Academy Award Nomination Predictions: Best Actor

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Nominations for the 87th Academy Awards are going to be announced in just under two weeks, so I am going to give my predictions for some of the top categories.

Oh boy…if there was any category this year that clearly shows how us predictors are constantly changing our minds, it has to be Best Actor. In any year, there can be several very worthy performances, but this year is just insane. We have at least a dozen people worthy of nominations, and in any other year, all of these men could possibly even win. I’ve done my best to narrow it down to nine performances, but let’s be honest, there is always room for a surprise here. To be perfect honest, there are only two performers who are entirely locked in for nominations. The rest can easily be interchangeable.
Here are the contenders:

LOCKS

Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson in Birdman
This is the only potential Oscar win that I am truly hoping and praying for. Michael Keaton has been doing great work for forty years now, and now has finally gotten a role worthy of his talents. Playing a washed-up actor famous for playing a superhero, Keaton has a great bit of meta satire in his performance. Not only that, it would be wonderful to see an old veteran like him finally getting his moment. He has won so many critics awards, it would be a shame for him to be short-changed at the end of it all by losing the big one. But for now, he is as locked in as humanly possible. If he wins (which I truly hope he does), he will be the fourth actor to have played Batman and won an Oscar, with George Clooney, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck being the others. We’re waiting Val Kilmer…

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne has proved himself to be one of the most talented young actors working today, and he seems to have finally broken through into the awards conversation with his performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. He is only the second actor to ever play Hawking, and the first in a theatrical film (over a decade ago, there was a TV movie about Hawking where he was played by none other than Redmayne’s competition here, Benedict Cumberbatch). Redmayne’s portrayal of Hawking is the very definition of an Academy Award-winning role – he plays a real-life person who is recognizable to millions of people, and one with an inspiring story of how he overcame a dreadful disability. In the end, it is Keaton vs. Redmayne for the win, and both are certain nominees.

SAFE

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game
He’s the reigning king of the internet – there is nothing Benedict Cumberbatch can say or do without it becoming some motivational quote on the wall of a fangirl’s bedroom. However, despite being famous for being who he is, Cumberbatch is also very talented, and like Redmayne, has been flirting with prestige projects for a while now, but only at this point has gotten a role that puts him in the conversation for awards. As the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing, Cumberbatch can expand on his brand of quiet, shy geniuses in a larger arena. However safe as he may seem, he could easily be snubbed in favor of many of the other potential nominees, and the fact that his performance could be seen as almost on the same page as Redmayne’s could serve to be a slight downside. However, I do think he is good for a nomination.

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma
Starring in the film that might just be the Best Picture winner is very helpful, which is why David Oyelowo is relatively safe for a nomination. However, the recent PGA snub for Selma could mean Oyelowo could be left off the nominee list. The film came quite late, and thus it didn’t get the showing it needed. Oyelowo was snubbed at SAG because of this, and that could be a huge disability to his potential nomination. However, Selma is an acclaimed film, and Oyelowo is most likely safe.

POSSIBLE

Steve Carell as John Du Pont in Foxcatcher
Since Foxcatcher was postponed to a release date in 2014, it allowed the buzz for the film to gradually increase. The most buzzworthy part of the film was Steve Carell, who abandoned his comedian persona to play a serious role, as the villainous and sinister John Du Pont. However, the buzz slowly started to shift away from Carell and the film altogether, and in and out it went, like the waves of an ocean. Right now, it is anyone’s guess as to how Foxcatcher is going to be received. It could be a huge hit, or it could not be the voters’ cup of tea. However, Carell has received vital nominations, and the transformative performance could perk the interest of some voters. He still faces stiff competition from all the other potential nominees here, and he has as good of a shot as anyone.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler
It seems a little strange how Jake Gyllenhaal has not received a single nomination since 2005, where he was nominated for Brokeback Mountain, despite doing amazingly complex work since then. It seems like Jake might be sneaking up on us to grab that fifth slot in Best Actor, as while his performance in Nightcrawler was acclaimed, it was small compared to the gargantuan performances ahead of him. Yet, SAG and Golden Globe nominations prove Gyllenhaal is much stronger than we think, and perhaps he can go all the way to a nomination, and while he might not win, it might propel him to a win next year with one of his several brilliant projects coming out this year.

Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H. in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Very few films have as much passion as The Grand Budapest Hotel had this year. Almost everyone who has seen it has claimed it to be one of the best, if not the very best, of the year. At the center of the acclaim is the delightfully funny and strangely satisfying performance that Ralph Fiennes gives as Gustave H, the witty and cunning hotel concierge. Fiennes is in a massively popular film, and is actually brilliant in it. He probably gives the best male performance of the year (next to Brendan Gleeson in Calvary of course). The main reason he’s not getting more buzz? The release date. The film was released very early in the year, which means it has sadly faded slightly from the memories of voters. It seems the producers were aware of this, so they gave the film a second release in October to boost its chances, which hopefully it can. Anderson is way ahead to win Best Original Screenplay, and it seems likely that if there is enough passion for the film, Fiennes can find himself being nominated. However, it seems too good to be true sadly. But anything is possible.

Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner in Mr. Turner
Character actors are unsung heroes of cinema – it takes a lot of patience to continuously play supporting roles and very rarely ever get a leading role. So it is always wonderful when a character actor finally gets his or her moment for recognition – J.K. Simmons in Whiplash being a prime example. One of the most talented character actors ever is Timothy Spall, who has worked with so many people in the industry, and has become recognizable and very well-liked. He has gotten the great leading role of one of Britain’s greatest artists, J.M.W. Turner, in Mike Leigh’s roaring epic biopic. Spall won the Cannes Best Actor prize (much like David Thewlis over twenty years ago for another brilliant performance in an amazing Leigh film) but hopefully unlike Thewlis, Spall can garner an Oscar nomination for his performance, which will shockingly be his very first. Yet, he hasn’t hit too many major precursors (but did win some very important critics prizes), so we will have to wait and see to find out if there is enough passion behind the performance to boost him to a nomination.

NO GUTS, NO GLORY

Almost every year we get a nominee that comes out of nowhere and gets nominated, but very rarely in the leading categories, although it is possible. You need a lot of guts to make such a prediction, because you need to assess all the strong contenders and decide who to remove. Then you need to decide who is going to be your pick for the surprise nomination. Its risky, because you are almost certainly going to be wrong. But there is nothing quite like getting it right. So my No Guts, No Glory prediction for Best Actor is…

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper
Bradley Cooper has undergone quite a retooling lately, having garnered two consecutive Academy Award nominations. However, his performance as real-life sniper Chris Kyle may be his best performance yet. He has been showered with praise, both for transforming himself into Kyle. Cooper has not gotten a single major precursor nomination, but that hasn’t stopped him from possibly getting nominated here. It would be a huge coup if he was, because that would disregard the idea that you need precursor nominations and a lot of campaigning to get nominated for an Academy Award, and that you can be recognized just for the performance and strength of the film. I will admit this is perhaps not at all a No Guts, No Glory prediction, as Cooper is a very strong possibility, but the fact that he has not hit any of the precursors could mean that he could be a potentially huge surprise on nomination morning.

So there we have it – it is a monumental headache to predict this category. Keaton and Redmayne are as safe as safe could be. Cumberbatch and Oyelowo are also quite safe, but vulnerable. But that final spot is really up for grabs for any of the men I mentioned here, and it will be nail-biting to discover who it might possibly go to. We will have to wait and see, but for now, its anyone’s guess.

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