Will Smith is earning some of the best reviews of his career for "Concussion," Peter Landesman's biopic about the doctor who discovers the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that strikes down NFL players. After losing his Best Actor bids for "Ali" (2001) and "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006), can Smith now score the ultimate Oscar touchdown?
Smith currently has odds of 40-to-1 to win Best Actor according to our Oscar experts drawn from major media outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Yahoo and USA Today.
Those odds put him in seventh place in our experts' Best Actor rankings behind Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Revenant"), Michael Fassbender ("Steve Jobs"), Eddie Redmayne ("The Danish Girl"), Matt Damon ("The Martian"), Bryan Cranston ("Trumbo") and Johnny Depp ("Black Mass").
In "Concussion," Smith embodies forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, complete with a physical transformation and a Nigerian accent. That should give him a major Oscar boost, as the list of recent Best Actor champs plays like a who's-who of real-life history: Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking ("The Theory of Everything"), Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln ("Lincoln"), Colin Firth as King George ("The King's Speech"), Sean Penn as Harvey Milk ("Milk"), Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin ("The Last King of Scotland"), Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote ("Capote") and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles ("Ray").
Also in Smith's favor is the fact that his character is on a personal crusade to make a change for the better, going up against many obstacles along the way including the NFL. In that respect, it's a similar role to other Oscar-winning performances like Penn in "Milk" (2008), Julia Roberts in "Erin Brockovich" (2000), Ben Kingsley in "Gandhi" (1982) and Sally Field in "Norma Rae" (1979).
And the actor also gets to show the softer side of the character as he woos his wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and builds friendships with other doctors (played by Alec Baldwin and scene stealer Albert Brooks).
While sports-themed films have a spotty history at the Oscars, three recent movies that looked at the lives of those on the sidelines did make it into the expanded Best Picture race: "The Blind Side" won Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her performance as the adoptive mother of a football player; "The Fighter" won for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo as the brother and mother of the title character; and "Moneyball" earned bids for Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill as baseball execs.
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Photo Credit: Sony/Columbia