Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Austin Butler vs. Brendan Fraser – A Tale Of Two Narratives

With only a few days remaining until Oscar night, we wait, with bated breath, for the final results of this year’s acting races. Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Actor are all exceptionally close, exciting categories that will ultimately delight some and disappoint many. Last year, Will Smith’s win for Best Actor for “King Richard” felt fairly pre-determined by Oscars night, but this year the outcome of Best Actor is less clear. Once a three-person race, the competition has ultimately come down to two men: Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in “Elvis” and Brendan Fraser as Charlie in “The Whale.” Once the frontrunner with the Golden Globe – Comedy/Musical and Volpi Cup win at the Venice Film Festival, Colin Farrell has not garnered enough significant precursor wins to hold onto the title after losing SAG and, more importantly, BAFTA for his performance in Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees Of Inisherin.”

In regards to their collections of awards, Butler and Fraser are fairly evenly matched. Around the country and abroad, they have both been handsomely rewarded by film festivals and critics, laying a solid foundation for the larger awards bodies to consider their work. In one corner, Fraser holds the Critics Choice Award and, more notably, the Screen Actors Guild award. Both awards have a solid track record for predicting the eventual winner of the Oscar. SAG is especially relevant as the actors’ branch of the Academy continues to be the largest branch. Fraser, a reliable, veteran performer whose storied career has allowed him the opportunity to work with a large variety of other actors, has a clear personal connection with certain voters. He is, in a word, beloved. Those within the industry appear to have a stronger affinity for “The Whale” than critics, perhaps because such a challenging role would be considered a dream for any actor hoping to be taken more seriously amongst their peers. Still, as much as “The Whale” resonates with actors, its divineness cannot be totally dismissed. Should Fraser win, it would be for perhaps one of the most outwardly reviled films in recent memory. People don’t just dislike “The Whale“; they loathe it and regard it as evil and offensive. How much that animosity exists online compared to the real world, particularly amongst the esteemed members of the Academy, remains to be seen. Although, it did not receive a Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay nomination after many suspected it could. And, of course, if they love Fraser enough, it may not matter.

In his back pocket, Butler holds the Golden Globe – Drama and coveted BAFTA award for his role in Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis.” Similar to SAG, BAFTA has predicted every Oscar winner for Best Actor for the past ten years (interrupted by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s win for “12 Years a Slave” in 2013 who beat eventual Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey who wasn’t nominated that year at BAFTA for “Dallas Buyers Club“) and has a reasonably strong track record over the past few decades. Narratively, Butler’s story is on the different end of the spectrum from Fraser. Though he has been working since he was a young teenager, his role as Elvis Presley has cast him into the spotlight unlike any other young actor this year. He is the Hollywood ingenue an old studio would have dreamed of getting their hands on. He is a bright young thing catapulted into stardom in a successful film by the box office, awards, and (mostly) critical standards. Academy voters may be inclined to vote for a performance that calls to mind the lost days of movie stardom and an actor whose name promises to put audiences in seats, especially with the upcoming “Dune: Part 2” later this year. Of course, “Elvis” and Luhrmann have their detractors, but that does not seem to have translated to the tastes of the Academy. “Elvis” has been nominated for a total of eight Oscars, far more than “The Whale’s” three, displaying the Academy’s fondness for the film, which will help support Butler’s campaign. Conversely, one of “The Whale’s” nominations is in the Best Hair and Makeup category, a nomination also shared by “Elvis.” That both actors underwent significant hair and makeup processes for their respective performances bodes well, as Academy voters historically love to award physically transformative performances.

Even this close to the Oscars, it is exceptionally difficult to definitively predict who between these two men will win Best Actor. Each has their precursors, and each has their narratives. Both have been exceptional sports on the campaign trail, drawing admiring crowds wherever they go. Because of the “Elvis‘” other nominations, Butler seems to be holding out as the frontrunner, but just barely. While a majority of the Next Best Picture team is predicting him, everyone admits this is a close race. It could go either way, and there will be no way of knowing until the envelope is opened. While precursors can often draw a step-by-step, easy-to-follow pathway to the Oscars, there’s no way of predicting anything with absolute positivity when an actor’s personality and narrative features so heavily in their success.

Who do you think is winning Best Actor this Sunday at the Oscars? Brendan Fraser? Austin Butler? Or will Colin Farrell surprise and come up the middle? Please let us know in the comments below or on our Twitter account, and check out our latest Oscar predictions here.

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Eve O’Dea
Eve O’Deahttps://nextbestpicture.com
M.A. student of film preservation. Contributor to In Session Film. Old Hollywood enthusiast.

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