By John H. Foote

Frankly I cannot remember when the field of nominees for Best Actor was so slim. 1964? It might be that long ago that the Academy struggled to find five worthy performances to be nominated for an Oscar. Usually, the Best Actor category is filled to the brim and could easily have 10 actors nominated, but that is not the case this year. While the Best Actress category is overflowing with greatness, and several worthy performances will be snubbed, the Best Actor category will be a struggle to find five deserving.

Right now, as of this writing, the leading contenders for Best Actor are a mix of never before nominated actors, a couple of previous nominees, and one two-time winner.

Brendan Fraser in The Whale leads the race, a great performance and a comeback for the actor who had been forgotten these last few years. The one-time George of the Jungle (1999), and action-adventure genre actor was invisible the last 10 years, rescued by Darren Aronofsky much in the same manner he saved Mickey Rourke with The Wrestler (2008). Fraser, acting under prosthetics and make up, is superb as a deeply depressed teacher who cannot seem to make it back to the land of the living and reconnect with his daughter (Sadie Sink). Truly the finest work of Fraser’s career, he is a shoo in for a nomination and might just take home the Oscar.

Nipping at his heels is Austin Butler in Elvis, a very fine performance, not perfect but damned close. I stated in my review that I do not think Butler found the danger that Elvis had in his swagger, but if that is the single element he missed, so be it. Looking back on the performance of Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), one of the worst recent Best Actor wins, I think “how can they ignore this guy as Elvis?” Well, the truth is they cannot, Butler is superb. bold, daring he brings back the King with a superb piece of acting that has altered the course of his career.

Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Innershin

Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin is nothing less than brilliant, and again never has he been nominated. He deserved to be for his work in the lovely comedy In Bruges (2008), and returns with same co-star and director, and once again they make magic together. Farrell is excellent as a young man who is suddenly dumped by his best friend for no apparent reason, and he struggles to figure out what he did. Farrell has always been so much better than given credit for, as far back as Tigerland (2000) and 22 years later he might finally be a Best Actor nominee.

Though I am less confident about Bill Nighy in Living, the veteran British actor could end up in the race for his lovely performance in this small, gentle film. I cannot count the number of times Nighy has been brilliant, often in supporting roles, but this time he is the lead and delivers an exquisite performance. I hope his name is called nomination morning.

Can Will Smith in Emancipation make the cut after that slap heard round the world last year? His, and wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s sense of entitlement last year put more than a few people off, as they sat there like a King and Queen waiting to be crowned. The greatest night of Smith’s career was forever marred by his own fragile ego and having to kowtow to his wife. If he is as great in the film as early word suggests he should be nominated, he could even win, but he cannot be there to pick up his Oscar this time. Guess they will mail it to him? Maybe Chris Rock can accept it for him?

Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto gets a chance to go all Gran Torino (2008) in his role as a nasty old codger making life hell for the people living around him. That is until he meets someone who breaks through that wall of anger and finds the heart beating underneath. Hanks deserved to be nominated and win last year for News of the World (2021) and had gone nearly two decades with a nomination between Cast Away (2000) and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) as Ted Rogers. Kind of shameful because he was so deserving in Captain Phillips (2013)! The trailer and early advance buzz about this one are both very good and he could sneak in.

Word is very strong for Diego Calva in Babylon if he can get past the electrifying performance of Margot Robbie and get noticed. He is said to be a triumph in the film, but word is Robbie does the finest work of her career and obliterates everyone else. So, a maybe for this guy.

Hugh Jackman in The Father was being discussed as a shoo in until critics saw the film and his chances have since dropped off. I am not even discussing Tom Cruise in Top Gun – Maverick as a Best Actor candidate, sheesh. Adam Sandler in Hustle? The man should have won for Uncut Gems (2019) and they ignored him. Will they nominate him for a lighter role?

There you go, the very slim pickings for Best Actor this year. Best Actress follows, and that category is bursting at the seams.

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