The Best Actor Oscar tends to go to men with a little grey in their hair, unlike the Best Actress award, which is often given to an ingenue. Last year, Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) appeared to defy this bias towards veterans when he edged out two-time Oscar champ Denzel Washington (“Fences”). However, the boyish-looking Affleck was 41 when he won, and already a past nominee for his supporting performance in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” (Scroll down for the most up-to-date predictions for this year’s Best Actor race.)
Both Affleck and Washington were nominated for fictional roles, which also goes against the grain of recent Best Actor winners. Of the past 10 champs, only four prevailed for playing such parts. Besides Affleck, they were Daniel Day-Lewis (“There Will Be Blood,” 2007); Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart,” 2009); and Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”).
Of the other three nominees in last year’s Best Actor line-up, two others had previously contended at the Oscars – Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”). The fifth nominee, Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) was the only one to be cited for portraying a real-life person. However, his first-timer status couldn’t overcome the goodwill for Affleck, who won a whopping 29 of the 33 precursor prizes from various critics groups.
UPDATED: August 11, 2017
While Affleck followed up his win with an indie supernatural film, “A Ghost Story,” Washington is headlining a studio legal drama, “Roman Israel, Esq.,” which could well net him that elusive third Oscar. Washington plays the title character, a liberal lawyer forced to take over the running of his law firm when his partner has a heart attack. He discovers that all is not what it seems and is forced into action when his principles are challenged by his practice.
Tom Hanks co-starred with Washington in 1993’s “Philadelphia” and won the first of his back-to-back Best Actor Oscars (he prevailed the following year for “Forrest Gump”). This one-time Oscar darling hasn’t been nominated since 2000 (“Castaway”) but that could change this year as he has re-teamed with Steven Spielberg (“Saving Private Ryan”) for “The Papers.” This docudrama recounts the story behind the Washington Post’s 1971 publication of the “Pentagon Papers,” a series of documents prepared for the Department of Defense about the US involvement in Vietnam after WWII. Hanks portrays Post editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards won an Oscar in 1977 for playing this part in “All the President’s Men”) while Meryl Streep is publisher Kay Graham.
One of their strongest competitors is Day-Lewis, the only three-time Best Actor winner. He has announced that his upcoming film, “Phantom Thread,” will be his final one. This period picture, in which he plays a fictionalized version of 1950s royal designer Hardy Amies, marks his second collaboration with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Their first, “There Will Be Blood,” won Day-Lewis the second of his record three Best Actor Oscars in 2008.
Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) reaped his only Oscar nomination to date for portraying WWII code breaker Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game.” In Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s “The Current War,” he is another genius, 19th century inventor Thomas Edison, who is locked in a battle with George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) to create a sustainable electricity system.
Garfield is back in contention for playing another real-life hero in “Breathe,” which marks the directorial debut of motion-capture superstar Andy Serkis. His film tells the moving true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish (Garfield, Claire Foy) who work together to overcome his adult-onset polio with the support of her twin brothers (Tom Hollander) and the help of inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville).
With “Stronger,” past nominee Jake Gyllenhaal could well win for his heartfelt portrayal of Jeff Bauman, Jr. who lost both his legs in the bombing of the 2013 marathon. Bauman was waiting at the finish line to cheer on his girlfriend Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany). Despite his life-threatening injuries, this 27-year-old Boston native was a key eyewitness whose help proved invaluable in the hunt for the bombers. David Gordon Green‘s film then follows them on his long road to recovery, which entailed grueling physical therapy as well as counseling to come to terms with his injuries.
Matt Damon won an Oscar for co-writing the “Good Will Hunting” screenplay back in 1997 but has lost all three of his bids for acting. Fourth time could be the charm as he is showcased in two very different movies this year. In Alexander Payne‘s “Downsizing,” he plays a man who decides his life would be better if he shrinks himself. The plot sounds like an unusual concept for an Oscar contender, but no more so than “Her,” which was about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system. And he is directed by his pal George Clooney in “Suburbicon,” a quirky crime drama written by Oscar darlings Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men,” “Fargo”) that co-stars Julianne Moore, Josh Brolin, and Oscar Isaac.
The Coen brothers directed Javier Bardem to an Oscar for “No Country for Old Men.” The actor has teamed up with Oscar-nominated helmer Darren Aronofsky for psychological thriller “mother!,” in which he and Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) play a couple whose tranquil life is disrupted by uninvited guests.
Please note: Only those films with confirmed release dates are listed below. Check back often as new contenders are scheduled while other are dropped due to delays or critical reaction. Several contenders are also included in the Best Supporting Actor round-up, pending confirmation of campaign strategies.
UPDATED: August 11, 2017
Javier Bardem, “mother!” (Paramount Pictures)
Chadwick Boseman, “Marshall” (Open Road Films)
John Boyega, “Detroit” (Annapurna Pictures)
Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight)
Bryan Cranston, “Last Flag Flying” (Amazon Studios)
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Current War” (The Weinstein Company)
Matt Damon, “Downsizing”(Paramount Pictures/Annapurna Pictures)
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” (Annapurna Pictures/Focus Features)
Idris Elba, “The Mountain Between Us” (20th Century Fox/Chernin Entertainment)
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist” (Warner Bros.)
Andrew Garfield, “Breathe” (Bleecker Street/Participant Media)
Domnhall Gleeson, “Goodbye, Christopher Robin” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Tom Hanks, “The Papers” (20th Century Fox)
Hugh Jackman, “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox)
Liam Neeson, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” (Universal Studios/Focus Features)
Robert Redford, “Our Souls at Night” (Netflix)
Kevin Spacey, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Mark Wahlberg, “All the Money in the World” (Tristar)
Denzel Washington, “Roman Israel, Esq.” (Columbia)
Kenneth Branagh, “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox)
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Jason Clarke, “Mudbound” (Netflix)
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project” (A24)
Matt Damon, “Suburbicon” (Paramount Pictures)
Ali Fazal, “Victoria and Abdul” (Focus Features)
Ryan Gosling, “Blade Runner 2049” (Warner Bros./Columbia Pictures/Alcon Entertainment)
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Stronger” (Lionsgate)
Woody Harrelson, “The Glass Castle” (Lionsgate)
Joaquin Phoenix, “Mary Magdalene” (The Weinstein Company)
Channing Tatum, “Logan Lucky” (Bleecker Street/FilmNation Entertainment)
Jacob Tremblay, “Wonder” (Lionsgate)
Josh Brolin, “Only the Brave” (Lionsgate/Di Bonaventura Pictures)
Tom Cruise, “American Made” (Universal)
Colin Farrell, “The Beguiled” (Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures)
Colin Farrell, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (A24)
Michael Fassbender, “The Snowman” (Universal Studio/Working Title Films)
Andrew Garfield, “Under the Silver Lake” (A24)
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out” (Universal)
James McAvoy, “Split” (Universal)
Kumail Nanjiani, “The Big Sick” (Amazon Studios)
Tracy Letts, “The Lovers” (A24)
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time” (A24)
Charlie Plummer, “Lean on Pete” (A24)
Jeremy Renner, “Wind River” (The Weinstein Company)
Adam Sandler, “The Meyerowitz Stories” (Netflix)
Dan Stevens, “Beauty and the Beast” (Walt Disney Pictures)
Dan Stevens, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (Bleecker Street)
Ben Stiller, “The Meyerowitz Stories” (Netflix)
Miles Teller, “Thank You for Your Service” (Dreamworks)
Jean-Louis Trintignant, “Happy End” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Fionn Whitehead, “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.)
In the coming weeks and months, we will be predicting all 24 of the competitive categories at the Oscars.
Best Picture | Best Director | Best Original Screenplay | Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Actor | Best Actress | Best Supporting Actor | Best Supporting Actress
Best Cinematography | Best Costume Design | Best Film Editing | Best Production Design
Best Makeup & Hairstyling | Best Sound Editing | Best Sound Mixing | Best Visual Effects
Best Score | Best Original Song
Best Animated Feature | Best Documentary Feature | Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Short | Best Documentary Short | Best Live-Action Short