Will Brendan Fraser be one of the rare Best Actor Oscar winners from a non-Best Picture nominee?

Brendan Fraser has been the Best Actor Oscar frontrunner the entire season for his performance in “The Whale” and remains the odds-on favorite to win. On the surface, this doesn’t seem surprising — it’s a baity, transformative turn — but anyone following this closely knows that his chances took a hit when “The Whale” was snubbed in Best Picture. If Fraser does take home the gold, he’ll be one of the few and far between Best Actor champs for a non-Best Picture nominee and the first in 13 years.

The most recent one was Jeff Bridges, who prevailed for “Crazy Heart” (2009) in the first year of the expanded Best Picture lineup. Two years ago, Chadwick Boseman was widely predicted to follow in Bridges’ footsteps despite “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s” Best Picture miss, but the late star lost to Anthony Hopkins, of Best Picture nominee “The Father,” in the most awkward Oscar ceremony ending of all time.

You can point to Bridges’ and Boseman’s cases in the arguments for and against a Frasier victory. “Crazy Heart” received just three nominations, the others being Best Supporting Actress for Maggie Gyllenhaal and Best Original Song, just like “The Whale,” which also scored bids for supporting player Hong Chau and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. “Crazy Heart” also won Best Original Song and “The Whale” can walk away a two-time winner as well if it grabs Best Makeup and Hairstyling, as it’s predicted to do, in addition to Best Actor. Bridges had the overdue narrative while Fraser has the comeback narrative, but the former’s was arguably more potent — he’s a showbiz legend who was on his fifth nomination at the time (he now has seven). Fraser is on his maiden bid. Plus, even though “Crazy Heart” was MIA in Best Picture, Gyllenhaal’s nomination was a total surprise, signaling additional support for the movie, whereas Chau was expected to be shortlisted.

“The Whale” was also expected to make the cut for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay on the heels of its Producers Guild of America Award nomination and Best Adapted Screenplay bid at BAFTA, but it was shut out of both. You know what else was predicted to earn Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominations and was AWOL? Yup, “Ma Rainey.” “The Whale’s” Best Picture snub also feels like a bigger blow since the lineup is fixed at 10 now, while “Ma Rainey” competed during the sliding scale era (there were eight nominees that year), so you could say that “Ma Rainey,” which had five nominations and won two, would’ve made it with 10 slots. Boseman was also stronger on paper at this juncture, having won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award. Fraser pocketed Critics Choice, delivering an emotional speech, but lost to Austin Butler (“Elvis”) at the Golden Globes, which he did not attend after accusing Philip Berk, a former Hollywood Foreign Press Association president, of groping him at a 2003 luncheon.

SEE How to watch ‘The Whale’

Best Actor and Best Picture have been tightly linked throughout the 94-year history of the Oscars — not exactly breaking news here in an industry dominated by men. If you don’t count the three Best Picture champs that won both lead categories — “It Happened One Night” (1934), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)  and “The Silence of the Lambs” (19991) — there have been 24 films that have won Best Picture and Best Actor, while only nine have won Best Picture and Best Actress. Last year, none of the Best Actress nominees’ films were even nominated for Best Picture.

Besides Bridges, 19 other men have won Best Actor without a Best Picture nomination for their film. The others in this century are Denzel Washington (2001’s “Training Day”), who upset frontrunner and reigning champ Russell Crowe after the “A Beautiful Mind” star assaulted a BAFTA producer for editing his speech, and Forest Whitaker, who swept the season for “The Last King of Scotland” (2006) and is the most recent of five men to win Best Actor as the lone nomination for his film.

Other Best Actor champs from non-Best Picture nominees include Tom Hanks (1993’s “Philadelphia”), Nicolas Cage (1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas”), Jeremy Irons (1990’s “Reversal of Fortune”), Paul Newman (1986’s “The Color of Money”), Michael Douglas (a sole nominee for “Wall Street,” but his other 1987 film was Best Picture nominee “Fatal Attraction”), John Wayne (1969’s “True Grit”) and Humphrey Bogart (1951’s “The African Queen”). Most of these occurred when Best Picture was a field of five and some of these films would’ve arguably made an expanded lineup. “Philadelphia” had five nominations, while “The African Queen,” “The Color of Money” and “Leaving Las Vegas” had four.

While Fraser “only” faces two people from Best Picture nominees — compared to Boseman, who faced four — those two, Butler and Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), hail from pretty popular and strong contenders that are far less polarizing than “The Whale.” “Elvis” earned eight nominations and “Banshees” scored nine. More nominations don’t guarantee wins, but they indicate across-the-board support. Farrell, who’s in third place, dominated the critics’ awards and won the comedy/musical Globe, while Butler, who’s in second, has his own transformational role, playing an iconic figure in a biopic, one of the academy’s favorite genres. Bill Nighy (“Living”) is in fourth place and his film only has one other nomination, Best Adapted Screenplay, and lone nominee Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) is fifth.

The good news for Fraser is that the race is already split, so no one can sweep and he could easily take the Screen Actors Guild Award (he’s first in those odds too). But as someone from a non-Best Picture nominee against two stronger films, he would be better positioned right now if he were sweeping.

Oscar odds for Best Actor
Who will win?

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