The Best Actor field at this year’s Academy Awards has been an unusual beast. Those who pay attention to the comings and going of possible nominees braced for several possible snubs, because there were a lot of potential candidates but only five slots to fill in the category. Weeks after the nominees in Best Actor were revealed, passionate camps still were complaining about Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems), Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is my Name) and Taron Egerton (Rocketman) being overlooked.
That means, however, that we haven’t spent as much time (or enough time) discussing the five men who DID make the cut thanks to the extraordinary performances. Let’s take care of that now. The CinemaBlend staff collectively weighed in to decide, via poll, who from the five Best Actor candidates should emerge victorious on February 9. “Duh, of course you went with Joker, you guys are a geek site!” Well, nope. We went in a different direction. Check out our scores, based on averages from ranking them from #1 (favorite to win) to #5 (least favorite to win), on who we think should win Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards!
#5. Antonio Banderas, Pain And Glory
Average Rank: 4.1666666
Given how long he has been entertaining audiences, you might be surprised to learn that Pain and Glory marks Antonio Banderas’ first Oscar nomination in any category. I know, Puss in Boots was robbed. But as Banderas ages, he’s growing into more mature roles that tap into all of his gifts as a performer, and they are all on display in this new collaboration with director Pedro Almodovar.
It helps that Banderas essentially is playing Almodovar in the movie, starring as a filmmaker reflecting on his past, and his present, as decisions he has made over the course of his career come around to haunt him. It’s a terrific part for Banderas, and he rises to the challenge of the material. But he’s likely to come in fifth in this five-man race, which is still impressive given the talent showcased in the category.
#4. Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Average Rank: 3.5
Let’s hear it for the Popes! Both Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce earned Oscar nominations for playing Pope Benedict and Pope Francis during a time of transition in the Roman Catholic Church. And why not? The movie is carried completely by the performances of the two men, as The Two Popes is mainly just a series of conversations about the direction the Church should go in the years to come.
Pryce gets credit for being the progressive voice, with Pope Francis arriving at the Vatican as a counterbalance to the arch-conservatism preached by Benedict. It’s Old School versus New School, and Pryce playfully banters with the stoic, stubborn Hopkins. It’s Oscar worthy, for sure, but in this year’s category, you really have to rise above if you are going to triumph.
#3. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Average Rank: 3.16666
Superhero movies never really got much respect at the Oscars, but the tide has been turning in recent years. The Dark Knight might have bene snubbed for Best Picture, but Heath Ledger took home an Oscar for playing Gotham’s craziest resident, The Joker, and Joaquin Phoenix is hoping to follow in the late actor’s footsteps.
While Phoenix has won virtually every acting award leading up to the Oscars, he would not take home the statue on Sunday evening for playing Arthur Fleck, a disturbed man transforming into a criminal mastermind. Phoenix landed in third place on our poll, despite losing himself in the maniacal DC Comics role. Will the Academy agree with the masses… or with us?
#2. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Average Rank: 2.166667
For years, Leonardo DiCaprio was that “name” the industry collectively wanted to win an Oscar, as they felt he had been putting in the work (on screen and behind the scenes) to be rewarded with a prestigious Oscar. Well, DiCaprio finally broke through thanks to his performance in The Revenant, which honestly could hurt him as he tries to win for playing fading character actor Rick Dalton in Quentin Tarantino’s homage, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
It’s unfortunate that politics of that sort play into the Oscar race each year, because DiCaprio is far better in Hollywood than he was in Revenant (in my humble opinion), and I’d love to see him be acknowledged by the industry for bringing a wounded, recognizable personality like Dalton to life on screen. What’s funny is that Brad Pitt is leading all contenders in the Best Supporting Actor category for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and Pitt keeps saying that his performance wouldn’t work without DiCaprio. But the CinemaBlend staff put Leo second, so let’s see who the staff would go with instead.
#1. Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Average Rank: 2
If it were up to CinemaBlend, Adam Driver would win the Oscar for Best Actor this year. Not for playing Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, you goose. He’s win it for playing one half of a crumbling relationship in Noah Baumbach’s brilliant and emotionally fine-tuned Marriage Story.
And it’s hard to argue. Driver plays a mildly self-centered Broadway director whose life is turned upside down when his spouse (the equally fantastic Scarlett Johansson) decides she wants to start living her own life in California… taking their child with her. It’s the modern-day Kramer vs. Kramer, delivering on everything that summary promises, and Driver is superb as a decent man being blasted out of his comfort zone. Some of it is the writing. Some of it is the direction. But an awful lot of the success of Marriage Story is owed to the riveting turns from Driver and Johansson, and CinemaBlend’s staff thinks he did enough to win Best Actor.
Now we want to hear from you? Did you manage to see all five of the above Oscar-nominated performances? Which of the five would you choose to win, if you had to decide between these men? Hit the comments, tell us who you would pick, and why. Then tune in to the Oscars ceremony on Sunday, February 9.
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.