two guys to score consecutive Best Actor trophies, Hanks plays tough-guy Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who famously published government documents exposing the country's shady Vietnam War strategies. At a moment when journalism seems more precarious than ever, "The Post" could strike a potent chord.
More Timothée Chalamet, "Call Me By Your Name"
Timothée Chalamet was christened a star the moment the lights came up at Sundance's "Call Me By Your Name" premiere in January. Fresh-faced and confident, the trim 21-year-old, whose credits include "Interstellar" and "Homeland," gives a performance so layered and unpredictable that it's hard to think of a more auspicious breakthrough. Chalamet had the tall task of externalizing the first-person monologue from André Aciman's celebrated novel, making him a surrogate for the audience. Chalamet may be a hair too young to go all the way in this category, but the fervor surrounding this universally beloved gay romance won't fade anytime soon. For good measure, supporting turns in "Lady Bird" and next month's "Hostiles" don't hurt his case.
More Daniel Day-Lewis, "Phantom Thread"
Has Daniel Day-Lewis ever made a movie without securing some degree of Oscar buzz? "Phantom Thread" hasn't screened yet, but he's already a force in this derby -- especially because it will supposedly
mark his retirement
. Day-Lewis reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson -- who directed him in "There Will Be Blood," one of Day-Lewis' three winning roles -- to play an English dressmaker in the 1950s. The academy might opt to bid this esteemed Method actor a golden farewell.
More Gary Oldman, "Darkest Hour"
On paper, "Darkest Hour" is another staid period piece about wartime politics. In reality, it's an electric detonator, more invigorating by the moment. Much of that is due to Gary Oldman, who was anointed the one to beat after the movie premiered at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. His work as Winston Churchill is just what the academy loves: It's immersive and transcendent in an incredibly mannered, dutiful way. He traipses and stutters and delivers monologues that can be weaponized as analogies for our current political tumult. As of now, it's on every other candidate in this contest to up their ante. Otherwise, Oldman, who has but one nomination to his name, will prevail.
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