By John H. Foote
Usually by this time of year the races for the major Academy Awards are shaping up and this year is no different. Best Actor is a crowded race already, while Best Actress, not so much, at least not yet. The race for the coveted little gold man is becoming a tight battle between previous winners and nominees and a few newcomers, but count on this, it could be one of the tightest Best Actor races in years.
Previous winners and nominees likely back in the race will be Denzel Washington, Clint Eastwood, Will Smith, Nicolas Cage, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Adam Garfield, Joaquin Phoenix, Javier Bardem, and Leonardo Di Caprio along with others not on the radar just yet. Newcomers will emerge out of the fall festivals a few weeks ahead, and they, as usual will shake up the race. That said, I doubt the leaders will change all that much from what we have right now.
Here is a look.
DENZEL WASHINGTON IN THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH – Joel Coen, one half of the Oscar winning Coen brothers, directs this black and white version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with Washington as the man who would be king. Frances McDormand is Lady Macbeth, mad as a hatter and consumed with power. I just cannot imagine the film to be anything less than exceptional, and a lot of folks within the Academy would dearly love to see Washington win another Oscar.
NICOLAS CAGE IN PIG – Buzzing right now with the best reviews of his career since winning an Oscar as a drunk hellbent on drinking himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage seems a shoo in right now for Pig. As a truffle gatherer, who loses his precious pig in a home invasion, Cage is a wonder in every frame of the film. His haunted former chef might be the greatest creation of his entire career. If they ignore him, these pages will be bloody with condemnation of the fickle Academy.
ANDREW GARFIELD in tick…tick…BOOM – As the gifted composer-songwriter Jonathan Larson, who wrote Rent before dying a very young death. Andrew Garfield looks to be giving the performance of the year and his lifetime. Made for Netflix by Hamilton creator Lin Miranda Manuel, the film explores the genius of Larson while he was a struggling artist waiting tables working on his art. His spirit was infectious and anyone who knew him agreed he was a genius. Watch out for Garfield!
PETER DINKLAGE IN CYRANO – How perfect the multiple Emmy winner from Game of Thrones has been cast as Cyrano de Bergerac in a new version of the film. Expect miracles because Dinklage has always delivered them. He made legions of fans as Tyrion Lannister on the HBO masterpiece, and I expect him to make even more on film. What a great stroke of genius casting.
CLINT EASTWOOD IN CRY MACHO – Now 90, Eastwood tackles another tough guy role, this time as a former rodeo rider back for one last shot. As tough and as rugged as they come, this could finally win the actor-director that elusive best Actor award. He never deserved it in his early career, but in the last 25 years he has been a resourceful and very gifted actor.
MATT DAMON IN STILLWATER – As the red neck from Oklahoma come to France to help his daughter who has been imprisoned for murder, Damon delivers one of his finest performances, stronger even than his mesmerizing work in The Martian (2015). Seeming representative of the sort of people we believe supported Trump, Damon sinks into the role with apparent ease creating an often not very likable guy devoted to a daughter he does not know very well. It is a bold, powerful performance from an actor who continues to evolve and grow.
WILL SMITH IN KING RICHARD – The trailer suggests Smith is back in top form as Richard Lewis, the father of the tennis stars Selena and Venus Williams, who he trained and infused with a love of the sport and a dignity with the manner in which they carry themselves. It has been many years since Smith has danced this close to the Oscars, it will be refreshing to this this massive talent back where he belongs.
SEAN PENN IN FLAG DAY – Could Penn become the second three time Best Actor winner, following Daniel Day-Lewis? As a father with a criminal mind, he will be in the running as he often is. In this self-directed work, Penn is a career criminal, a hugely successful counterfeiter, the second largest in American history, but he is also a father, and despite his actions he adores his children. Penn is exceptional in the film, as he always seems to be. Well supported by his daughter and Josh Brolin.
LEONARDO DI CAPRIO IN DON’T LOOK UP – As a scientist who discovers a meteor is headed to earth in what will be an extinction level event, Di Caprio will spend his time in the film trying to warn people with fellow scientist Jennifer Lawrence. The role seems unlike anything Di Caprio has attempted and he has never let us down yet. This might place him back in the running.
DEV PATEL IN THE GREEN KNIGHT – The likable Patel gives a superb charismatic performance as a carousing young Knight want to be who is given the chance to be a true Knight when sent on a quest by the Green Knight, a man he has just beheaded. Dominating the film with a mesmerizing piece of acting, the actor crosses over into movie stardom with his stunning performance here.
FOREST WHITAKER IN RESPECT – Whitaker, one of the finest actors in America, has not danced close to the Oscars since winning for his insidious performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland (2006). He might be back for his work here opposite Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin. I have a hunch the film is going to be a hit
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.