It’s been over a month since critics’ organizations began pronouncing their top choices for the 2020 film year, and today the path to Oscar glory passes another mile marker as nominations open for the 27th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards.
Over the next few weeks, we will look at the key acting races, including the likeliest contenders for nominations, the performers hoping to make the lineup, and a few names that should be part of the conversation.
Today, we will start by looking at the race for Best Actor in a Leading Role. This year’s race looks to be the most diverse lineup of actors we’ve ever seen
There are a lot of names we are likely to hear again and again over the next three months. Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and Anthony Hopkins (The Father) are an exciting pair in the top two slots for Best Actor, and that back and forth will probably carry through all the way to April.
There is always a lingering question when a performance faces a posthumous nomination or win. If Chadwick Boseman were alive today, would we be talking so enthusiastically about his work in George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of August Wilson’s prize-winning play? While not entirely an answerable question, we can confidently state that yes, Boseman’s Levee is captivating in all the right ways. He is a standout in a film full of exceptional performances. He commands attention from his first frame to his last. Aspiring actors will study this performance for years to come.
What does this mean for Anthony Hopkins? Since Florian Zeller’s feature debuted at Sundance last January, writers and fans have hailed this as the best we’ve seen from Hopkins in years; or possibly ever. Hopkins won the Academy Award the first time he was nominated, for his “all-time” performance in Silence of the Lambs. He would earn three more nominations in the 90s and then once more for his supporting role last year in The Two Popes. Hopkins is incredible in The Father. He navigates every emotion, from confusion and fear to anger and frustration with a specific mastery of craft that could only come from years of careful honing.
With Boseman and Hopkins all but assured nominations, who else will join them among the year’s leading men? If we look to the precursors, a few names keep popping up among critics’ groups. The current leader in early awards is Delroy Lindo, the runaway star of Spike Lee’s war trauma film, Da 5 Bloods. A rich ensemble piece, Lindo’s Paul separates himself from his co-stars both metaphorically and literally as he goes on a deeper, more personal journey through his own painful memories and confrontation of his past choices. This may be the year he is finally recognized after a career of memorable roles.
Riz Ahmed has also found himself on the radar of several groups, festival goers, and Film Twitter. In Sound of Metal, Ahmed plays a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing and therefore finds himself with a tenuous grasp on his relationship, his art, and his sobriety. The film is a major player for Amazon this year, but with so many first time directors vying for attention on their narrative features, can Ahmed’s fan base help carry him to his first Oscar nomination?
Steven Yeun is another fan favorite for Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical family drama, Minari. As the overburdened and ambitious patriarch of a small Korean family in the 80s, Yeun takes a familiar fatherly character and transforms him into a fully rounded man with hopes, dreams, flaws, and mistakes. Minari is a lovely, heartfelt film that subtly transforms the viewer. It is deceptively hefty, balancing important themes and emotional beats with an joyful and optimistic immigrant story.
Who are the other contenders this year? Veterans and past winners Gary Oldman and Tom Hanks will likely court votes, especially from older voters. Oldman shines as Oscar winner Herman J. Mankiewicz in David Fincher’s old Hollywood picture, Mank. If it were to happen, Oldman would be the first actor to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar winner. (Last year, Renee Zellweger won for playing Judy Garland, who was nominated but never won a competitive Oscar. In 2004, Cate Blanchett won the award for playing Academy Award winner Katharine Hepburn.) Mank is sure to find love with Academy members and will likely find itself with multiple nominations. It seems strange not to consider Oldman a strong possibility. But that was true last year of Robert De Niro, who found himself left out of The Irishman‘s 10 nods.
If we’re looking to loved veterans to round out the category, we can’t ignore Tom Hanks. Of course, we’ve sang this tune many times over the past 20 years only to be disappointed time and again. But his work in Paul Greengrass’ western News of the World is the sort of work Academy members love to praise. And after the year we’ve just had (and, let’s face it, are still having), Tom Hanks and the “America’s Dad” sentiment that follows him may help bring the Oscar winner back after his supporting nomination a year ago.
And still, other leading men are also circling the conversation and looking to find their way in. Ben Affleck gave the best performance of his career in the deeply personal drama, The Way Back, in which he plays an alcoholic facing long-buried issues. John David Washington is about to break into the contest, as we saw this weekend with early word on Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie.
Kingsley Ben-Adir is a standout as Malcolm X in Kerry Washington’s One Night in Miami. Ben-Adir manages to take a real-life person we’ve seen in a previous Oscar-nominated film and turn it into something entirely his own. Lakeith Stanfield is also poised to grab attention for his performance as a real-life person in another historical film, Judas and the Black Messiah.
In the comedy world, Andy Samberg is funny, charming, and also emotionally engaging in the comedy, Palm Springs. And Sacha Baron Cohen is hoping to find his way into the rare citation as a double nominee for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and his supporting role in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
There is a lot of time left and the possibility of surprises along the way. A lot can happen between now and the end of February when the eligibility period closes. And even more can happen before the nominations are announced on March 15.
- Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
- Anthony Hopkins, The Father (Sony Pictures Classics)
- Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
- Steven Yeun, Minari (A24)
- Tom Hanks, News of the World (Universal)