Trophy Talk

Rotten Tomatoes’ Ridiculously Early Oscar Predictions: Best Actor

Will Smith, Timothée Chalamet, and Dev Patel lead old vets, Oscar darlings, and fresh faces vying for the trophy in an unpredictable year.

by | August 16, 2021 | Comments

Timothee Chalamet in Dune

(Photo by Warner Bros.)

Our Ridiculously Early Prediction Series feels particularly ridiculous this time around because it has only been a few months since the last awards season wrapped. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Nomadland was crowned Best Picture at the 93rd Academy Awards? Not quite, but the 2022 season is now in full swing, and we are back to kick off our series with the Best Actor contest.

Most of the films on our list of potential Best Actor performances have yet to screen for critics or at a festival, but most will debut soon, and early buzz is out for some that borrow from existing source material. The Best Actor race is poised to feature several prior winners and former nominees competing against an ever-growing slate of newcomers and marquee names yet to receive their first Oscar nominations. If history — or basic math — tells us anything, it’s that many of these names won’t make it to Oscar night, but we’re pretty confident most of them will be right up there in the awards chatter. So read on as we break down our ridiculously early picks for 2022’s Best Actors.

Disagree with our picks? Have at us in the comments.


Will Smith

King Richard (2021)

Nowadays, Will Smith makes more headlines for his meme-worthy Instagram feed and guest appearances on his wife’s Red Table Talk series, but King Richard should remind everyone that he is, in fact, one of the best actors of our generation and one of the last bona fide “movie stars.” Starring as Richard Williams, the father of future tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, Smith is on track for his third acting nomination.

We don’t know much as of yet, and though the new trailer offers a glimpse of what to expect from the sports biopic, it’s still unclear if it will push past its “Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side” appeal to snag our Fresh Prince an Oscar win. No matter what happens on nomination morning, the film should enjoy similar commercial success to the football biopic that won Bullock the Best Actress statue in 2012 – or it would have in a typical year at the box office. Centering on earlier days of the Williams sisters’ tennis careers as they catapulted to the national stage, King Richard, like The Blind Side, will live or die by what Smith does on screen. Casting him as a dedicated and determined father should also bode well for him, as his last Best Actor nomination for The Pursuit of Happyness shared a similar crowd-pleasing, tear-jerking appeal. Funnily enough, for all that Smith has done in Hollywood, he has yet to win a golden statue, and both times he was nominated, he lost to another Black actor. Forest Whitaker topped him in 2007 for The Last King of Scotland, and our next pick for Best Actor took home the prize in 2002 when Smith was nominated for Ali.


(Photo by The Tragedy of Macbeth. Courtesy of Apple and A24.)

Denzel Washington

We thought Denzel Washington had his third Oscar wrapped up when he was nominated for 2016’s Fences. (Clearly so did he, as his disappointed reaction when Casey Affleck took home the prize went viral.) That said, it isn’t too difficult to envision several nominations emerge from his next film, a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which he plays the ill-fated king. Besides the drama we expect from Washington and his on-screen wife Frances McDormand, director Joel Coen has to contend with his own bit of drama behind the scenes as this will be the first film of his career without his writing and directing partner, brother Ethan Coen, who announced he wanted to take a break from filmmaking to focus on theater. This black-and-white feature, which will open the New York Film Festival in September, is one of the most hotly anticipated films of the fall circuit, and early pundit whispers have been echoing the project with a different “M-word” actors get superstitious about – masterwork. With two Best Actor Oscars at home and nine total nominations, Washington is a threat whenever he is on screen, but with the addition of a director and co-star who both have four Oscars each, it’s hard to imagine Denzel’s name won’t be called come nominations morning. Right now, several months ahead of the ceremony, he is also the blind-speculation frontrunner.


Oscar Isaac

Speaking of the Coens, we might as well remind everyone that we are still upset that our next Best Actor contender, Oscar Isaac, was not nominated for his brilliant work in 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis. This time around, we’re hoping he can finally snag his first nomination for Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter. Isaac plays an ex-con card counter named William Tell who looks to be plotting to avenge himself of a wrong committed by Oscar-nominated actor Willem Dafoe. We know from Oscar-nominated revenge thrillers like Unforgiven, Cape Fear, and Promising Young Woman that Academy voters love a dark revenge tale.

Despite his incredible filmography of groundbreaking cinema, Schrader has only been nominated once in his nearly five-decade career. His last effort, 2018’s First Reformed, snagged him his first nomination for writing, but in the same year, lead actor Ethan Hawke was snubbed for what we argued was a much-deserved nomination. Unlike First Reformed or even Isaac’s on-the-Oscar-bubble performance in Ex Machina, The Card Counter appears to be a more commercial effort that will appeal to wider audiences and the younger members of the Academy. Plus, the Star Wars actor also has another little sci-fi feature this year that will keep him top of mind throughout the season, and another potential Best Actor nominee plays his son…


Timothée Chalamet

Dune (2021)

Adaptations of Frank Herbert’s seminal novel Dune is a fraught enterprise – just ask director David Lynch, whose 1981 adaptation was a commercial and critical failure. This latest version, set to hit theaters in October after months of delay, could be our best shot to pay homage to the iconic sci-fi series. At the center of all that attention is Oscar-nominated actor Timothée Chalamet, who has been a staple of award-worthy cinema since he rose to prominence playing Elio in Call Me By Your Name. Chalamet also has the enviable honor of appearing in not one or two but three awards contenders this season, and word has it he is a threat to be nominated for all of them.

Many have remarked on Chalamet’s comedic chops in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, and he will go up against the likes of Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio for Adam MacKay’s Don’t Look Up. We are thinking his performance as the prodigal prince returning home in Dune will be the one to capture the voters’ attention, but it never hurts to be featured in multiple contenders. Denis Villeneuve has racked up Oscar nominations for just about every one of his efforts in recent years, and though he has a less than stellar track record for grabbing Oscar nominations outside of below-the-line categories, the A-list talent of Dune could be what allows the Blade Runner 2049 director to overcome a hurdle he has yet to clear – directing an Oscar-nominated performance. In Lady Bird, Little Women, and The King, Chalamet has proven his ability to command an audience with a performance that belies his years. Considering the rich source material here and what we spied in the trailer, he will have plenty for an awards highlight reel.


Andrew Garfield

Andrew Garfield is another name on our list with two potential bites at the Oscar apple, with lead Performances in tick, tick… Boom! and The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Both have the potential to make a deep run come awards season, and it just might be down to which film is more beloved by the voting body. While tick, tick… Boom! could appeal to the Gothams and Indie Spirit crowd, playing televangelist Jim Bakker, who had a penchant for activities one would hardly classify as “living within the faith,” is the kind of role actors dream of playing. The Bakkers’ PTL ministries were, for a time, some of the most popular television programs in the United States, the donations from which exceeded millions of dollars. Their epic rise to the top of Christian television entertainment was only rivaled by their equally epic fall from grace. tick, tick… Boom! will showcase Garfield’s talent as a singer and performer, but we also expect to see that in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, in which he will deliver the gospel performances that catapulted the Bakkers into superstardom. Adding a delicious true-crime tale of rags to riches and a downfall by dirty deeds, we think his work alongside Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain will be the performance that voters single out.


Simon Rex in Red Rocket

(Photo by A24)

Simon Rex

Red Rocket (2021)

This one is going to surprise some, and we have to admit it is a non-traditional choice. However, we are confidently placing our bet on Simon Rex as the narcissistic aging porn star in Red Rocket to make it to Oscar nightRex is likely more memorable from his days on MTV, his modeling work for Calvin Klein, or his comedic turns in the Scary Movie franchise, but he shows true acting prowess and comedic timing in this entertaining character study that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July. Playing adult film star Mikey Saber, who is down on his luck and back home in Texas after washing out in Los Angeles, Rex is already prompting conversations among critics about end-of-year honors; Guy Lodge for Film of the Week called it the “role of a lifetime for the former VJ.”

In truth, director Sean Baker’s uncanny skill with bold casting choices is what gave us Rex in the lead and what makes the film feel so indescribably authentic. At Cannes, Baker expressed his desire to center his next story on male sex workers (his previous efforts Tangerine, Starlet, and The Florida Project centered on female sex workers). That’s when he discovered so-called “suitcase pimps,” typically the unemployed boyfriends or husbands of porn stars who “take care” of the women and usually rake in a cut for their services. Rex, a man with more than few chapters in his Hollywood career, is the perfect choice, as he knows all too well what happens to people when the industry leaves them behind. His delivery on screen is undeniable and award-worthy, but he will have to work the circuit and have a little luck if he wants to rise above the fate that befell Adam Sandler during his Oscar campaign for Uncut Gems. Like Sandler, we predict Rex will find love and possibly a win at the Independent Spirit Awards no matter what happens with the Academy.


Ben Platt

The internet has been having a bit of fun with the idea of Ben Platt playing a high schooler while he himself is just three years shy of 30, and Platt hasn’t been doing himself any favors with his reaction to the naysayers, but we think he is a more than worthy contender for Best Actor. Already taking home a Grammy, Tony, and Emmy for his work on the smash Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, it is hard to argue he has more than a fighting chance at a Best Actor Oscar nom. Playing an awkward teenager who finds himself caught up in a lie he can’t undo, Platt has a part built to wow Oscar voters as he did Tony Voters in 2019. After Anthony Hopkins took home the Best Actor prize in 2020 for The Father, we think it is noteworthy to lean on the original theater  production’s pedigree: Like the role of the father in the eponymous play, every actor who has played Evan Hansen on stage has taken home a Best Actor prize. Though many have shaken their heads at some of the more controversial aspects of the film, it is anchored by such a gut-wrenching lead performance and underscored by Oscar-winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and we think the Academy will be less concerned and more awed by what Platt will do on screen. This is another tearjerker with commercial appeal, and as many detractors as the film has online, there is an even more dedicated fanbase that has been anxiously waiting for the film to hit theaters.


Dev Patel

Outside of dark horse pick of Simon Rex in Red Rocket, our next outside-the-box pick is Dev Patel for The Green Knight, which is only fitting as it also was produced by the folks who gave us Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems and Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse. The Green Knight will undoubtedly be a strong contender for below-the-line categories, but we don’t want to dismiss the lead performance by Patel, which might just be a bit too out there for many Oscar voters but remains one of the best performances we have seen this year. Like Rex, Patel has already enjoyed outstanding reviews from critics, with Sara Michelle Fetters of Movie Freak calling him “simply marvelous” and, despite the dense source material and lyrical adaptation, stating he “still makes it all work… while his physically stoic permutations gradually give way, stripping the character of his confidence and leaving him contentedly naked as he readies himself for his ‘gift’ from The Green Knight.” A polarizing film, to be sure, but even those who aren’t a fan of David Lowery’s Arthurian fable agree Patel is incredible in it. Such envelope-pushing performances have also not been a favorite among Academy voters in recent years, but the same could have been said for foreign language films and Best Picture… until Parasite made history.


Also in contention:


Thumbnail images by Warner Bros. and A24

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Tag Cloud

VOD cancelled TV series Drama science fiction Acorn TV dragons BET TNT Horror Musicals 93rd Oscars book Discovery Channel Rocky Esquire Premiere Dates 21st Century Fox period drama Nat Geo free movies DC streaming service The Walt Disney Company AMC jurassic park italian feel good sequel Reality breaking bad Bravo batman medical drama remakes Sundance kaiju Disney streaming service basketball HBO Max Sundance Now Holidays emmy awards hispanic ITV posters 24 frames SXSW documentary Mary Poppins Returns TV renewals Shudder football HBO gangster PaleyFest Year in Review PlayStation Hallmark Black Mirror 2020 CNN technology Anna Paquin Lifetime Christmas movies diversity royal family suspense live action Crunchyroll video true crime razzies FX on Hulu fresh cults Classic Film Cannes 007 slasher book adaptation singing competition Mary Tyler Moore 2017 crime drama disaster marvel cinematic universe Ghostbusters mutant TV comic spanish TLC History 90s Oscars Paramount Network American Society of Cinematographers dogs See It Skip It Writers Guild of America A24 sag awards parents Tarantino TCM kids Marvel trailers DC Universe NBA Spring TV Columbia Pictures crime mcc GIFs The Witch Comics on TV ABC Signature Britbox Western Food Network scene in color what to watch Endgame YouTube Red Carpet dc legend E! rt archives Arrowverse Superheroe Tumblr MTV Shondaland Lionsgate SundanceTV PBS olympics 2015 know your critic Comedy Paramount Plus discovery Heroines new york Pet Sematary Vudu ghosts Women's History Month wonder woman boxoffice GoT Apple TV+ christmas movies NYCC finale FX ID MSNBC animated directors Grammys FOX Kids & Family Logo Pixar indie Showtime Super Bowl Rock cooking Amazon Prime Ovation indiana jones rt labs TruTV El Rey Spectrum Originals ABC Superheroes stoner mission: impossible Black History Month Reality Competition DGA video on demand composers teaser justice league asian-american Lifetime tv talk USA 2016 foreign child's play Trophy Talk Starz renewed TV shows Adult Swim CW Seed children's TV Freeform superhero Winter TV 2018 The Arrangement popular Rocketman TV Land Marathons adenture Countdown Turner Classic Movies BBC America harry potter doctor who Video Games Thanksgiving OWN scorecard Disney TCA award winner Epix robots Summer Funimation Netflix vampires Winners serial killer Fox News Animation Trailer Film Festival rotten movies we love films spinoff comics binge Spike Tomatazos franchise reboot golden globe awards Toys transformers LGBTQ dramedy BBC One 72 Emmy Awards Nickelodeon cancelled television TBS APB Pirates Mary poppins social media Best and Worst Star Wars kong crime thriller NBC Lucasfilm Mudbound venice IFC Turner adventure archives National Geographic natural history Brie Larson toy story Amazon zero dark thirty critics YA San Diego Comic-Con cancelled Mystery streaming movies miniseries 20th Century Fox prank strong female leads quibi 99% Elton John supernatural RT21 Pop TV Country Baby Yoda 71st Emmy Awards Academy Awards spy thriller pirates of the caribbean superman black Comedy Central travel BAFTA comic books laika halloween Biopics ViacomCBS aliens Certified Fresh romantic comedy Song of Ice and Fire Hallmark Christmas movies Christmas halloween tv CBS All Access DC Comics Podcast Tubi Cosplay chucky biopic Emmy Nominations Set visit Rom-Com a nightmare on elm street MCU comedies The CW Quiz LGBT boxing Amazon Studios nbcuniversal Avengers Trivia based on movie james bond Apple Dark Horse Comics Fox Searchlight rotten Comic Book HBO Go heist movie game show Paramount golden globes Binge Guide cops Fantasy versus twilight richard e. Grant TV One action-comedy slashers rt labs critics edition dexter Amazon Prime Video WarnerMedia scary movies Interview Ellie Kemper new star wars movies green book TCA Awards BBC Valentine's Day 1990s Broadway spider-man cartoon WGN women Box Office psycho king arthur FXX name the review facebook stop motion Polls and Games RT History SDCC international politics independent sequels aapi theme song Television Critics Association Musical GLAAD obituary The Walking Dead worst new zealand Photos Sundance TV Hulu documentaries fast and furious The Academy Travel Channel Character Guide hollywood japan blockbuster Watching Series spanish language movie Legendary marvel comics debate deadpool anime Sci-Fi Marvel Television blaxploitation Apple TV Plus jamie lee curtis Captain marvel nfl worst movies south america zombies 4/20 Disney Plus latino TIFF sitcom Netflix Christmas movies comic book movies satire YouTube Red sports cars Alien Family Sony Pictures crossover game of thrones comiccon USA Network high school french hidden camera Tokyo Olympics werewolf psychological thriller saw YouTube Premium revenge cinemax joker cats young adult Extras police drama casting festival BET Awards CBS best dceu concert Film Election movies Calendar reviews Opinion anthology nature 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards elevated horror 2021 rom-coms Awards Pop Walt Disney Pictures ABC Family political drama canceled hist X-Men Wes Anderson dark Comic-Con@Home 2021 Awards Tour romance Syfy Exclusive Video Martial Arts target VH1 E3 CMT Universal godzilla universal monsters telelvision die hard First Reviews unscripted DirecTV Stephen King screen actors guild streaming Masterpiece classics series Pride Month biography Television Academy 45 war ratings cancelled TV shows 73rd Emmy Awards toronto docudrama Pacific Islander Marvel Studios Creative Arts Emmys IFC Films all-time Warner Bros. President talk show criterion blockbusters Disney+ Disney Plus Holiday Action docuseries Disney Channel Image Comics Peacock space canceled TV shows television ESPN japanese thriller Chernobyl spain The Purge TV movies lord of the rings Emmys New York Comic Con adaptation Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Crackle Music VICE Teen Mindy Kaling Sneak Peek monster movies Hear Us Out OneApp Cartoon Network A&E zombie Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 2019 festivals Schedule Fall TV witnail screenings stand-up comedy Infographic australia hispanic heritage month king kong TCA 2017 mockumentary Star Trek historical drama TCA Winter 2020 critic resources Nominations comic book movie First Look news