2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Best Actor Race

We come to Best Actor in my deep dive of the major Oscar races covering the four acting showdowns in addition to Picture and Director. If you missed the first two covering Supporting Actor and Actress, they’re here:

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actor Race

2021 Oscar Predictions: The State of the Supporting Actress Race

Looking at the past two years in my early November estimates in this competition, there’s a better track record than with the supporting categories. In 2019, with two months to go, I rightly had four of the five nominees pegged: winner Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes). Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) was mentioned in Other Possibilities. For the 2020 experience, that number was three – winner Anthony Hopkins in The Father, Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), and Gary Oldman (Mank). The other two were named as possibilities – Riz Ahmed for Sound of Metal and Minari‘s Steven Yeun.

In 2021, it appears that three hopefuls have probably punched their tickets. The conversation begins with Will Smith. He’s a two-time nominee – once 20 years ago as Ali and 15 years past in The Pursuit of Happyness. As King Richard, it may well be the Fresh Prince’s time to be crowned for the true life sports drama that is said to be a massive crowdpleaser.

When Smith lost for Ali, it was to Denzel Washington in Training Day. The two-time winner looks to be back in the mix with The Tragedy of Macbeth. While I’m feeling confident in his nomination, I don’t see Mr. Washington emerging victorious here.

The other probable player is Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, gunning for his second nod seven years after The Imitation Game. Several festival reviews are calling it career best work and I don’t see him sliding.

After that, there’s quite a few of performers vying for the remaining two spots. There’s a few in the “not yet seen” silo. That includes Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley. We are all waiting to see how big his supporting role is in Licorice Pizza. I’ve had Cooper listed #1 there for months. If he ends up falling shot in that one, he could rise with this.

Andrew Garfield’s performance in Tick, Tick… Boom! is a trendy selection. He’s also a possibility in supporting with The Eyes of Tammy Faye (though I’m skeptical he makes it through there).

We also have Leonardo DiCaprio for Don’t Look Up. I’m not as high on the film as some other prognosticators, but laudatory screenings could change that dynamic. There’s also Adam Driver for House of Gucci and Cooper Hoffman for the aforementioned Pizza. With all these gentlemen, time will tell and we won’t have to wait long.

Back to the performances we do know about. Nicolas Cage garnered some of the best notices of his career for Pig. He’ll have internet chatter on his side but I wouldn’t bet the farm on him making it. Speaking of web love, expect the same for Timothee Chalamet (Dune). I believe he’s less likely than Cage. Same goes for former MTV veejay Simon Rex in Red Rocket.

Belfast is the frontrunner for Best Picture and its quartet of supporting thespians (Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds) could all show up in their races. The film’s young lead Jude Hill is more of a long shot. Clifton Collins Jr. drew raves beginning at Sundance with Jockey. I would say Sony Pictures Classics needs to up their game with his campaign for him to enter this derby. There’s also a slight chance that Amir Jadidi could be a factor in A Hero (which could take International Feature Film).

For now, I’m sticking with two actors that I’ve had in my five for awhile. Peter Dinklage has gotten plenty of Emmy love for his Game of Thrones stretch and his musical and dramatic stylings in Cyrano could cause the Academy to take note.

Even though he won just two years back for Joker, Joaquin Phoenix could be up again for C’Mon C’Mon if none of the unseen candidates rise in the polls.

Bottom line: Smith (especially), Cumberbatch, and Washington are all relatively safe at press time. About a dozen others will vie for slots four and five. Here’s where I have it at this beginning of November time frame:

Best Actor

Predicted Nominees:

1. Will Smith, King Richard (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog (PR: 2)

3. Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth (PR: 3)

4. Peter Dinklage, Cyrano (PR: 4)

5. Joaquin Phoenix, C’Mon C’Mon (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom! (PR: 6)

7. Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley (PR: 8)

8. Nicolas Cage, Pig (PR: 7)

9. Adam Driver, House of Gucci (PR: 9)

10. Leonardo DiCaprio, Don’t Look Up (PR: 10)

Best Actress is up next, folks!

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