Awards season will soon be upon us, so it’s time to take a look at who’s in the running for Best Actor at the 2020 Oscars. During the 91st Academy Awards, Rami Malek took home the trophy for his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, beating out a field that also included Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Viggo Mortensen, and Willem Dafoe. Best Actor is typically one of the most star-studded categories at the Oscars, and this coming year should be no different. There’s a long list of big names that should be in the mix.
Of course, it’s incredibly early to make accurate Oscar predictions. At this point in time, with just about all of the awards hopefuls unseen, everything is built around hype and on-paper potential rather than concrete indicators. But with the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival recently announcing its full lineup, cinephiles will be debating the Oscar merits of several movies in due time. We’re getting a jump on the conversation with our first wave of Best Actor predictions. This post will be updated throughout awards season, leading up to the Oscars ceremony.
Hanks pulled off the rare feat of winning back-to-back Best Actor Oscars in 1993 and 1994 for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Since then, he’s turned in a bevy of terrific performances, but he hasn’t even been nominated for an Academy Award since Cast Away in 2000. Many felt he was snubbed for his work in Captain Phillips, and he’s also appeared in Best Picture contenders like Bridge of Spies and The Post recently. The Academy enjoys the projects Hanks is choosing, but he hasn’t been able to break through.
That might change this year. Hanks is playing children’s television icon Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which reads as a perfect match between actor and role. The film’s trailer served as further proof of that sentiment, teasing yet another great Hanks performance that’ll tug at the heartstrings. One of the easiest ways to get Oscar recognition is to play a beloved real-life figure, and there are few people more beloved than Mr. Rogers. If A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is as good as it’s poised to be, Hanks may be set up for a deep run.
Snagging his elusive first Oscar in 2015 for The Revenant, DiCaprio’s been absent from the big screen until now. He’s the lead in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, playing washed up TV star Rick Dalton. Along with his trusty stunt double Cliff Booth, Rick attempts to revive his career in an industry that’s changing. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at its world premiere at Cannes back in May, and already has a plethora of positive reviews under its belt, which means its Oscar prospects are still on solid footing. Early release dates can be a detriment at times, but Tarantino is a large enough figure for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to stick around.
Outside of perhaps World War II, the Academy’s favorite type of films are those that deal with the entertainment industry, which is why many are pegging Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be a big time contender. Should that pan out, DiCaprio will likely be in line for another nomination. He no longer has the overdue narrative hanging over his head, but his first role in four years is worth celebrating, and he looks to be delivering as strong a performance as he ever as. The trailers showcased one key trait of Rick is his crippling insecurity and fear of becoming a has-been, which gives DiCaprio some meaty material to work with. He worked well with Tarantino before (Django Unchained), so the duo should deliver magic again.
One of cinema’s most iconic pairings is Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese, who have collaborated on some of the all-time greatest films. That list includes Raging Bull, which won De Niro Best Actor in 1980. The two hadn’t worked together since 1995’s Casino, but they’re reuniting for Netflix’s highly-anticipated The Irishman. The cast reads as a who’s who of gangster classics, with Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel also starring. In The Irishman, De Niro portrays Frank Sheeran, a mobster who claimed to have been involved with Jimmy Hoffa’s murder.
De Niro and Scorsese makes The Irishman worth getting excited about, but there are some lingering questions hanging over the film. It’s been widely publicized that Scorsese is using digital de-aging technology to make his ensemble of Hollywood elders appear decades younger, which has proven to be a difficult and expensive process. De Niro and company will be “young” for the entire first half of the film, so it remains to be seen how this pans out. If the special effects wizards knocked it out of the park, The Irishman could be Netflix’s next big Oscar player. But if the response to it is mixed, that’ll hurt its chances of making noise on the awards circuit.
Due in large part to his collaborations with director Ryan Coogler, Jordan has strung together a list of impressive performances over the past few years. In particular, his turn in Black Panther last year was incredibly poignant and had many believing he should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Jordan has yet to hear his name called on nomination morning, but it certainly feels like he’s building towards a big awards breakthrough. Perhaps Just Mercy will be the film that does the trick.
In it, Jordan plays Bryan Stevenson, an attorney who defends an inmate on death row. Warner Bros., always looking to stake a claim in the Oscar game, recently set Just Mercy for an awards-qualifying run over Christmas before it expands wide in January. That indicates the studio is confident the film can be something special and they’re keen on giving it an Oscar push. It’s difficult to garner how realistic those expectations are without a trailer to judge, but Jordan is reliably excellent and there’s little doubt he’ll deliver another captivating performance. If Just Mercy is the next great courtroom drama, Jordan might find himself in the running.
Egerton received raves for his turn as Sir Elton John in Rocketman, which came out back in May. It was truly a transformative performance, and to top it all off, Egerton did his own singing for the film. If Malek could get an Oscar for lip syncing, conventional wisdom would hold Best Actor is Egerton’s to lose because he went the extra mile, right? Sadly for him, it’s not that easy. This isn’t an indictment on Rocketman (which earned very positive reviews) or Egerton (who was excellent), but the awards season process in general. The Bohemian Rhapsody comparisons write themselves, but there are a couple of factors to consider.
For one, Bohemian Rhapsody came out in November 2018, the thick of awards season and was fresh in voters’ minds when nominations came out. Rocketman is going to need to defy typical Oscar history and have incredibly long legs to get through the gauntlet. That’s not impossible (Get Out released in February, remember), but still pretty rare. There are a lot of films to come out, with a ton of Oscar hopefuls trying to make waves. Due to the R-rating, Rocketman also wasn’t as big a box office draw as Bohemian Rhapsody, which may impact its chances. Paramount will need to run a killer campaign to get Egerton across, but they’re certainly going to try.
From the moment it was announced, it was clear Todd Phillips’ Joker origin movie was going to be a different beast when compared to the usual comic book fare. Completely disconnected from the DCEU, interest was piqued when Phoenix signed on for the lead role. The actor is notoriously picky about his projects, but he always wanted to do a low-budget film about a comic book villain, so Joker appealed to him. With a thespian of his caliber front and center, many became curious to see what Joker could be. The trailer played as a mashup of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, and now the film is looking like an awards player.
Joker is one of the many titles that’ll be screening at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, which is a positive sign in regards to its quality. WB obviously thinks very highly of the film, and they want to showcase it on some of cinema’s grandest stages to generate buzz and hype. The studio bypassed Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con this year, so the fall festivals will serve as the launching pad for Joker. WB is also eyeing a showing in Venice, so they’re going for broke here. The late great Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for playing the Joker over a decade ago, so it’ll be interesting to watch how voters react to Phoenix’s take.
The exceptionally gifted Driver landed his first nomination in Best Supporting Actor last year for Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, and fans of the actor figured that won’t be his only one. As great as it would be for Driver to be recognized for his compelling turns as Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy (he’s arguably the best franchise movie villain since Ledger’s Joker), it’s more realistic for Driver to get a nod for The Report. In the drama, the actor plays Daniel Jones, who investigated the CIA’s interrogation program. The Report was one of the breakout titles of Sundance, earning comparisons to Spotlight and All the President’s Men.
Unsurprisingly, Driver is in top form in The Report, so he should be in contention for another nomination. Amazon Studios is planning to campaign hard for The Report, and Driver will be omnipresent later this year when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes out. Obviously, it remains to be seen how The Report fares when stacked up against all the other films this year (in July, everything’s a contender), but if it’s one of the leaders of the pack following the early fall festivals, Driver may hear his name again.
Right now, either one of these stars could go lead. Based on the trailer, Damon’s Carroll Shelby is set up as the protagonist, as he’s the one recruited by the Ford Motor Company to build a race car that can beat Ferrari at Les Mans. But Bale has an important role to play as well, portraying driver Ken Miles. Until Ford v. Ferrari screens and audiences get a better idea of how the screen time is split up, we think both Bale and Damon could be in consideration for Best Actor. Fox pushed the release of this film back from June to November, indicating they have Oscars on the mind. That’s for good reason, seeing that it’s a classic American story with big names attached. James Mangold (Logan) directs.
On-paper, Ford v. Ferrari is definitely something worth getting excited about, but it’s worth pointing out Mangold’s films aren’t always a sure thing with the Academy. Works like Logan and Walk the Line get some key notices, but he’s never had one that really broke out. With that in mind, time will tell if Ford v. Ferrari will be Mangold’s big breakout and rack up nomination across the board. Damon, who has three acting nominations to his name, is certainly capable of delivering a great performance and the Academy may want to give him some love for his primary craft (his one win is in writing) sooner or later.
More: 2020 Best Picture Oscar Predictions