As the Oscar race heats up, decisions are being made among distributors, agents, and managers about which categories their movie stars should vie for. It’s a game that Oscar strategists play to win. Thankfully, the decision makers behind “Ford v Ferrari” (Fox/Disney) opted to put their equal leads in the race for Best Actor. It’s a crowded race, but the story is so evenly balanced between Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby (three acting nominations, one Original Screenplay win for “Good Will Hunting”) and Christian Bale as race car driver Ken Miles (four acting nominations and one win, for Supporting Actor for “The Fighter”), that it’s impossible to justify one supporting the other.
Determining which actor should be up for which nomination is a Solomonic dilemma, and “Ford v Ferrari” is far from the only film to face it. Another movie starring equally matched actors is Robert Eggers’ claustrophobic, Herman Melville-inspired two-hander “The Lighthouse.”
Both Robert Pattinson, who continues to grow with every film, and veteran Willem Dafoe, who’s on a roll these days, are brilliant as they navigate Eggers’ tricky Melville-inspired dialogue. But A24 decided to put Pattinson in the lead, with Dafoe in supporting. Pattinson scored some strong reviews for his supporting role as the French dauphin in “The King,” opposite Timothée Chalamet, who will vie for lead in that role and supporting for “Little Women.” Dafoe, meanwhile, also plays a supporting role in Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn.”
Any actor considering the supporting category also must consider Quentin Tarantino’s bromance “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” as Brad Pitt is currently favored to win for his cooly masculine stuntman Cliff Booth. It makes sense for Pitt to take this route, partly because Booth plays a subservient role in the film to TV star Rick Dalton (Best Actor Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio).
Sony placed Matthew Rhys in lead, Tom Hanks in supporting for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Both are fair calls. Although Fred Rogers’ story is the star, the movie is really about the Esquire writer who profiled him. And Netflix opted to place the veteran stars of its two-hander “The Two Popes” into two categories: never-nominated Jonathan Pryce (as protagonist Pope Francis) with more screen time will be lead, with Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins (as antagonist Pope Benedict) in supporting.
Yes, everybody in Hollywood knows how this game is played. But at least with “Ford v Ferrari,” the players decided against category fraud.