Oscar Experts Typing: How will Best Actor nominees split remaining precursors?

Welcome to Oscar Experts Typing, a weekly column in which Gold Derby editors and Experts Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen discuss the Oscar race — via Slack, of course. This week, we survey the three-man battle in Best Actor.

Christopher Rosen: Hello Joyce! After two weeks of focus on campaigning tactics and Andrea Riseborough, we’re here to type about a category that feels much less fraught but no less competitive: Best Actor. And while we love Bill Nighy here in Oscar Experts Typing — a true GOAT if there ever was one — and Paul Mescal remains a fave for the Film Twitter Industrial Complex, this is a race that really comes down to three men: Brendan Fraser for “The Whale,” Colin Farrell for “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Austin Butler for “Elvis.” According to our users and many experts, this is a slam dunk for Fraser, whose performance in “The Whale” has left viewers in tears since the summertime — even if the movie itself has proven much more polarizing. Fraser has a comfortable lead, according to those making predictions right now, and I guess I can understand that line of thinking: It’s a transformative role from an actor doing the comeback narrative. But — and I think you’ll agree — I don’t believe it’ll be all that simple. “The Whale” arguably underperformed at the Oscars, failing to land in either Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay, two spots it seemed earmarked for after its success at the PGA Awards and BAFTA Awards. Meanwhile, both “Elvis” and “Banshees” performed exceedingly well — with eight and nine nominations, respectively. Fraser also still hasn’t won all that much thus far. His speech at the Critics Choice Awards was a Moment and reminded people why they’re rooting for him in the first place, but it didn’t seem like something that could shift the race — especially since both Butler and Farrell had already given great speeches as well at the Golden Globes just days before. I’ve got Fraser in third place still, and while I could see that changing — especially if he were to win at SAG and BAFTA — it feels right. So then I’m left trying to pick between Farrell and Butler, both of whom can cop to aspects of the Fraser narrative, albeit with stronger movies. Farrell is the beloved veteran finally getting his chance at Oscar glory; Butler is the breakout “newcomer” with the transformative performance. “Banshees” is the stronger movie and has a real shot at winning Best Picture, but “Elvis” could win more Oscars when all is said and done. In the end, I’ve got Butler in first place — he has remained committed to the campaign trail, “Elvis” is definitely a top contender for Best Picture, and the academy seems to love rewarding actors and actresses for playing real-life figures. It just checks so many boxes. But what do you think, Joyce? Is this Butler’s to win or will the experts and users be proven right with their support of Fraser?

joyceeng: You know I’ve had Butler this whole time and I’m going to keep him there unless (until?) Farrell wins BAFTA, mostly because Farrell’s my fave, but I’ve been avoiding hopedicting him because he is up against two mega-bait performances. But he should get the Oscar just for maximizing those puppy dog eyes and elastic eyebrows. Nothing changed for me after noms since, like you said, Fraser took a hit with “The Whale” missing Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, with the latter being a very, uh, open category this year. We’ve mentioned many times before that Fraser would need to pull a Jeff Bridges, the only person in the expanded Best Picture era to win Best Actor for a non-Best Picture nominee. I did some research this week and only 20 men in Oscar history have won Best Actor for a film that was snubbed in Best Picture. Most of them happened when Best Picture was a five-nominee slate and some of these films — “Philadelphia,” “Leaving Las Vegas” — would’ve arguably made an expanded lineup. Two years ago, Chadwick Boseman was in a similar boat as Fraser (or vice versa). He was the season-long frontrunner with a compelling narrative, but “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” failed to show up in Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay — and this was when Best Picture was still using the sliding scale. So it’s not exactly a great sign for Fraser that his film couldn’t make a set Best Picture field of 10. I’m not going to rule him out completely, but “Banshees” and “Elvis” are clearly the stronger and more beloved films — especially compared to “The Whale” — and this category is so tied to Best Picture. Fraser needs SAG to stay in the hunt and he can easily take it since that type of performance is up their alley. But so is Butler’s. Maybe he’ll score some extra votes now that he’s phasing out that accent.

SEE Oscar Experts slugfest: The fallout from Andrea Riseborough’s Best Actress nomination

Christopher Rosen: A funny thing about that accent: I too was lightly caught up in the idea that Butler was somehow affecting his Elvis voice when accepting Best Actor at the Golden Globes. But then I rewatched “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” this week and… he sounds pretty much exactly the same in that movie as he does now. So! The lesson, as always, is don’t believe what you read on the internet or what people are Loud Online about. Anyway, back to the race: As you detail, it would be a precedent-buster were Fraser to win — something a lot of people picking Fraser probably don’t realize or maybe don’t think applies. Maybe it doesn’t. As we’ve seen in recent years, the academy’s history is becoming slightly less relevant to its present when it comes to picking winners. But I can make a case for Fraser here, even though I have him in third place. I still don’t really believe there’s a lot of momentum for either Farrell or Butler, and I think if you asked a regular person who follows movies but isn’t obsessed with awards, they would probably say Fraser is the one to beat. Does any of that matter? Not really? But if voters pick the performance that left them feeling emotionally drained, Fraser is the one to beat. You mentioned Anthony Hopkins vs. Boseman from two years ago: I think the more emotional performance came from Hopkins (emotional here being used as shorthand for “made me tear up”), even though Boseman’s tragic death obviously added a real-world weight to his Best Actor run. Of these three performances, I think Fraser has probably wrung the most tears. Does any of that matter? Who knows. But let’s end here with a look at the contests coming up: Fraser, Butler and Farrell are all nominees at the SAG Awards. How do you think that will shake out? And if Fraser wins and goes up on stage and gives another great speech, does that actually push him out front?

joyceeng: My favorite thing about the voice balderdash is that if you’re aware of his earlier work — which seemingly 90 percent of the internet is not — I don’t know why you’d expect him to sound the same way he did when he was a teenager. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t not sound like Elvis, but… anyway, SAG. Obviously, I would love to see Farrell win, but I have him safely in third there. I think he can still win the Oscar without SAG as long as he takes BAFTA — the Casey Affleck Route. I, sadly, have “Banshees” going 0-5 there at the moment. In that fever dream period after PGA and BAFTA noms but pre-Oscar noms that was overshadowed by the rise of Andrea Riseborough, I leaned Fraser at SAG. Now, I think it’s kinda even between him and Butler, the latter of whom I have in first. SAG favors narratives more than other groups do — it’s why I knew Boseman would get double nominations there but not at the Oscars — so I can still picture Fraser sneaking it out. But I was talking to someone last week about how “The Whale” is this year’s “Being the Ricardos”: the divisive and somewhat surprising PGA nominee that misses Best Picture (and screenplay). Nicole Kidman was predicted to win SAG and the Oscar last year at this point, but she lost the former to Jessica Chastain (who sang!), and that was that. It’s not a perfect comp, obviously, since Kidman won the Globe and Butler has that. It’s funny because I can see Butler winning both SAG and BAFTA, which, again, is before SAG this year, and I can see him losing both. The smart money is on Farrell at BAFTA, so Farrell’s best-case scenario — on the basis that he’s not winning SAG — is probably for Fraser to win SAG because Butler will be going into the Oscars with just the Globe, which will feel like 58 years ago by then. I guess the bigger question is, do you think Farrell will lose BAFTA?

SEE Oscar Experts Typing: After both of their films over-performed, is Cate Blanchett or Michelle Yeoh ahead in Best Actress?

Christopher Rosen: I do have a hard time thinking Farrell can lose at BAFTA. It just feels right. But if he were to lose, then whoever does win there is probably our Oscar winner. But even if Farrell wins BAFTA, I don’t think I’d move him into first at the Oscars. Make it make sense? Joyce, it’s too cold here in the Northeast for me to continue on this path. I’m going to get another sweatshirt and I’ll let you have the last word.

joyceeng: Stranger things have happened, but Farrell does feel very right at BAFTA. It’s also a split race, so voters can’t rubber-stamp a sweeper. If he wins, he’ll check off another point on the Olivia Colman Path: Volpi Cup, two of the Big Three critics’ prizes, comedy/musical Globe and BAFTA while repping a strong Best Picture nominee. A BAFTA/SAG split between Farrell and Butler would make it a tougher call, but if it’s Fraser at SAG, I’m going to have to go with the BAFTA winner in a top two film. It’s what Jenny would want.

Oscar odds for Best Actor
Who will win?

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