He will rock you: Rami Malek (‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) breaks out as a leading Oscar rival for Best Actor

Only two Gold Derby Oscar Experts who’ve seen “Bohemian Rhapsody’ have updated their Best Actor predictions since Fox unveiled it to a select crowd of award voters and journos on its Century City lot last night, but Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) and I both just pushed Rami Malek up into second place behind Bradley Cooper (“A Star Is Born”).

Expect more Oscarologists to shove Malek higher up on their rankings, too – even to number one? – over the next week as “Bohemian Rhapsody” unspools at more industry screenings across Hollywood. There’s an embargo on film reviews, but suffice it to say that Malek delivers, wows, bedazzles and seizes your heart in a performance guaranteed to be a leading Oscar contender for Best Actor. Maybe even the winner.

Up until last night there was huge skepticism that Malek could pull off Freddie Mercury‘s flamboyant camp and naughty sexual defiance while also conveying his poet’s soul and haunting intensity. Malek does so, but now comes the fussbudget point that Oscar nerds love to debate: Does it matter that Malek doesn’t sing? – that is, that the music is dubbed?  Of course, it had to be. Freddie can’t be faked. But Oscar voters famously denied nominations to Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady” and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” because they were dubbed (by Marni Nixon, as the nerds will rush to tell you).

Nowadays that doesn’t seem to matter, though, as Jamie Foxx proved by prevailing as Best Actor while lip-synching vintage Ray Charles in “Ray.” Also, remember: Marion Cotillard nabbed Best Actress while letting Edith Piaf do the songbird stuff in “La Vie en Rose.” But, wait! Now Malek competes against Bradley Cooper, who croons impressively in “A Star Is Born.” But, wait! Cooper doesn’t portray a real-life character and, as our senior editor Marcus James Dixon points out, Oscar voters often prefer that, especially in the Best Actor category. In the past 15 years, 10 winners portrayed real men – 11, if you accept the reality that Daniel Day-Lewis was actually oil tycoon Edward Doheny in “There Will Be Blood,” which was based upon Upton Sinclair‘s novel “Oil!” that was, in turn, based upon Doheny’s bloody past.

Lucky for both Malek and Cooper: Oscar voters groove to musical roles, as they recently proved by heaping academy gold on Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”) and Emma Stone (“La La Land”), who, alas, did their own singing.

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