Top 10 early-bird Best Actor Oscar predictions: Leonardo DiCaprio (‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’) rules for now

Frontrunners are already forming for the Oscar Best Actor race, according to early predictions at Gold Derby. While most films in contention have not yet been released, enough teaser trailers are out there, ranging from “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “The Irishman” to “Joker” and “Ford v Ferrari” to provide some sense of what at least feels like a worthy contender. We’ve confirmed category placements with studios or campaigners, but — as awards season veterans know — such labels can change later. And once the fall film fests commence, the standings will likely rapidly shift.

Here are the current top 10 lead actor picks on the Gold Derby site, in order, as of Aug. 11:

1. Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) — Little wonder why this never-tarnished leading man is the king of this list right now. Both he and first-time co-star Brad Pitt earned the most critical bravos in Tarantino’s nostalgic 10th big-screen outing. His performance as TV Western legend Rick Dalton, whose preferred genre is going out of fashion, touches  the heart as well as provides some sick kicks, such as his flame-thrower skills. Full disclosure: One reason that Leo is on top may be due to  a rumor that Pitt was being touted for supporting. Turns out, no decision has been made yet. Therefore, he is featured in both lists. But Brad fans can take heart that he leads the supporting category for miles.

Oscar history: Nominated as supporting actor at age 19 for 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Up for lead in 2005’s “The Aviator,” 2007’s “Blood Diamond” and 2014’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Won Best Actor for 2016’s “The Revenant.” He also competed as a producer for best-pic contender “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

2. Robert De Niro (“The Irishman,” premieres Sept. 27 at the New York Film Festival) — The legendary actor who played DiCaprio’s abusive stepfather in 1993’s “This Boy’s Life” is right behind him for his real-life portrait of Frank Sheeran, a World War II vet and  mob hitman who played a part in the disappearance of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa.  This decades-spanning saga promises dirty dealings, macho attitude and lots of blood spilt in the name of money and power. This is De Niro’s ninth collaboration with gangland auteur Martin Scorsese and their first since 1995’s “Casino.”

Oscar history:  Nominated  as a lead for 1977’s “Taxi Driver, 1979’s “The Deerhunter,” 1991’s “Awakenings,” 1992’s “Cape Fear.” Was up for supporting for 2013’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” Won Best Supporting Actor for 1975’s “The Godfather Part II” and Best Actor for 1981’s “Raging Bull.”

3. Antonio Banderas (“Pain and Glory,” opens Oct. 4 ): The Spanish actor’s eighth collaboration with director Pedro Almodovar earned him a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival this year. He plays a forlorn filmmaker who hasn’t made a movie in ages. He is haunted by his aging status as well as his melancholy childhood memories as he imbibes substances to dull his pain.

Oscar history: Somehow this sexy guy who made Zorro a hot property again in the ’90s and who was purr-fect as Shrek’s animated sidekick, charismatic swashbuckler Puss in Boots, has never competed for Hollywood’s ultimate prize. Looks as if his luck will soon change.

4. Adam Driver (“Marriage Story,” world premiere at the Venice film festival Aug. 29): Director/writer Noah Baumbach‘s tale of a nasty bicoastal break-up focuses on Driver’s stage director and Scarlett Johansson as his actress wife endure the pain and agony of their split. The filmmaker has described his movie to Indiewire, which sounds somewhat in the realm of “Kramer vs. Kramer” but with laughs,  as “a hidden thriller, a procedural, a romantic comedy, a tragic love story. I felt like this was a subject that could handle all those things.” Anyone who watched Driver on “Girls” knows he is capable of handling every shade of emoting.

Oscar history: He was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar as an undercover cop for last year’s “BlacKkKlansman.”

5. Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” opens Nov. 22):  Hanks, who is considered one of the nicest stars in Hollywood, feels born to play beloved PBS children’s show host Fred Rogers. He has that inviting smile down pat and can adapt an upbeat attitude without feeling phoney. Instead of a biopic, though, the film focuses on cynical “Esquire” real-life journalist (Matthew Rhys from TV’s “The Americans”) whose life is changed by his friendship with the generous and caring television icon.

Oscar history: Much like Meryl Streep, many assume Hanks has won countless Oscars.  The truth is, he has won just two Best Actor Oscars — back to back no less — for 1993’s “Philadelphia”  and 1994’s “Forrest Gump.” He was also nominated as a lead for 1988’s “Big,” 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” and 2000’s “Cast Away.” That is it. No “Apollo 13,” no “The Green Mile,” no “Saving Mr. Banks,” no “Captain Phillips,” no “Sully,” no “The Post.” Come on, you voters. It’s been nearly two decades since his last chance at a third trophy. Something is wrong here.

6. Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker,” Oct. 4) — Will it be weird if Phoenix, a terrific actor when it comes to creeps and crooks, wins an Academy Award that Heath Ledger won posthumously for the same role in 2008’s  Batman adventure “The Dark Knight”? A little perhaps, but judging from the trailer, he makes the Clown Prince of Crime his own unique creation.

Oscar history: Phoenix was nominated for his supporting role as the twisted, amoral Commodus, who murders his emperor father in order to nefariously inherit his powers as he targets Russell Crowe‘s warrior Maximus in 2000’s Roman epic “Gladiator.” He nailed the Man in Black — country legend Johnny Cash — in the 2006 biopic, “Walk the Line,” and duly was nominated as a lead. And he also found a space on the ballot as a Best Actor contender in 2013’s “The Master.”

7.  Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name,” no date yet) — Murphy embodies an African-American icon, comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who starred in the 1975 blaxploitation film as a well-spoken pimp.Wesley Snipes joins him as his antagonist co-star D’Urville Martin. Craig Brewer, director of “Hustle & Flow,” is behind this ’70s throwback and does have a knack for grindhouse-inspired fare.

Oscar history: Murphy earned his first and only Oscar nomination for his supporting role in the 2006 musical as  R&B soul singer James “Thunder” Early, a conglomeration of such music legends as James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye. Everyone loves a comeback and audiences might just be ready for Murphy’s return in a humorous vehicle.

8. Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”) — The summer’s Elton John jukebox musical biopic didn’t exactly blast off at the box office. But Egerton, who sang  John’s songs as if he composed them himself, did a terrific job of balancing depression and substance abuse with the campy fun of the singer’s penchant for flashy stage gear and the heart-tugging pain of denying his homosexuality and dealing with his absent father.

Oscar history: None yet.

9. Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari,” Nov. 15) — The former Caped Crusader takes the wheel of a car that makes the Batmobile look like a Matchbox toy in this story of how the Ford Motor Company in 1966 was hellbent to make a racing car that could overtake Italy’s Enzo Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. They recruited British daredevil speed demon Kevin Miles (Bale) and car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to do their bidding. Has Bale ever been bad in a movie? Not that I can recall.

Oscar history: Bale won a supporting trophy for his washed-up boxer in 2010’s “The Fighter.” He also competed for his secondary role in 2015’s “The Big Short.” And the former Batman was also in the running for his lead roles as a con man in 2013’s “American Hustle” and and as politico Dick Cheney in 2018’s “Vice.”

10. Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes,” premiering at the Toronto film festival next month) — Pryce plays Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict XVI in a film directed by”City of God’s” Fernando Meirelles that examines the relationship between the two 21st-century pontiffs.

Oscar history: None yet.

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before winners are announced on September 22. And join in the fun debate over the 2019 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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