By John H. Foote

After TIFF ended last year, there was no question Gary Oldman was on the path to the Oscar for Best Actor for his acclaimed performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017). Frankly, I was not impressed with the performance, I could not decide if it was Oldman doing the work or the makeup. For me, James Franco in The Disaster Artist (2017) also at TIFF gave the best performance last year, but Oldman had pretty much been crowned Best Actor.

Is there a performance from this year’s festival that could go all the way? Indeed. But things are changing, it is no longer as cut and dried as it once was. There is the danger of a backlash, of critics suddenly deciding the performance was not THAT good after all.

Viggo Mortensen in Green Book gave a big, broad, rugged performance as a tough guy awakened to racial hatred in the Deep South of the sixties. As Tony, a bouncer at the Copacabana, out of work he is hired by a gifted black musician, Don, elegant, educated, a doctor of music, to drive and protect him in the South. At first, Tony is typical of most white males of the time, but grows to see the doctor as a person, and finally a dear friend. The man who threw out glasses used by two black plumbers, at the end fondly embraces the doctor and calls him family. Mortensen portrays the arc of the character beautifully, giving what might be his best performance. Well-liked in the community, respected for his integrity and gifts, he came out of TIFF leading the pack. But now can he hold that lead?

It is not easy.

In 2011 George Clooney emerged from the festival the frontrunner for his breathtaking work in The Descendants (2011) and seemed about to cruise to an Oscar. But at the last moment he was bested, unfairly I think, by Jean Dujardin in The Artist (2011) a lovely performance but based on a gimmick.

Who at this writing could challenge Mortensen?

Ryan Gosling was outstanding as Neil Armstrong in First Man, but his work was so internalized audiences might miss the greatness in the work. I think it is among his finest work and richly deserving of a nomination.

The actor who could knock Mortensen down could be Bradley Cooper, who is astonishing as the rock star on the way down in A Star is Born, as his wife ascends to the top of the business. With a rumble of a votive scorched by Jack Daniels and too many cigarettes, his eyes bleary and tired, his entire being beaten down, Cooper is extraordinary. He captures how love infuses one with energy, with a life force, something rarely captured with such aching honesty. He and co-star Lady Gaga could both be Oscar winners come the big night.

The early word on Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody is growing, and the trailers look interesting. If Malek, so brilliant in HBO’s The Pacific (2010) lives up to the hype count on him in there. Malek seems to inhabit Mercury with his performance, though a trailer does not a movie make.

John C. Reilly may surprise for his work as screen legend Oliver Hardy in Stan and Ollie, which covers their career after the movies forgot them. They toured England in beer halls, recreating their best bits from films, aware their time had passed. Again, inside word is strong, Reilly Is a much-admired character actor portraying a Hollywood legend. Maybe.

As Vice President Dick Cheney, I say Christian Bale is a shoo-in, though only a handful of insiders, most connected to the film have seen his work. Said to transformative, Bale does one of his disappearing acts in the movie, now called Vice. He deserved a nomination last year for the exquisite western Hostiles (2017) which did not come so he is on the radar this year.

Willem Dafoe has been earning praise as Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate in which the veteran actor portrays the tortured artist. Dafoe was outstanding last year in The Florida Project (2017) winning many critics awards but not the Oscar. There is a sense it is his time, which I hate, but it cannot be ignored.

Ironically, Mortensen’s toughest competition might come from his co-star, Mahershala Ali, won just won an Oscar in Moonlight (2016) for Supporting Actor. Rumour has it Universal will submit him as supporting for Green Card, but make no mistake, they are both leading roles. Mortensen has more screen time and a showier role but Ali makes the most out his scenes. Elegant, well-read, cultured, speaking various languages, his Don is an interesting man, who learns as much from Tony as Tony does from him. Both deserves Best Actor nods.

Ethan Hawke could be a threat if voters can remember his performance in the excellent First Reformed, but it was released quite some time ago, which hurts.

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