Best Actor Oscar slugfest: Can Viggo Mortensen drive past Bradley Cooper?

Bradley Cooper has opened up a wide lead in our Best Actor Oscar predictions since “A Star Is Born” premiered earlier this month, with 14 Experts picking him for the win. Best Actor is one of four categories where voters could reward him — the others being Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay — for his work on the remake, but many of our editors don’t think he’ll get his kudos in this race.

“I recently switched to Viggo Mortensen,” Daniel Montgomery revealed in our Best Actor slugfest with Chris Beachum, Marcus James Dixon and myself (watch above). “I think ‘Green Book’ has a shot to potentially win Best Picture. It has kind of a feel-good sensibility while also having an important subject matter, so it could be that combination of crowd-pleaser and important film.”

Indeed, “Green Book,” which examines racial tensions in the 1960s Deep South through the real-life friendship of pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his driver Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Mortensen), has already nabbed Audience Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Middleburg Film Festival. “We’ve seen Best Picture and Best Actor go hand in hand from time to time,” Montgomery continues. “Viggo Mortensen is due. He’s been nominated a couple times before for Best Actor, including for ‘Captain Fantastic’ (2016). When that train started rolling for him to get that nomination, that was kind of a surprise. Earlier in the season we didn’t see that as a top contender. I’ve got Viggo in there right now. I think Christian Bale is my second choice for ‘Vice’ because it’s such a transformative role [as Dick Cheney].”

In our combined odds, Bale is in second behind Cooper, followed by Mortensen in third, Ryan Gosling (“First Man”) in fourth and Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) in fifth. If this quintet sticks, Best Actor would be compromised of people playing real-life figures or musicians. One of them, Malek, is in the center of that Venn diagram and is Dixon’s choice to win.

“I went into [‘Bohemian Rhapsody’] kind of skeptical,” Dixon admits. “I didn’t know much about Queen, I didn’t know much about Freddie Mercury, but Rami’s performance … just blew me away. And I can’t imagine that he won’t be blowing away a lot of Oscar voters as well. … He gives this over-the-top — in a good way — performance where he’s singing and dancing and wearing these crazy costumes. I think it’s the kind of transformative role these voters really, really love.”

Beachum, however, is more cautious with Malek, whose film has received negative reviews and is hampered by director Bryan Singer. Though he maintains directing credit, Singer was fired before production was completed for being a no-show and has been accused of sexual abuse over the years (he recently issued a statement preemptively denouncing a yet-to-be published exposé by Esquire). “Unfortunately the critics went in with their knives sharpened and I totally disagreed with that,” Beachum says. “They came into the room ready to rip this movie apart because of the director, and I hate for Rami and I hate that for everybody else that worked on the movie, but that’s just what’s happening right now on these reviews.”

Beachum currently has Bale in his top spot, but is starting to consider switching to Mortensen following the increasingly positive response to “Green Book.” He’s also making room in his final five for an underdog whose run could be ignited by critics groups: Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed.” “[Hawke] is getting more buzz than ever and I see him as the type that these individual critics groups are going to latch onto,” he says. “[It’s] a small independent movie, a movie where he’s in almost every frame, plays a priest, it’s a very sociological movie. I can definitely see a New York or L.A. or [National] Board of Review jumping on him.”

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UPLOADED Oct 30, 2018 11:50 am