Of all the categories I plan to predict this year, Best Actor is probably the most competitive. It’s also the hardest for me personally, because I am wrestling with who I think will be nominated and who I think deserves to be nominated. There were a lot of terrific performances this year, and whittling it down to a top 5 has proven to be very difficult. It’s a battle of logic vs. heart, so I’ll do my best to try and keep my list as balanced as possible.
There are some definitive front runners that I think the critic community has decidedly agreed upon, but there are least two spots that I think are up for grabs. These spots can be claimed by a plethora of actors who turned in phenomenal performances in 2021, and I think it can be anyones game at this point.
So let’s make a few predictions as to who we’ll see in the Best Actor category this year.
Will Smith – “King Richard”
We’re gonna start with the shoe in and front runner to win it all. Will Smith once again solidifies himself as a versatile and compelling actor with his work in “King Richard.” And that’s coming form someone who actually thinks Smith is essentially the same person in everything. That’s actually unfair, since every few years Smith decides to get Oscar bait-y and really goes for it. He does it again with “King Richard,” and he’s legitimately amazing here. I was pleasantly surprised with how good everything about this movie was and it is powered by Smith giving it his all. Though he’s a sure fire bet to make the list, he’s one inclusion I’m fine with being on here. He deserves it.
Catch the film on HBO Max.
Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Power of the Dog”
It seems Bendelan Cumbersnatch (make up your own name, it’s fun) has once again wowed the academy and critics alike with his work in “The Power of The Dog.” Cumberbatch seems content with collecting his Marvel checks as a wizard so it can fund more dramatic acting projects. He’s done this for some time now, and really shines here in “The Power of the Dog.” His accent work has improved tremendously, and he’s completely believable as a angry, macho western rancher. The film is damn good from start to finish, the kind of movie that feels tailored made for award season. Look for “The Power of the Dog” to be on just about every single major nomination list in the next few weeks, and Cumberbatch will be one of the for sure additions to the Best Actor category.
Catch the film on Netflix.
Denzel Washington – “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
We’re doing all the for sures up top before we get into the proverbial heart picks. I have my own beefs with “Macbeth,” namely their marketing lied to me and now I’m subscribed to Apple+ and have to wait until January 14th to watch it instead of Christmas Day. And saying “In Theaters Christmas Day” when what you really mean is “In 4 theaters in the depths of Los Angeles” is misleading and ya, I’m still very, VERY bitter about it. Let us see movies, you cowards! Anyways, the other part of that frustration is that this is the only inclusion I’m making without actually seeing the film. But I also include it with confidence, because the Academy loves Denzel, they love him even more when he does stage to film projects, and they absolutely lose their minds when Denzel does black and white Shakespeare.
Andrew Garfield – “Tick Tick…Boom!”
This pick is a bit of both; logic and heart together. Logically, Garfield’s performance in “Tick Tick Boom!” would be the front runner in any other year of film. It is only because of the abundance of strong performances that his inclusion is still a little iffy. There is a suspicion that despite turning in one of the most amazing and transformative performances of his entire career, he may end up being the biggest snub of the evening. I really hope that isn’t the case, because my heart actually wants him to win it all. Yes, even over the aforementioned frontrunners. He’s simply wonderful in “Tick Tick…Boom!.” I mean outright mesmerizing and engaging and charming and just oozing with talent. He can sing, he can play, he can dance, and by god can he act. I am confidently and emotionally including him on the Best Actor list.
Catch it on Netflix.
Peter Dinklage – “Cyrano”
This one is more heart than logic, as I think there is a good chance that some other, lesser performance will knock him out of this race. But Dinklage is simply amazing in “Cyrano,” and he proves that he is truly one of the best actors working today. The movie is wonderful, but it doesn’t work nearly as well without the little engine of Dinklage, chewing through scenery and running the gamut of emotional range. Going back to my rant about letting us see movies for a second: “Cyrano” is the kind of movie the Academy should be championing all month long. It has awards season written all over it, from its style to narrative to casting to music to costumes and yes, to the phenomenal performance from Dinklage. Instead, the studio decided to do a tiny, limited release for a week in the depth of Los Angeles, and then a limited release on January 28th. I don’t know why there’s so little faith in “Cyrano,” because it’s a truly wonderful film that no one will get to see.
A Possible Dark Horse Prediction-
There is a strong chance that Javier Bardem creeps into this list for “Being the Ricardos.” Here’s the thing: he’s fine and he’s doing everything he can, but his casting already mired in controversy to begin with, the movie is a beautiful mess that isn’t nearly as good as it thinks that it is. But this is exactly the kind of film that the Academy tends to go all in on despite audiences and critics being less than thrilled with. It’s a behind the scenes look at how television episodes are made starring two critical darlings, written and directed by another Academy darling with a setting in the golden age of Hollywood about one of the greatest Hollywood women to ever live. Ya, this has dark horse, undeserved Academy nominations written all over it, and while I don’t want it to happen, it very possibly can. You can be upset, but don’t be surprised if you see Bardem creep onto the Best Actor list.
There are few outliers that may or may not make a surprise appearance on the list. Some of them are long shots, some of them are hotly debated as true contenders, and some of them are just performances I saw this year that deserve a nod but will most certainly not get it. The first mention probably has the best shot at upsetting my prediction list is Nicolas Cage in “Pig.” I know, Cage as a legitimate Oscar contender? What a time to be alive! It’s seriously one of the best performances of his career to date, and I would not be made if he somehow makes it onto the list. Another strong but unlikely contender is Joaquin Phoenix in “C’mon C’mon.” I haven’t had a chance to check it out, but I know that his performance has been critically acclaimed. The Academy likes Phoenix, but they like him much more when he goes for broke and turns in wild, off the wall, all in performances. There’s a chance, though.
Another strong possible candidate is Mahershala Ali for “Swan Song.” Another film I didn’t see but critics loved, this one is one of those default nominations where an actor the Academy loves does literally anything in the year and automatically qualifies. I’m sure he’s wonderful, and probably deserves at least some recognition, but I just don’t know that it can rival some of the other really, strong performance we’ve seen this year. Lastly, and the most unlikely candidate is Winston Duke in “Nine Days.” I know only like 4 people saw this movie, but it’s so damn good and Duke is amazing. He proves here that he is so much better than some of his other, bigger performances. He’s a legitimate actor, and “Nine Days” is a wonderful example of what he’s capable of. It doesn’t have a chance to be recognized for anything, but if this rave puts another pair of eyes on this movie then I’m all for it.
So, there you have it. Those are my predictions. Who do you think will be nominated for Best Actor?