With the fall festivals under way, the Best Actor race is coming into focus. And there’s one actor to beat: “Darkest Hour” (Working Title/Focus Features) star Gary Oldman as a wily, crusty, and fierce Prime Minister Winston Churchill, using his power with words to fight the Nazis. It’s a powerfully moving and strangely timely performance at a time when strong leadership is in short supply. Oldman will earn his second nomination and could take home the win.
This year there are fewer Best Actor candidates than Best Actress. They range from such lauded industry heavyweights as Oldman, Matt Damon, Jeremy Renner, Andrew Garfield, and Joaquin Phoenix to rising stars looking to get their first Oscar break (Chadwick Boseman, Timothée Chalamet, and Jason Clarke).
Back in January, Sundance broke Chalamet in Luca Guadignino’s critics’ darling “Call Me By Your Name,” which Sony Pictures Classics will push hard with audiences and Academy voters. Other well-reviewed Sundance performances include writer-comedian Kumail Nanjiani (Amazon Studios’ “The Big Sick”), Jeremy Renner (Taylor Sheridan’s summer hit “Wind River” from Weinstein Co.), Jason Clarke (Netflix’s “Mudbound”), and veteran Sam Elliott (The Orchard’s “The Hero”).
At Cannes, Robert Pattinson won plaudits for his criminal on a rampage in “Good Time” (A24). Over the summer. Fionn Whitehead wordlessly leads Christopher Nolan’s superb ensemble in immersive World War II epic “Dunkirk” (Warner Bros.).
Also this fall, Boseman, Steve Carell, Garfield, Jake Gyllenhaal and Miles Teller are in period biopic mode as young Justice Thurgood Marshall in Reginald Hudlin’s “Marshall” (Open Road), Bobby Riggs in Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris’s “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight), polio survivor Robin Cavendish in Andy Serkis’s “Breathe (Bleecker Street); Boston marathon bombing victim Jeff Baumer in “Stronger”; and a trauma-stricken Iraq veteran in “American Sniper” writer Jason Hall’s directorial debut “Thank You for Your Service” (Universal) respectively.
New theatrical distributor Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios scooped up two fall festival hits for their first outreach to Academy voters: Scott Cooper’s western “Hostiles,” featuring a superb Christian Bale, and true scandal “Chappaquiddick,” starring Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy.
Late entries also include Tom Hanks as Daniel Day Lewis could well be in the running for his sixth Oscar nomination, reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson in Lewis’s first film since his Oscar-winning “Lincoln.” (Focus Features will release the untitled Annapurna production.)
Below is the (alphabetical) list of contenders. Remember, no one will be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen the film.
Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me By Your Name”)
James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”)
Andrew Garfield (“Breathe”)
Jake Gyllenhaal (“Stronger”)
Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”)
Christian Bale (“Hostiles”)
Jason Clarke (“Mudbound,” “Chappaquiddick”)
Tom Hanks (“The Post”)
Daniel Day Lewis (“Phantom Thread”)
Jeremy Renner (“Wind River”)
Chadwick Boseman (“Marshall”)
Steve Carell (“Battle of the Sexes”)
Bryan Cranston (“Last Flag Flying”)
Matt Damon (“Downsizing”)
Sam Elliott (“The Hero”)
Hugh Jackman (“Logan,” “The Greatest Showman”)
Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”)
Robert Pattinson (“Good Time”)
Adam Sandler (“The Meyerowitz Stories”)
Andy Serkis (“War for the Planet of the Apes”)
Miles Teller (“Thank You For Your Service”)
Denzel Washington (“Roman Israel, Esq.”)
Fionn Whitehead (“Dunkirk”)