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Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2017 Best Actor Academy Award Contenders

Premature Oscar Predictions: The 2017 Best Actor Academy Award Contenders

By now, you’ve had enough of Oscar season. Besieged by For Your Consideration ads and awards pundits who throw objectivity to the wind, you can only hear about Leonardo DiCaprio eating bison liver so many times before you either rip your hair out or say “screw it” and give in and buy a bison liver burger for lunch and then rent the “The Revenant” on Blu-Ray.

The last thing you want to hear is anything about the Academy Awards, #OscarsSoWhite, or who wore the worst dress on the red carpet. Well, we’ve got you covered. Actually, not really. We realize it’s “Too soon!” but it’s become an admittedly-ridiculous tradition around The Playlist to reveal our ludicrously early premature Oscar predictions. Think of it as a foolish self-immolation and purging of all things Oscar into the toilet so we don’t have to ever speak of the Academy Awards again (well, until when we have to again).

READ MORE: 2016 Oscars: The Best And Worst Of The 2016 Academy Awards

So duh, it’s way too early, but the spirit of our premature predictions are mostly in fun —if you can describe awards punditry in that fashion. Earlier this week, we predicted 2017 Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress, and now, we’re finishing up with Best Actor.

2016 saw a rather less competitive Best Male Acting category than usual, with a slight lack of serious contenders beyond the actual nominees. And it didn’t help that DiCaprio had virtually sewn up his win as soon as anyone saw “The Revenant.” Things are much less certain at this early stage, obviously: will 2017 be the year that #OscarsSoWhite becomes unnecessary and allows a non-white winner for the first time in a decade? Take a look at our ten possibilities below, and let us know who you think might be in contention in the comments.

Casey Affleck – “Manchester By The Sea”

Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” feels so much like the kind of movie that should be overlooked by the Oscars that it’s easy to forget that Casey Affleck received his sole Oscar nod to date for the film, albeit in Best Supporting Actor for what was clearly a lead role. Multiple fine performances since have seen the picky actor fail to repeat that feat with the Academy, but he might have his best chance yet this year with Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By The Sea.” Playing a troubled man who returns to his hometown after his brother’s death, the film seems in many respects to be a follow-up to Lonergan’s “You Can Count On Me,” and with rave reviews and promises of an Oscar push from Amazon, it’s not difficult to imagine Affleck getting an invite to the Dolby Theater.

Christian Bale or Oscar Isaac – “The Promise”

Right now, “The Promise,” from “Hotel Rwanda” director Terry George, is a little under the radar, but we don’t expect that to last. Firstly, it’s a lavish period love triangle set against the Armenian genocide in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, a subject matter rarely examined on film but is long overdue for the big-budget treatment. Secondly, it has a heavyweight cast, particularly when it comes to its two male leads Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, and we think either one could end up registering with the Academy. It’ll depend on which actor ends up campaigning for lead (assuming it’s picked up in time for an awards season release), but both are deserving: Bale earned his third nomination last year for “The Big Short” (having won for “The Fighter,” his first nod), while Isaac has never been recognized but is much more familiar to voters now after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and likely stands his best chance yet. Either could follow in the footsteps of George’s “Hotel Rwanda” star Don Cheadle for a nod.

Michael Keaton – “The Founder” 
Earlier this week, we included “The Founder,” John Lee Hancock’s biopic of Ray Kroc, the man who took McDonald’s worldwide and made it one of America’s most iconic corporations, in our Best Picture hopefuls, but the landscape has since changed. Having been originally set by The Weinstein Company for a prime November release, Harvey Weinstein moved it forward to August. Some would argue that it’s an attempt to put the movie in for a slot that has proved profitable for adult dramas like “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Butler” and “The Help.” But it’s worth noting that only one of those movies made much impact with the Academy. That said, while we’re more skeptical than we were (TWC tend to give its biggest prospect a Thanksgiving opening), we still wouldn’t count the film out yet, and particularly the lead turn by Michael Keaton. The actor was in the last two Best Picture winners but didn’t win for “Birdman” and wasn’t nominated for “Spotlight” —a feeling that he’s due might well help push him in even if the movie has faded as a whole by awards time. 

Dev Patel – “Lion” 
When “The Founder” got moved up by the Weinstein Company to August, the film to benefit was “Lion,” which will now open in the same November Thanksgiving slot that Harvey Weinstein found so useful for “The Imitation Game,” “Philomena,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech.” That’s an impressive run, and it means that all eyes are now on this film by Garth Davis (Jane Campion’s co-director on “Top Of The Lake”), and its star Dev Patel. Patel, who wasn’t even nominated for Oscar juggernaut “Slumdog Millionaire,” will play a young Indian boy who has been separated from his family, thrown into a juvenile home and eventually adopted by an Australian couple, only to later track down his family using Google Earth. Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman will also star, but it’s Patel who’ll have to carry the film, and you can read in this Vanity Fair account of the true story on which the film is based that he clearly has an incredibly emotionally potent part to play. Weinstein’s been wrong before, but not often, and this kind of bullish confidence suggests test screenings have been going well —we wouldn’t want to bet against him. 

Colin Firth – “Deep Water”

It hasn’t been that long since Colin Firth was a bit of a punchline, having been reduced to bill-paying fare like “St. Trinian’s” and “Mamma Mia.” But the last few years have seen him undergo an extraordinary credibility makeover, thanks to an Oscar nod and then an Oscar win for “A Single Man” and “The King’s Speech” respectively, followed by a reinvention as an action star with “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” And a return to the awards season looks absolutely viable this year, as he’s teamed with “The Theory Of Everything” director James Marsh for “Deep Water.” Based on a documentary of the same name and telling the troubling and fascinating story of round-the-world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, falling somewhere between “All Is Lost” and “A Beautiful Mind,” it should let Firth show further range. If this film can find a U.S. distributor in time, it could well be in the conversation.

Andrew Garfield – “Silence”

Some actors break out, and keen to strike while the iron’s hot, immediately take every job they’re offered. Others are more meditative, and it’s been fascinating to see the way Andrew Garfield has approached his career: since making a big impression in “Never Let Me Go” and “The Social Network,” he’s made just three movies, two of which were “Spider-Man” films. Now free of that ill-advised franchise reboot, he looks to be gearing up his workload with two new movies hitting this year. And while we’re not sure that people have yet forgiven Mel Gibson enough for “Hacksaw Ridge,” which he directs and Garfield stars in, to be an Oscar player, Garfield’s likely to be very much in the Best Actor mix for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” in which he plays a conscience-stricken priest forced to choose between his faith and his life. Garfield’s more than talented enough to make it sing, and assuming Scorsese delivers, the actor could easily pick up his first nod (For the record, Liam Neeson’s role in the picture like more of a supporting one, but we suppose there could still be some category skulduggery).

Tom Hanks – “Sully”

Only two men have won back-to-back Best Actor trophies: Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks. The latter has only grown as a performer, and yet in the 21 years that have passed since he won for “Forrest Gump,” he’s only been nominated twice and has not won. And the last nomination was fifteen years ago, for “Cast Away.” It’s surely only a matter of time before Hanks is nominated again (he was sorely unlucky not to get one for “Captain Phillips”), and it could come as soon as this year, with Clint Eastwood’s “Sully.” It’s the first collaboration between the two Hollywood fixtures, with some powerful material centering on Chesley Sullenberger, the airline captain who in 2009 safely piloted a plane into a safe crash landing in the Hudson River with no casualties. Eastwood’s films don’t always perform with the Academy, and Hanks is sometimes taken for granted, but this could be his best bet in a while.

Woody Harrelson – “Wilson”/“LBJ”

On any list of “great actors who’ve never won an Oscar,” Woody Harrelson must be near the top. In fact, he’s only been nominated twice, for “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” in 1997 and then for ‘The Messenger” thirteen years later. But he has a handful of movies coming this year, and at least two of them could see him return to the Oscars. You’ll forgive us if we’re a little skeptical right now of “LBJ,” in which Harrelson has an impressive physical transformation as the 36th President of the United States: though the cast is good, it’s from the long-off-form Rob Reiner, and could be overshadowed by Bryan Cranston playing the same role in HBO movie “All The Way.” But the dark horse might be “Wilson” —an adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel about a middle-aged misanthrope. It’s produced by Alexander Payne, who’s been something of an awards magnet of late, and directed by Craig Johnson, who produced revelatory turns from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in “The Skeleton Twins,” plus the always awards-friendly Fox Searchlight are distributing. Could it finally be Woody’s year?

David Oyelowo – “A United Kingdom”

Speaking of being overdue, there were few Oscar snubs that were more baffling in recent years, or that spoke to the overwhelming whiteness of the Academy, than the case of David Oyelowo missing a nomination for “Selma.” It was an extraordinary performance that saw the actor transformed, capturing Martin Luther King not just as an icon but as a man, yet voters decided they’d rather honor Benedict Cumberbatch’s prickly genius in “The Imitation Game.” Fortunately, they have more than one chance to make it up to Oyelowo, and while he could definitely turn up for Mira Nair’s “Queen Of Katwe,” our money’s on Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom,” which Oyelowo both stars and produces, as Seretse Khama, the ruler of Botswana who gave up his throne for the woman he loved, only to win it back. Comparisons to “The King’s Speech” are obvious, but assuming Oyelowo’s up to his usual standards, he’s unlikely to be snubbed again.

Nate Parker – “Birth Of A Nation”

In terms of actors-turned-directors whose films have won big with the Academy, it still seems to be a hurdle to be nominated for a starring performance in your own film. Neither Mel Gibson or Ben Affleck were nominated for acting in their Best Picture winners “Braveheart” and “Argo,” while Kevin Costner (“Dances With Wolves“), Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby“) and Warren Beatty (“Reds“) won Best Director but lost in Best Actor. Could Nate Parker be the guy to break this particular record? He became a sensation when his “Birth Of A Nation” blew up at Sundance, and while the film has a scattering of naysayers, it got mostly glowing notices, and with the Academy still reeling from #OscarsSoWhite, it could sweep its way through the nominations in a way that few films, especially indies, do. It’ll depend on the eventual strength of the category (Parker has less name recognition than some of his potential rivals), but we think he’ll be talked about all the way through to January.

Honorable mentions: Obviously, there are plenty more performances that could and will feature in. Among them, we’ll see the omnipresent Jim Broadbent get one of the best roles of his career in the adaptation of Julian Barnes’ “Sense Of An Ending.” Ryan Gosling and Joel Edgerton could figure in for “La La Land” and “Loving,” and newcomer Joe Alwyn has the lead in Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”

Matthew McConaughey has two contenders with “Free State Of Jones” and “Gold,” while Mark Wahlberg has “Deepwater Horizon,” Brad Pitt has Robert Zemeckis’ WWII movie and “War Machine,” Mark Rylance could break performance-capture ground with “The BFG,” Andre Holland leads Barry Jenkins’Moonlight,” Liam Neeson gets to punch things less in Scorsese’s “Silence,” Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” and Chris Pratt returns to space for “Passengers.” Don’t discount Michael Fassbender in “Light Between Oceans” or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Snowden” either.

And as far as Supporting performances go, we’d keep an eye on Tadanobu Asano in “Silence,” Peter Sarsgaard in “Jackie,” Michael Shannon in one of the literally nine movies he’s in this year (maybe “Loving” or “Nocturnal Animals”), Mahershala Ali in “Free State Of Jones” or “Moonlight,” Lucas Hedges in “Manchester By The Sea,” Bill Nighy in “Their Finest Hour And A Half,” or John Boyega in “The Circle.” Let us know who you’re backing in the comments.

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