By Zoe Rose Bryant
One of the best parts of every awards season is seeing which underrecognized, and underappreciated actors and actresses finally receive their due from the industry, earning all sorts of acclaim and accolades for a breakout role or part that personifies all the achievements in their career thus far. Just last year, long-overlooked talents like the late Chadwick Boseman experienced his Oscar nomination for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” while a new generation of exciting stars on the rise were represented at the 93rd Academy Awards as well, such as “Sound of Metal’s” Riz Ahmed, “Minari’s” Steven Yeun, and “Mank’s” Amanda Seyfried.
Looking ahead to the 2021-2022 awards season, even more actors are awaiting their time to shine on the Oscar stage, from fan-favorite ingenues to hardworking vets. Though this list is likely to expand significantly as we get deeper into the season, we’ve assembled the ten actors most likely to receive their first Oscar nomination this year, arranged in alphabetical order.
Jodie Comer – “The Last Duel”
In Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel,” Emmy winner Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”) plays Marguerite de Carrouges, the wife of Matt Damon’s Jean de Carrouges, who accuses Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris – Jean’s best friend – of raping her. When Jean takes this accusation to King Charles IV – here played by Damon’s fellow “Good Will Hunting” star and co-Oscar winner Ben Affleck – the King states that Jean and Jacques must settle this skirmish in a duel, which also happens to be the last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history. However, more is at stake than just Jean’s own life, as if he loses, Marguerite will be burned at the stake as punishment for a “false accusation.”
As the woman who sets this whole plot in motion, Comer will likely have a decent amount of time to show off her considerable acting chops, even if it seems like Damon and Driver take center stage in the story. And, assuming she indeed campaigns in the Best Supporting Actress category, such a choice could actually boost her awards chances, given the intense competition in Lead Actress this year. Also, with Comer set to star next in Ridley Scott’s “Kitbag” as the wife of Joaquin Phoenix’s Napoleon Bonaparte, it is clear that the director liked what he saw in “The Last Duel.” We figure the Academy might feel the same, especially if they want to “anoint” Comer before she genuinely breaks out.
Ana de Armas – “Blonde”
Like Jodie Comer, Ana de Armas is another female star on the rise, and it feels like the industry is just itching to recognize her as she continues to ascend in the ranks. After standout supporting turns in films like “War Dogs” and “Blade Runner 2049” and her Golden Globe-nominated work in Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” de Armas takes on the most significant role of her career yet in Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” a fictionalized take on the life of Marilyn Monroe.
While many details are being kept under wraps for now, we know that there is nothing the Academy loves more than seeing actors playing icons of the industry’s past (see Michelle Williams’ Oscar-nominated performance in 2011’s “My Week with Marilyn” or Renée Zellweger’s Oscar win for work as Judy Garland in 2019’s “Judy“), and none are more legendary than Ms. Monroe. It remains to be seen if Dominik’s stylistic sensibilities mesh with the Academy (“Jesse James” only received nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography), but, sight unseen, we think de Armas will be able to easily rise above such quibbles, due to the talent she’s already exhibited and her astonishing transformation into the stunning starlet.
Peter Dinklage – “Cyrano”
Amongst film awards bodies, Peter Dinklage is easily one of the most underappreciated actors working today. Despite turning in lauded performances in both genre films (“X-Men: Days of Future Past” & “Avengers: Infinity War“) and prestige fare (“The Station Agent” & “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“) – to say nothing of his four Emmy wins for playing Tyrion Lannister in the HBO juggernaut “Game of Thrones” – he’s somehow never been nominated for an Oscar. However, if Joe Wright’s (“Darkest Hour“) “Cyrano” is the home run many expect it to be, that could change come 2022.
In the film, Dinklage portrays Cyrano de Bergerac’s titular character, a man of many talents – including dueling, poetry, and art, among others – who nevertheless continually doubts himself as a result of possessing an obnoxiously large nose. This insecurity prevents Cyrano from expressing his love for the ravishing Roxane (Haley Bennett), who herself has fallen for the charming Christian (“Luce” & “Waves” star Kelvin Harrison Jr.). Suppose all that drama didn’t sound juicy enough. In that case, this adaptation of “Cyrano” actually draws from the musical interpretation that Dinklage and Bennett also starred in, likely adding even more power and panache to their performances. Wright has had a rough run as of late with duds like “Pan” and “The Woman in the Window,” but even if the final product here fails to deliver, we have faith Dinklage can come out on top nonetheless.
Ann Dowd – “Mass”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” fans rejoice, as Emmy winner Ann Dowd’s Oscar moment has come at last! In writer-director Fran Kranz’s “Mass,” Dowd plays Gail, the mother of the perpetrator of a school shooting who, with her husband Richard (Reed Birney), meets with the parents of one of the victims of said event (Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton). While we won’t count out Isaacs or Plimpton surprising us on Oscar nomination morning, it certainly seems like Dowd has the best shot at the moment with much of the movie’s buzz out of Sundance coalescing around her performance and Kranz’s screenwriting.
Though she has yet to be embraced by AMPAS, Dowd did come close in 2012 with her Critics Choice nominated performance in “Compliance,” and her recent work in the aforementioned “The Handmaid’s Tale” and favored indie fare like “Hereditary” and “American Animals” has only helped elevate her profile in the industry. “Mass” faces an uphill battle to earn any recognition at all with its heavy subject matter and distributor Bleecker Street’s hit-or-miss track record at the Oscars. In addition, Dowd herself will face category competition in Best Supporting Actress, with Plimpton being submitted there as well. Still, she can absolutely earn the Academy’s favor with the right amount of buzz and the proper campaign.
Kirsten Dunst – “The Power Of The Dog”
If you only know Kirsten Dunst from Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” films, you’re missing out on some stunning work from one of the best actresses working today. No matter what medium Dunst finds herself in, she never fails to give every role her all, earning an Emmy nomination for her turn in FX’s “Fargo,” a Critics Choice nomination for Showtime’s “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” and the Best Actress award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for “Melancholia” – with her acquiring innumerable critics awards for the latter performance as well.
This year, in Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” Dunst takes on one of her most powerful parts to date, starring as the resilient Rose Burbank, the wife of Jesse Plemons’ George who butts heads with her brother-in-law – Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil – in brutal fashion. While we don’t yet know if Dunst will be competing in the Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress categories (going off of the source material, a case could be made for either), we can at least assume that the Oscar-winning Campion has given Dunst some meaty material to dig into. And after amassing so much goodwill over the past decade, this might be the time for the Academy to single her out with an overdue and well-deserved nomination.
Michael B. Jordan – “A Journal For Jordan”
It’s not a matter of “if” Michael B. Jordan will get an Oscar nomination someday – it’s a matter of when. Following his blistering breakout in 2013’s “Fruitvale Station,” his charismatic turn in 2015’s “Creed,” and his Critic Choice nominated role in 2018’s “Black Panther,” Jordan has been steadily building up quite an impressive resume in recent years, and Denzel Washington’s “A Journal for Jordan” might just be his ticket to the Oscar stage.
Early in the 2019-2020 awards season, many felt that the star might get some love for Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy” (until praise accumulated around co-star Jamie Foxx instead), so we’ve done this dance before. But on paper, “A Journal for Jordan” definitely sounds like a more promising part. As 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King, Jordan is set to shine playing a soldier who authors a journal for his son before being killed in action in Baghdad, informing him on how to live a decent life despite growing up without a dad. That tear-jerking synopsis is the stuff awards contenders are made of, and should “A Journal for Jordan” break big, we find it hard to believe its star won’t be swept along in the acclaim as well.
Jason Isaacs – “Mass”
Best known for his role as the malicious Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” series, Jason Isaacs has yet to factor into the awards conversation in any significant way. His major nominations have come from the British Academy Television Awards (for Best Actor for 2009’s “The Curse of Steptoe”), the Golden Globe Awards (for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for 2007’s “The State Within”), and the Critics Choice Television Awards (for Best Supporting Actor in a Movie/Miniseries for 2015’s “Stockholm, Pennsylvania”), while other major American awards bodies like AMPAS or SAG have ignored him, despite lauded supporting turns in films like “The Patriot” and “The Death of Stalin.”
However, should the aforementioned “Mass” land with the Academy, Ann Dowd might not be the only actor to earn Oscar recognition for it, as Isaacs’ buzz is burning nearly as bright. In the film, Isaacs takes on an equally affecting part, portraying the father of the victim of a school shooting who comes face to face with the parents of the perpetrator. Alongside Martha Plimpton, who plays his wife, Isaacs is sure to deliver on the drama if reviews out of Sundance are any indication. While it still remains to be seen if Bleecker Street can really get this title on AMPAS’s radar, Isaacs will be hard to ignore if they pull it off.
Jesse Plemons – “The Power Of The Dog”
Kirsten Dunst isn’t the only “The Power of the Dog” cast member who could hypothetically earn their first Oscar nomination this year. Enter Jesse Plemons, long-appreciated for his star turn on the small screen in titles such as “Friday Night Lights” and “Breaking Bad” and always on the cusp of charming awards bodies with films like “Other People,” “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” If his part in Jane Campion’s cinematic comeback can’t do the trick, we’re sure he’ll break into the conversation in next year’s Martin Scorsese-helmed “Killers of the Flower Moon.” But there is reason to believe “The Power of the Dog” might just do the trick.
Based on the book, George isn’t the showiest role. Still, he’s an essential component of the ensemble nonetheless, serving as the inverse of his belligerent older brother (Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil) and offering an ounce of openhearted humanity in an otherwise dastardly dark tale. He’ll face considerable competition from the likes of Bradley Cooper, Richard Jenkins, and Adam Driver in the Best Supporting Actor category, so it could be hard for a more subtle part to stand out. But if “The Power of the Dog” prevails overall, it is hard to see Plemons be overlooked.
Kristen Stewart – “Spencer”
Out of all the actors on this list, no one has a fanbase more fervent than Kristen Stewart. Long-ridiculed by audiences and the industry for her star turn in “The Twilight Saga,” Stewart has stunningly reinvented herself in the years since with insightful work in indies like “Still Alice,” “Personal Shopper,” and “Clouds of Sils Maria” – the latter of which earned her the César Award for Best Supporting Actress. However, her role in Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” may finally allow her to shed that “Twilight” image once and for all, as she stars as Princess Diana during the Christmas of 1991 when Diana decides to end her marriage to Prince Charles.
Sure, one could argue that audiences and awards voters may have had their fill of Princess Diana-related content after season four of Netflix’s “The Crown” just covered the same subject matter, but we beg to differ. With constant attention drawn to the eerie parallels between the publicity Princess Diana generated in the 90s and the turmoil experienced by Meghan Markle today, this time in history will never not be relevant, and it is unlikely that “The Crown” star Emma Corrin and Stewart will deliver identical interpretations of the princess. Furthermore, Larraín has demonstrated his ability to direct actresses to Oscar nominations in the past for playing complicated historical feminist figures (Natalie Portman in “Jackie,” anyone?) so doubt him and Stewart at your own peril.
Anya Taylor-Joy – “Last Night in Soho”
After acclaimed turns in indies like “The Witch,” “Thoroughbreds,” and “Emma.,” Anya Taylor-Joy truly moved up to “the big leagues,” with her work in Netflix’s staggeringly successful miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit,” earning a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and an Emmy nomination for her powerhouse performance. However, that may not be all the awards recognition the starlet receives in 2021. Her supporting role in Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” feels like a particularly promising part that could propel her to Dolby Theatre.
We may not know many details about Taylor-Joy’s character in “Last Night in Soho” yet, but we have actually had our first look at the film. While we can’t yet say for sure if that psychological thriller will appeal to the Academy in all above-the-line categories, Taylor-Joy totally stole the trailer nonetheless, wowing with her seductive showmanship and winning vocal work. Should the script provide her with enough suitable substance to sink her teeth into, she could be the rare actor to receive an Oscar nomination for a genre film, succeeding where fan favorites like Toni Collette (“Hereditary“) and Lupita Nyong’o (“Us“) have tried and failed.
So, what say you? Do you agree with our picks? Are there any actors with bright awards hopes this season that we missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our Twitter account!
You can follow Zoe and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @ZoeRoseBryant