It seems to be the case every year now that the Best Actor race is extremely competitive, and there are always very worthy contenders left at the starting gate. As recently as October, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t think that Johnny Depp was a shoo-in for a nomination as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. But where was he on nominations morning? Stunner, but these races are all about momentum, and somewhere along the way that film just lost it, despite a vibrant campaign and personal appearances from Depp. Another worthy contender might have been 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay for his remarkable performance in the otherwise nicely nominated Room, but a campaign for him in support—because of his age, not the role—probably just confused matters, and he was out. So what about those who are in? Here’s the rundown.
A multiple Emmy winner for Breaking Bad’s iconic Walter White, as well as a recent Tony winner as LBJ in Broadway’s All The Way, Cranston has been no stranger to major awards shows in recent years. It was only a matter of time before he found a worthy film role to bring him to the precipice of Oscar, and in blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, he not only found one but knocked it out of the park. With SAG, BAFTA, Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations as well, he has turned into a formidable contender and a dark horse coming up on the outside.
Damon, a two-time previous acting nominee and winner of a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting, spends most of his screen time alone in The Martian as astronaut Mark Watney, which is a challenge any actor would realize as tops in degree of difficulty, hence the nomination. His Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy certainly can’t hurt his momentum—even if it did land in the wrong category—and a BAFTA nom eases the pain of not making SAG’s list. Still, he’s a real long shot at best.
A clear front-runner if ever there was one, the never-Oscared DiCaprio deserves a win on his fifth try in the acting categories, if only for what he had to endure during the making of this rugged adventure epic in a role with only a handful of lines. If he does finally land the statuette, he should break off a piece for that grizzly bear. DiCaprio looks to be running the board with recent Globe, Critics’ Choice and SAG wins, as well as BAFTA recognition. He appears to be unbeatable this time around.
Fassbender doesn’t look anything like the real Steve Jobs, but he was totally convincing in a role that, ironically, was first going to DiCaprio before the film changed course and studios. His character is on every page of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant, almost Shakespearean script, and Fassbender showed sides of his talent never before seen. But the box office failure of the movie didn’t help, and the nomination here (and at SAG and BAFTA) might well have to be the award this time around, as all the buzz is for DiCaprio.
The Danish Girl
Last year’s winner in this category for The Theory Of Everything is back, going for a second consecutive Oscar—a feat accomplished in Best Actor annals only by Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy. The odds of a repeat victory, therefore, are long, but Redmayne did everything he needed to do and then some, to be totally convincing and human in the role of the first transgendered woman. He was also BAFTA and SAG nominated after winning those trophies last year. He’s bucking the odds, but it has been done.