Chadwick Boseman Holds the Edge for the Best-Actor Oscar
This year’s Oscar races are longer than ever and harder to call: amid the ongoing pandemic, the ceremony has been postponed to April 25 (films released by February 28 are allowed) and the usual round of pomp, Parties and pageants has all but evaporated, leaving behind a number of buzz-free screening links.
Still, there is at least one top category in which I feel comfortable anointing a leader: In the crowded race for best actors, Chadwick Boseman comes out on top for his extraordinary work in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”. With this prime opportunity to spot the late superstar, Oscar voters certainly won’t fail to grab it.
Still, don’t expect the last five simply filled with Boseman and four pushovers. This year, this category might be remembered as well-known Oscar faces of up-and-coming talent looking to get their first nomination outnumbered them.
Who is the most likely of these names to break through? Here are my projections.
Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
Ahmed has done sensitive side work in films like “Nightcrawler” and “The Sisters Brothers”, but his lead role in “Sound of Metal” takes it one step further: As a drummer with a drug problem who cannot accept his sudden hearing loss, Ahmed is simply staggering. A recent Gotham Award won against Boseman suggests he has what it takes to earn his first Oscar nomination. Let’s hope the voters include his wonderful co-star Paul Raci, who is so impressive as the leader of Ahmed’s recovery group.
Kingsley Ben-Adir, “One Night in Miami”
While this civil rights-era drama (due Friday by Amazon) gives equal weight to its four-piece ensemble, the streaming service’s distinction is to position Ben-Adir (Malcolm X) and Eli Goree (Muhammad Ali) as the lead actors . while Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke) and Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown) are scheduled to run in the supporting categories. It’s a risky strategy, but Ben-Adir feels like a potential actor breakout: British offspring have an intimate take on Malcolm X, which makes this icon feel delightfully human.
Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Butt”
Though Boseman’s death creates a sense of urgency to honor him, his work in this adaptation of August Wilson would have caught Oscar’s attention no matter what: he’s just so great in a bold and brazen role that is far from his stoic performance is in “Black Panther”. Posthumous Oscar wins are hard to come by, but Boseman remembers Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, who at the end of his short career was one of his best-known achievements.
Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat Subsequent Film”
With Borat’s knack for big parties, a dark horse like Baron Cohen shouldn’t be counted, especially since the first “Borat” earned the writer and actor a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Both of them are very much at play again this time around, though any best actor momentum Baron Cohen has could go into his much more likely supporting actor nomination for Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7”.
Tom Hanks, “News of the World”
A supporting actor nomination last year for “A Nice Day in the Neighborhood” broke an Oscar losing streak nearly two decades for Hanks, whose recent appearances were often taken for granted. If voters choose big names by default this year, Hanks will have a fair shot, but his role as a civil war veteran on News of the World is terribly subdued and can get lost in a sea of flashy competitors.
Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
It would have to go very wrong for Hopkins to miss a nomination: As a patriarch beginning to lose his place in the world due to dementia, Hopkins becomes a keystone of his career. (The movie is slated for February 26th.) Roles this good don’t happen very often for an 83-year-old actor, and any other year that sense of timing could have guaranteed Hopkins his second Oscar. But will voters neglect their only real opportunity to give Boseman this year’s award?
Delroy Lindo, “Da 5 Bloods”
Lindo is hugely compelling as a veteran of the Vietnam War in Spike Lee’s drama, and the never-nominated 68-year-old was the beneficiary of a great critic who was recognized for best actor by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. Since he’s the only contender on this list to come from a summer movie, these continued laurels will help him keep an eye on during an Oscar season that will drag on for a few months.
Gary Oldman, “Mank”
Could “Mank” be this year’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, an expensive historical film about the film industry that deserves many nominations but struggles to convert them into victories? Oscar veteran Oldman is sure to deliver the kind of performance voters get excited about: each of his line readings, delivered with a voice that creaks like a screen door, is full of big decisions. Even so, the voters I spoke to respect the film more than they love it.
Lakeith Stanfield, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
This late-arriving drama about the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton will reshape the supporting cast race as Daniel Kaluuya’s valiant performance as Hampton leads the way. (The film is slated for February 12th.) What does this mean for Stanfield, the actual lead actor in the film, who plays a traitorous FBI informant who infiltrates Hampton’s inner circle? If the film connects, the talented actor could get carried away. While his character’s motives remain a bit hazy, Stanfield still delivers from scene to scene.
John David Washington, “Malcolm & Marie”
After finishing just short of the last five finalists during the BlacKkKlansman Oscar run, Washington may have better luck with its appearance in Malcolm & Marie (February 5), a quarantine. Two-handed shot in which he plays a disgusting high-profile filmmaker who insults his girlfriend (Zendaya) for an hour and 45 minutes. It’s certainly the most eye-catching and chatty performance on this list, though voters may be more sympathetic to Zendaya if she gets through his Harangues.
Steven Yeun, ‘Minari’
Yeun earned Oscar recognition for his sly support at Burning 2018, but voters will soon have a chance to make amends. In the celebrated “Minari” (due February 12), Yeun plays a father with a migrant background who moves his family to Arkansas to start a farm. You can feel his pride and frustration even when scenes with little dialogue play out. But can a performance like Yeuns break through in a group of thundering monologues? Even the indie-oriented Gotham Awards have kept him from a nomination, and his Oscar contest will be even tougher.