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The Trophy Hunter: Best Actor

| Friday, November 1, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

Welcome to “The Trophy Hunter,” a semi-regular column where I’ll preview the Oscars in the lead-up to the Academy’s nominations announcement on Jan. 13 and the show itself on Feb. 9. For the inaugural edition of the column, let’s look at what is shaping up to be the tightest race in the 2020 Oscars: Best Actor.

There are no less than 10 actors with a realistic shot at earning one of the category’s five nominations, a massive increase over the relatively straightforward races of years past. As of right now, there are three men who are not only shoo-ins for a nomination come Oscar season, but are neck-and-neck for pole position for the award itself: “Marriage Story”’s Adam Driver, “Pain and Glory”’s Antonio Banderas and “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”’s Leonardo DiCaprio. Along with those three, online awards prognosticator GoldDerby lists “Joker”’s Joaquin Phoenix and “The Irishman”’s Robert De Niro as the most likely nominees at the moment. The beauty of the long build-up to the Oscars, however, is that entire groups of nominations can shift in a matter of weeks.

I think it is safe to assume that DiCaprio and Driver can and will ride their film’s waves of critical goodwill all the way to February. The other frontrunners, however, all have factors working against them. Even though Banderas’ turn is the most acclaimed of the year thus far, his Spain-based stage revival of “A Chorus Line” will keep him off the awards publicity circuit for a crucial stretch of time. As far as the campaign trail goes, Phoenix’s history of bizarre behavior on talk shows and other public appearances has continued through the press tour for “Joker,” and a poor showing at those venues could come back to bite him when voting closes. That leaves Phoenix’s “Joker” costar De Niro; while I think that “The Irishman” will earn a boatload of nominations on the back of a farewell-style campaign for its director and stars, De Niro’s performance is the least showy part of a showy movie, which could get overlooked come Oscar time.

The other five contenders include three would-be first time nominees, an all-time Oscar cautionary tale and a man who is quickly shaping up to be the most-nominated actor of his generation. The latter, of course, is Christian Bale, who could earn his fifth Oscar nomination of the 2010s for “Ford v. Ferrari.” “Rocketman” star Taron Egerton is hoping to replicate the biopic-driven success of last year’s winner Rami Malek, while Jonathan Pryce must overcome low buzz for his charming take on Pope Francis in Netflix movie “The Two Popes.” The two most tantalizing potential nominees, however, are a pair of superstar comedians shifting towards prestige.

Eddie Murphy has already been nominated for an Oscar, when his Supporting Actor campaign for “Dreamgirls” seemed destined for success before the maligned comedy “Norbit” torpedoed his hopes at the 2008 ceremony. He is angling to return this year with a dynamite performance as real-life comedian Rudy Ray Moore in Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name.” Adam Sandler, on the other hand, has never been nominated in any category, and Academy recognition for his grimy film “Uncut Gems” would cap an astonishing career turnaround.

Check below for my predictions and personal preferences on the Best Actor race. Hopefully, by the time I return to this category after nominations have been announced, awards season will have been just as turbulent as it currently promises to be.



Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”

Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”

Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”

Robert De Niro, “The Irishman”



Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”

Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”

Eddie Murphy, “Dolemite Is My Name”

Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

Robert De Niro, “The Irishman”

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