Oscar for Best Actor isn’t wrapped up yet: Keith Simanton (IMDb) argues for James McAvoy, Jake Gyllenhaal [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO]

“Best Actor is a tougher category than it has been for a little while … I think this is much more wide open,” argues Oscar Expert Keith Simanton (IMDb) when he duked it out with Gold Derby editor Tom O’Neil over who will win. Many think that Gary Oldman has the award locked up for playing Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” but Simanton urges awards pundits — and Oscar voters — to keep an open mind for underdog performers. Watch his in-depth video discussion with O’Neil above, or scroll down to listen to the podcast version below.

“I’ve had [James McAvoy in second place for ‘Split‘] since we started in September,” says Simanton. “It’s an actors’ performance. It is all of these different aspects, ‘Three Faces of Eve’ kind of stuff. There’s also a very monstrous core on a few of the aspects of his personality that he explores fully. I think it’s a tour de force.” McAvoy has been on the awards radar before, earning Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations for “Atonement” (2007), and appearing opposite Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” (2006). He also appeared in the Oscar nominated film “The Last Station” (2009), but he himself hasn’t made the cut with the academy yet.

Simanton also makes the case for Jake Gyllenhaal for his role in “Stronger” as Jeff Bauman, a real-life survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “Jake Gyllenhaal is probably one of our three most underrated actors today … He has been so good in so many films of late. You accrete good will that way, and that’s why I’ve got him on there.” O’Neil agrees that Gyllenhaal “could be nominated here … He got great critical acclaim for the role, and it’s certainly worthy of a nomination.” But he may benefit from a role that allows him to truly transform himself like Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” or for that matter Oldman in ‘Darkest Hour.’ “I think for him to really break out at the Oscars like we all want him to someday, I think he’s got to become Winston Churchill.”

“What I think is really fun about Gold Derby is that there are folks who can make somebody go, ‘Oh wait, I haven’t seen “Split” … but it’s supposed to be good, so I better.'” says Simanton about going out on a limb for underrated contenders. “If you can get someone who you might not have thought about beforehand in there, hooray!” Do you agree with him that we’re underestimating Gyllenhaal and McAvoy? Or will they have to wait for another year to take the stage as Oscar winners?

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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