Monday, December 4, 2023

An Exciting & Unpredictable Three-Horse Race For Best Actor

The race for Best Actor this awards season has steadily been one of the more competitive races in recent memory. Everyone is talking about how tough Best Actress is when it appears to be a three-way race for Best Actor. Austin Butler (“Elvis“), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale“), and Colin Farrell (“The Banshees Of Inisherin“) are the three actors eyeing the win. While each actor has plenty going their way, multiple factors could impede a potential Oscar victory. The only precursors left before the Academy Awards are the SAG awards and the BAFTAs. Here are the possible scenarios for each actor and how this category can play out over the next few days…

Let us start with the SAG award for Best Actor. Since 2010, the winner of this award has gone on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor ten out of twelve times. The support of the actors’ branch is essential. That’s why SAG looks like a two-way race between Butler and Fraser. Both actors are at the height of their popularity and could capitalize on here. This is where Fraser, without a doubt, needs to win. Fraser (currently with a CCA Best Actor win) is the actor who has the most going against him on the night of the Oscars, given his film’s lack of a Best Picture nomination compared to the other two. This will also give Fraser another opportunity to deliver a moving speech to win over the hearts of many. “The Whale” also did well with SAG voters, earning another nomination for Hong Chau which may indicate broader support. If Fraser loses at SAG, it could be over for him compared to someone like Butler, who could still win the Oscar without winning at SAG.

Butler (fresh off a Golden Globe win) also has an excellent chance to win Best Actor at SAG. Sure, “Elvis” didn’t earn an ensemble or Best Supporting Actor nomination for Tom Hanks like some people predicted, but don’t let that fool you. “Elvis” is a film that most SAG voters have probably watched and, given the film’s popularity, mostly enjoyed. Although both roles in “Elvis” and “The Whale” are transformative, actors tend to respond more to recreations of real-life personalities. Butler, also receiving support from industry heavyweights such as Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio, proves just how much actors enjoyed his portrayal of Elvis. Although Farrell had an incredibly busy year, his performance in “The Banshees Of Inisherin” does not seem like what SAG voters would typically go for due to its more reserved nature. If Farrell won at SAG, he could easily repeat at BAFTA and then go on to win the Oscar.

Since 2010, the BAFTAs have accurately predicted the Best Actor winner eleven out of twelve times. Within the last few years, BAFTA has radically changed its voting body and process (especially in the acting and directing fields). Even with these changes, since 2020, they have accurately called the Best Actor winner both times (Anthony Hopkins in 2020 and Will Smith in 2021). Also, the BAFTAs have a nice little overlap with Academy voters. BAFTAs can sometimes be a bit trickier to predict, but this is where precursor leader Farrell could come crashing in. “The Banshees Of Inisherin” tied for second in total nominations at the BAFTA’s just behind “All Quiet On The Western Front” and has had a consistent showing throughout the season, much like McDonagh’s previous film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Farrell, also being Irish, could garner him some favor with BAFTA voters. He could win the Oscar with just the Golden Globe and BAFTA win, especially given his film is nominated for Best Picture. If Farrell loses at both SAG and BAFTA, it is most likely that he won’t go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor.

Considering “Elvis” also has a Best Picture nomination, Butler stands a good chance at winning the BAFTA. “Elvis” earned nine total nominations, showing considerable strength with BAFTA voters. If Butler and Fraser split SAG and BAFTA, based on stats, it is wiser to go with whoever wins at BAFTA. The person who would struggle the most is Fraser, as “The Whale” only earned four nominations, showing weakness with BAFTA voters. That trend continued into Oscar nominations as well, which is why it is crucial Fraser wins SAG to stay in this race. If he loses SAG and then goes on to win BAFTA (as bizarre as that sounds), it would certainly make things interesting in the final stretch.

As mentioned earlier, Fraser coming into Oscar night has the most going against him. “The Whale” drastically underperformed, earning only three nominations (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling), missing out on vital nominations in Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The last time an actor won the Best Actor Oscar without having a coinciding Best Picture nomination was Jeff Bridges in 2009 for “Crazy Heart.” By that time, Bridges was considered overdue, earning five Oscar nominations, and was a cinematic icon. He may have lost BAFTA that season to Colin Firth in “A Single Man,” but he won CCA, the Globe, and SAG. Fraser already lost the Globe (for understandable reasons given the circumstances), and now his only chance to solidify his momentum from CCA is with SAG and BAFTA. Although beloved by his peers, Fraser is only a first-time nominee riding a well-deserved comeback narrative. He could end up on the same path as Mickey Rourke did for “The Wrestler” in 2008: A comeback role from a Darren Aronofsky film that ends up losing to a biopic performance (Sean Penn in “Milk”). The difference, though, is that Fraser is a far more likable persona than Rourke. Also again, “Milk” earned a Best Picture nomination, unlike “The Wrestler.”

Another factor to consider is a coinciding Best Makeup & Hairstyling win to go along with the Best Actor win. This actually doesn’t happen as much as you would think. Since 2010, only five acting winners have matched up with a Best Makeup & Hairstyling Oscar win (Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady” in 2011, Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club” in 2013, Jared Leto for the same film in 2013, Gary Oldman for “Darkest Hour” in 2017, and Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” in 2021). Ironically, these have all been biopic performances that would lean to support Butler, if anything. The thirty one-year-old’s performance is typical Oscar catnip, a transformative performance of a real-life icon, let alone the King of Rock and Roll himself. “Elvis” as a whole has the potential to be a big winner in the below-the-line categories. It isn’t hard to imagine that the Best Actor win could go along with it. The only two things hurting him are his age and the fact that, other than the Golden Globe, he has not won anything this year. Where is the momentum? At least at this point in the season, Rami Malek and Joaquin Phoenix had amassed a few critics’ prizes to go along with their televised wins. Is this a “welcome to the club” nomination or a win?

If one of these three men win both SAG and BAFTA, that person is most likely going all the way to win Best Actor. If Butler and Farrell split (with Fraser getting shut out) then we’ll have to use our best judgment. If Fraser wins SAG but Butler or Farrell win BAFTA, common sense says to go with the BAFTA winner because they’ll have Best Picture nominations while Fraser will not. However, if Fraser’s SAG speech goes viral and wins the hearts of voters, that could be all he needs. It would be even more helpful if BAFTA threw us a curveball and didn’t reward either Butler or Farrell and went with an outside pick like Bill Nighy for “Living.” Long story short, there are still many ways this can go.

Who do you think is going to win Best Actor at the Oscars? Do you think the remaining precursors will split the rest of the season between Farrell, Butler, and/or Fraser, or will someone dominate all the way to the Oscar? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.

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Giovanni Lago
Giovanni Lago
Devoted believer in all things cinema and television. Awards Season obsessive and aspiring filmmaker.

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