The fall schedule is packed with returning Oscar perennials, and some have more than one movie vying for awards attention due to pandemic delays and a now-crammed release schedule. And while usually one performance will come out ahead of the other, upcoming festival and critical reception may also move some actors from lead to supporting or vice versa. It’s early days.
Trying for another win are Denzel Washington (“Glory,” “Training Day”), who returns to Shakespeare in the title role in Joel Coen’s New York Film Festival opener “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24); Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), who goes on the road in Mike Mill’s “C’mon, C’mon” (A24); Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”) as an anxious scientist in Adam McKay’s comet comedy “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix); Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”) as Desi Arnaz in Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” (Amazon Studios); and Benicio del Toro (“Traffic”), who pops out of the ensemble in Wes Anderson’s omnibus movie “The French Dispatch” (October 22, Searchlight).
Shooting for an Oscar win after several acting bids are Clint Eastwood as an older man on a Mexico mission in “Cry Macho” (September 17, Warner Bros.), Will Smith as tennis coach to daughter prodigies Serena and Venus Williams in “King Richard” (November 19, Warner Bros.), Bradley Cooper as a conman in Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight) and a film producer in Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled ‘70s comedy (November 26, MGM/UA), Matt Damon as a Oklahoma roughneck in Tom McCarthy’s “Stillwater” (July 30, Focus), and a knight fighting for his wife’s honor against two-time nominee Adam Driver in Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” (October 15, Disney). (Will one of them go supporting?)
Driver also stars in Scott’s other movie, ’70s fashion family saga “House of Gucci” (November 24, MGM/UA), and will earn actors’ respect for his bravura singing role as a dastardly comedian in his third movie, Leos Carax’s Sparks musical “Annette” (Amazon), which opened Cannes but will likely fade from view by Oscar time.
Trying for a second nod are Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), whose post-9/11 drama “Worth” (September 3, Netflix) debuted at Sundance 2020; Steven Yeun (“Minari”), who stars in Stephen Karam’s movie adaptation of his Broadway family drama “The Humans” (A24); Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) as a composer seeking his big break in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of Jonathan Larson musical “Tick, Tick…Boom!” (November 12, Netflix); Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) as a surly rancher in Jane Campion Western “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix), a more likely contender than his other period movie “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” (Amazon Studios); Jake Gyllenhaal (“Brokeback Mountain”) as a lonely police dispatcher on the phone in Antoine Fuqua’s remake “The Guilty” (Netflix); and Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) as young scion Paul Atreides in Denis Villeneuve’s sprawling space epic “Dune” (October 22, Warner Bros.).
And aiming for their first go-round are triple-threat Justin Chon in his heartfelt auto-fiction, Cannes selection “Blue Bayou” (Focus); Tye Sheridan as a fatherless child in George Clooney’s adaptation of Long Island memoir “The Tender Bar” (Amazon); Peter Dinklage as a singer-fighter in the title role in Joe Wright’s musical “Cyrano” (December 25, MGM/UA); Cannes Best Actor-winner Caleb Landry Jones in Justin Kurzel’s 1996 massacre drama “Nitram” (which needs a stateside distributor); Clifton Collins, Jr. as a man fighting his age in Sundance premiere “Jockey” (Sony Pictures Classics); Daniel Craig, making his last outing as James Bond in Cary Fukunaga’s “No Time to Die” (October 1, MGM/UA); Jonathan Majors, who pops out of the Western ensemble in London Film festival opener “The Harder They Fall” (October 29, Netflix); and two singer-dancer leading men, Anthony Ramos in Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Miranda musical “In the Heights” (Warner Bros.) and Ansel Elgort in Steven Spielberg’s musical remake “West Side Story” (December 10, Disney), who will have to manage an old sexual harassment accusation.
Macall Polay/Warner Bros.
Everything has to go right before these actors land a coveted leading man Oscar slot. Contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No one will be deemed a frontrunner until I’ve seen the film.
Clifton Collins, Jr. (“Jockey”)
Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”)
Peter Dinklage (“Cyrano”)
Anthony Ramos (“In the Heights”)
Will Smith (“King Richard”)
Javier Bardem (“Being the Ricardos”)
Timothée Chalamet (“Dune”)
Bradley Cooper (“Nightmare Alley”)
Daniel Craig (“No Time to Die”)
Matt Damon (“The Last Duel”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Don’t Look Up”)
Adam Driver (“House of Gucci”)
Clint Eastwood (“Cry Macho”)
Andrew Garfield (“Tick, Tick…Boom!”)
Jake Gyllenhaal (“The Guilty”)
Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”)
Justin Chon (“Blue Bayou”)
Matt Damon (“Stillwater”)
Benicio del Toro (“The French Dispatch”)
Adam Driver (“Annette”)
Ansel Elgort (“West Side Story”)
Michael Keaton (“Worth”)
Caleb Landry Jones (“Nitram”)
Jonathan Majors (“The Harder They Fall”)
Josh O’Connor (“Mothering Sunday”)
Sean Penn (“Flag Day”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“C’mon, C’mon”)
Jeffrey Wright (“The French Dispatch”)
Steven Yeun (“The Humans”)