State of the Race – Lead Actor Breakdown

Film Festivals are in full swing, and honestly, I couldn’t be happier because that means it is time to overanalyze the awards race for the next three months. So today, I will look at the Best Actor race, which has seen some movement since both the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals played out. While the Toronto International Film Festival kicked off yesterday, we have mostly seen the anticipated Lead Actor films premiere at other festivals.

Brendan Fraser’s return seems to be the Oscar player many people thought it would be after the film’s debut on the festival circuit. So, I will look at the Best Actor race, whose stock is up and down, while sharing my reasoning behind each of my current Best Actor predictions. While you are here, take a peak at our Oscar Board and see the rest of our team’s post-festival predictions.

Pre-Festival Rankings

  1. Austin Butler – Elvis
  2. Diego Calva – Babylon
  3. Hugh Jackman – The Son
  4. Leonardo DiCaprio – Killers of the Flower Moon
  5. Adam Driver – White Noise

Post-Festival Rankings

    My stance hasn’t changed much here because I believe that Austin Butler is a lock for at least the nomination. For three of the last four years, we’ve seen music performances get nominated in this category and Butler will make it four out of five. While I am not convinced he will win yet, because I need to see how the competition plays out, but playing someone as beloved as Elvis and the universal response to the performance has him in my one slot.

    Did you know last year was the first year since 2010 that didn’t produce a 1st-time nomination in the Best Actor Category? In doing my research, I was kind of blown away by this. Of course, that bodes well for Calva (and Butler), who stars in Damien Chazelle’s latest film Babylon. Chazelle has seen two of his first three features produce Oscar nominations in acting categories (Gosling in First Man should’ve been 3 for 3). Early chatter around the movie has Chazelle hitting another homerun, which is why Calva is slotted in my two spot.

    Speaking of first-time nominations, could we see three? It wouldn’t be the first time, as it had happened as recently as 2020 when Chadwick Boseman, Riz Ahmed and Steven Yeun were first-time nominees (Also happened in 2014 and 2016). Fraser gets the big bump as he was the talk of the town at the Venice Film Festival for his performance in The Whale. I am still slightly uncertain that Fraser will get nominated and the film possibly underperforming, but the narrative and the momentum favor him right now.

    Two years ago, we saw Anthony Hopkins take home Best Actor for his performance in The Father, can Florian Zeller strike gold in his second feature? Jackman, who has that overdue narrative on his side, has only been nominated once back in 2012 for Les Miserables but arguably should’ve been nominated at least 1-2 other times.

    Speaking of overdue, Farrell is getting quite the hype out of Venice for his performance in Martin McDonagh’s latest film. Farrell has Banshees and The Batman, where he played Pengiun which could see love for makeup for his transformation in the role, which could help push his already overdue narrative. McDonagh’s last directing turn ended with seven nominations.

While there has been no news officially on Killers of the Flower Moon, around this time in 2016, Martin Scorsese had confirmed Silence was in editing and expected to be released later that year. Given we have not received any update, at this time, I’m officially taking Leonardo DiCaprio off my predictions.

Adam Driver seemed like a top contender for Noah Baumbach’s newest film, White Noise. However, the noise on the film and performance are a bit muted. The film will kick off the New York Film Festival soon and we’ll see if Driver gets back into the conversation.

The rest of the bunch


Out of the Venice Film Festival, the reaction on Bardo was not great. The film had a better response at Telluride, but the mixed reviews and overall negative discussion around the film has Daniel Giménez Cacho floating at number six for me, but not cracking into the five just yet.

Michael Ward could be another first time nominee as he is getting as much as praise as his co-star Academy Award Winner Olivia Colman for his performance in Empire of Light. While the campaign could see him in supporting, it sounds like he is a co-lead. Until we get confirmation, we’ll keep him in Lead Actor.

Song Kang-Ho came close to a nomination for his performance in Parasite and I think that good will keep him on most pundit’s lists for Lead Actor. His performance in Broker is being singled out in reviews after each festival premiere for the film. While the film was not selected for an International Feature contender, we do think the performance has a chance at breaking in.

Tom Cruise brought the world back to the movie theater this year with Top Gun: Maverick. While the film continues to dominate not only the box office, but home video records, we can’t help but wonder, what if Cruise breaks into the actor race? His performance is at the heart of the film and it may help crack him into the race.

Paul Mescal earned an Emmy nomination for his work in Normal People, so he may be the young actor who has a bit of an industry standing who could sneak into the Lead Actor race. Aftersun has received incredible reviews from all festivals the film has premiered at from Cannes to Telluride. The A24 film continues to play at festivals, including the ongoing TIFF, so we will definitely keep an eye on the film and Mescal.

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