In so many ways, 2020 has been an insane year, but when it comes to Oscar predictions, all bets are off.
A couple of major things are different about the 2021 Oscars because of, you know, the pandemic. For one, films released in 2020 are eligible regardless of whether they received a theatrical release or not, because major theaters were closed for much of the year. Meaning a ton of Netflix movies have a shot. For another, the deadline to have your film released and still be eligible for the Oscars has been extended from December 31st to February 28, 2021, and the Oscars themselves won’t take place until April 25, 2021.
So with all that said, I’ve done my best to assemble a preliminary list of Best Actor Oscar predictions. And despite the fact that so many major releases were delayed to 2021 or beyond, there are a number of spectacular performances from 2020 that deserve recognition. Let’s dig in.
Image via Netflix
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Gary Oldman – Mank
Steven Yeun – Minari
Tom Hanks – News of the World
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
The tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman last year still stings, but the actor is very much in the Oscar mix for his final performance in the Netflix movie Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It is a powerhouse, show-stopping turn that is devastating in the way it makes you yearn for more performances from this outstanding actor. At this point, Boseman is the favorite to win and it’s hard to argue with that. His turn as an ambitious, naïve, and broken musician with dreams of making his own record is stunning, and it’s pretty much a given that he’ll be scoring a posthumous nomination here.
The other major threat for this race, at this time, appears to be Anthony Hopkins who is drawing raves for his turn as a man whose mental capacity is rapidly deteriorating right in front of his daughter’s eyes. Hopkins only has one Oscar under his belt for The Silence of the Lambs back in 1992, but was nominated last year for The Two Popes.
Image via Amazon Prime
A year like this will hopefully make way for some smaller films to break through into the Oscars, and a perfect example is the Amazon Studios film Sound of Metal, in which Riz Ahmed gives the best performance of his career as a drummer who suddenly loses his hearing. It’s a really tricky performance because Ahmed’s character makes some questionable choices throughout, but the way Ahmed plays it you always like and are rooting for him to be OK. Critical notice put Ahmed on the scene in a big way, and it looks like the industry is keen on recognizing him as well given that he earned a SAG Award nomination for Best Actor.
Another great performance in an indie that premiered at Sundance comes courtesy of Steven Yeun in Minari. He plays a Korean-American who moves his family to Arkansas to start a farm, and finds nothing but struggles all the way through. The film is told through his young son’s eyes, but Yeun does a spectacular job of communicating his character’s thoughts and emotions and frustrations non-verbally. It’s a quieter performance than some of the others in contention, and as we know the Oscars love a “big” performance, but he also broke into the SAG category so I have a good feeling about his chances.
And then there’s Gary Oldman for his turn as the titular Citizen Kane screenwriter in David Fincher’s Mank. Oldman only scored his first Oscar nomination a few years ago for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy and then his first win a few years later with Darkest Hour, but if Academy voters really spring for Fincher’s black-and-white ode to 1930s Hollywood, Oldman has a very good shot at securing a Best Actor nomination. And his performance is very good! It’s a tricky one as Mank is always in some state of drunkenness, but I expect the character’s third-act monologue may seal the deal. Mank itself missed out on a SAG ensemble nomination, but Oldman got into the Best Actor category, so it seems fairly likely he’ll make the jump to the Oscars as well — although I do get the feeling actors are a bit cooler on Mank overall.
Image via Netflix
There’s also Delroy Lindo who steals the entirety of Spike Lee’s ambitious, confrontational Vietnam War drama Da 5 Bloods. Lindo’s turn as a man absolutely broken by his experience in the Vietnam War is striking, and while the character – who is a Trump supporter – could have gone a number of ways, Lindo finds a way to make you both loathe and empathize with this man at the same time. It’s a devastating turn deserving of all the high praise, and while I originally had Lindo’s chances much higher, he was snubbed by both the SAG awards and the Golden Globes. That doesn’t mean there’s no chance of him landing an Oscar nomination, but it’s possible Netflix’s decision to push him in Lead Actor may hurt his overall chances. There’s also the fact that Da 5 Bloods came out last summer, and is having to remind voters of its worthiness all over again.
And then there’s Tom Hanks, but it really depends on how the Academy receives News of the World. The Universal Pictures film got positive reviews and is a full-on Western – handsomely made with a strong thematic connection to our world today and a deep emotional center. It’s the kind of thing that could connect well with older Oscar voters as it feels like a “traditional” Oscar movie in contrast to some of the indies or more character-centric pieces, and if it does connect, it’s very likely Hanks could earn a Best Actor nod for his lead role. But of course Hanks has a strange history with the Academy – before his nomination for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, he hadn’t scored an Oscar nod since 2001’s Cast Away. So was Beautiful Day a fluke or is the Academy ready to stop overlooking one of today’s best actors? I think it depends on how well News of the World does with the Academy overall.
In the Mix
Image via Warner Bros.
Kingsley Ben-Adir – One Night in Miami
Sacha Baron Cohen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
LaKeith Stanfield — Judas and the Black Messiah
Ben Affleck – The Way Back
Tom Holland – Cherry
Andy Samberg – Palm Springs
As for who else in the mix, well, it’s been whittled down a bit. Again, this year could go a number of ways. Kinglsey Ben-Adir is fantastic as Malcolm X in Regina King’s drama One Night in Miami, which could make big waves with the Academy, but thus far Ben-Adir has missed out on top notices. And honestly a nomination for Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is not entirely out of the question, although the Oscars have a history of ignoring great comedic performances. Speaking of which, Andy Samberg deserves to be in this conversation for one of the year’s best films, Palm Springs (ditto his co-star Cristin Milioti). He delivers huge laughs but also deep sadness in the Groundhog Day-esque story – it’s the best performance of his career.
Ben Affleck also made waves earlier this year with his deeply personal turn in the sports drama The Way Back, so depending on how heavily Warner Bros. pushes that film/his performance he could land a nod. But the two big question marks for me at this point are LaKeith Stanfield in Warner Bros.’ Judas and the Black Messiah and Tom Holland in Apple’s Cherry.
Judas and the Black Messiah has received positive reviews overall, but Stanfield shares the screen with Daniel Kaluuya (who is going Supporting). Stanfield is unsurprisingly fantastic in the film as the FBI informant whose actions led to the assassination of Fred Hampton, but Kaluuya has the “showier” performance overall and could be the focus of the Academy’s attention here. Moreover, it’s a competitive year and other contenders like Oldman and Ahmed are unmistakably the stars of their respective films.
As for Cherry, the drama hails from The Russo Brothers and Holland plays an opioid-addicted veteran suffering from PTSD. Early reactions were somewhat mixed, and full reviews will arrive later this month. That may give us a better idea of Holland’s chances, but again in such a competitive playing field, a solid performance in a so-so movie may not be enough.
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About The Author
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Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. He’s been working for Collider for over a decade, and in addition to managing content also runs point on crafts interviews, awards coverage, and co-hosts The Collider Podcast with Matt Goldberg (which has been running since 2012). He’s the creator and author of Collider’s “How the MCU Was Made” series and has interviewed Bill Hader about every single episode of Barry. He lives in Tulsa, OK and likes pasta, 90s thrillers, and spending like 95% of his time with his dog Luna.
From Adam Chitwood