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Colin Farrell and Brendan Fraser Lead a Best Actor Race Open to Many Possibilities

The Best Actor race is shaping into a year full of possible first-time Oscar nominees like Colin Farrell, Bill Nighy, and Brendan Fraser.

Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell in “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Jonathan Hession/Searchlight Pictures

This article contains IndieWire’s past Best Actor predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub

We keep updating these predictions through the awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks. Nominations voting is January 12–17, with official Oscar nominations announced on January 24. The final voting is March 2–7.  And finally, the 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12, on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.

See our initial thoughts on what to expect at the 95th Academy Awards here.

The State of the Race
On the tail end of fall festival season, as celebrated titles like “The Banshees of Inisherin” are finally released in theaters, the Best Actor race is starting to form around a final few contenders.

Colin Farrell leads the pack as the star of the aforementioned Martin McDonagh comedy, a soulful tale of two friends at an impasse. He’s just a few steps ahead of Brendan Fraser in “The Whale,” Darren Aronofsky’s drama about a man in poor health hoping to reconnect with his daughter. Both films premiered in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival, where Farrell beat out Fraser for the Volpi Cup award. Farrell’s portrayal of a lovable dope not ready to accept all the changes occurring to his provincial life is a reminder that he’s one of the great working actors, and has never been nominated.

While the comeback narrative surrounding Fraser has been moving full steam ahead even before anyone saw “The Whale,” the film is a more difficult pill to swallow. The Academy isn’t typically bothered by actors in fat suits (Gary Oldman won Best Actor in 2017 for donning one to play Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”), but the movie doesn’t bring the same level of empathy for Fraser’s obese character and his eating disorder as the actor does. Fraser has been hitting every campaign stop, charming as ever, but continues to field questions about tackling a sensitive subject matter that affects so many people. That delicate dance may or may not work out in his favor.

As for the rest of the group, “Elvis” star Austin Butler is holding strong as Warner Bros. prepares a second wave of campaigns for the hit summer biopic, while Jeremy Pope has started to gain momentum for his triumphant turn as a gay Marine during the age of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in “The Inspection.” The 30-year-old is already a seasoned veteran of awards campaigns as well, having already been nominated for a Primetime Emmy, a Grammy, and two Tonys in the same year.

Among the older actors in contention, Bill Nighy looms large. Despite decades of celebrated work in film and theater, the British star has never received an Oscar nomination. His touching work in Oliver Hermanus’ “Living” could change that, as it is a film that deals with legacy, and provides a role for Nighy that’s an incredible change of pace from his scene-stealing turn in “Love Actually,” seen every holiday season by legions of cheerful viewers.

And then there’s Hugh Jackman hovering on the cusp of serious potential for playing an absent-minded father to a kid suffering from depression in “The Son.” Despite formidable appreciation for Jackman’s talents, praise for the film continues to wane. It doesn’t help that it’s been pushed as a companion piece to “The Father,” a much better film from writer-director Florian Zeller (and even includes a cameo by recent “The Father” Best Actor winner Anthony Hopkins, who outshines the star).

Contenders are listed in alphabetical order, below. No actor will be deemed a frontrunner until we have seen the film.

Austin Butler (“Elvis”)
Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”)
Bill Nighy (“Living”)
Jeremy Pope (“The Inspection”)

Daniel Giménez Cacho (“Bardo (or False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths)”)
Timothée Chalamet (“Bones and All”)
Hugh Jackman (“The Son”)
Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”)
Jonathan Majors (“Devotion”)
Park Hae-il (“Decision to Leave”)

Long Shots:
Christian Bale (“The Pale Blue Eye”)
Diego Calva (“Babylon”)
Tom Cruise (“Top Gun: Maverick”)
Eden Dambrine (“Close”)
Adam Driver (“White Noise”)
Song Kang-ho (“Broker”)
Gabriel LaBelle (“The Fabelmans”)
Cooper Raiff (“Cha Cha Real Smooth”)
Adam Sandler (“Hustle”)
Will Smith (“Emancipation”)
Sam Worthington (“Avatar: The Way of Water”)

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