Trophy Talk

Rotten Tomatoes’ Ridiculously Early Oscar Predictions: Best Actor

Brendan Fraser, Colin Farrell, Austin Butler, Jonathan Majors, and more stars generating a ton of buzz for this year's awards season.

by | October 25, 2022 | Comments


Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell in Devotion (2022)

(Photo by Columbia Pictures)

Our Ridiculously Early Predictions series is slightly less ridiculous nowadays because we have been pushing them off. The awards season calendar has always operated as a 365-year beat, but the prediction business has typically been a thing that we held off to give hopefuls a chance to breathe. The “should win” or “could win” conversation happening earlier and earlier has proven to be kryptonite in the long term for frontrunners. It is now to the point where a film’s Oscar chances have crept more and more into the release conversation, which gives studios little incentive to participate in the festival circuit. This is a detriment to many films’ long-term aspirations and the viability of the awards landscape, so we are trying to not add to fuel to the fire. What movie can hold nine months of scrutiny and not stumble? Very few is the answer, and that would be the case for any winner from any year if you talked about them for that long.

So we waited. Still, three months away from nominations, almost five months until the show, and with the last show barely out of our collective consciousness, we are back, so it’s still pretty ridiculous. Wasn’t it just yesterday that Coda was crowned Best Picture at the 94th Academy Awards? Not quite, but the 2023 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 screened for critics or at a festival, but the rest will debut soon, and early buzz is out for some that borrow from existing source material. This year’s 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 the 2022/2023 season’s Best Actors.

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

Brendan Fraser, The Whale

Brendan Fraser in The Whale (2022)

(Photo by ©A24)

It just seems like everybody really, really wants Brendan Fraser to win, and this has been the sentiment since his long-awaited return to acting was announced a couple of years ago. Fans have been asking for Fraser, who has been mired in personal and professional setbacks, to return to the big screen, and the Hollywood machine is finally giving them what they wanted. After Fraser and The Whale were first showered with praise following the film’s Venice Film Festival debut, the Gods and Monsters star has risen to the top of the early Best Actor prediction lists. We agree that Fraser is simply outstanding in the film as a recluse looking to reconnect with his estranged daughter, but it has yet to be seen if the film measures up to our affection for its star.

Still, Fraser’s performance required skills and craftsmanship from several departments, and such work has been richly rewarded in recent years on Oscar night (see: The Darkest Hour, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Vice). Aronofsky confessed it took several years to cast the part, but Fraser’s undeniable charisma and charming nature separated him from the rest, recalling the similar early success Aronofsky had with The Wrestler. After an exhaustive search, Mickey Rourke scored an Oscar nomination and new career opportunities, but it has yet to be seen if The Whale can do what that film failed to accomplish: win an Academy Award. Not the only one to draw cinematic comparisons to Fraser’s off-screen troubles, Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage wrote, “[Fraser’s] performance is strangely beautiful, one of those rare roles that seem to draw on years, if not decades, of a performer’s misfortunes and harness them into something profound.” Chris Bumbray of JoBlo’s Movie Network added that “The hype is real, Brendan Fraser is extraordinary.”

Austin Butler, Elvis

From the moment we spied those first-look photos, Austin Butler has been squarely in our sites for Best Actor performances to watch. Baz Lurhmann’s ode to the King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley had pretty big shoes to fill, casting one of the most recognizable faces on the planet. It is undeniable that Butler was the best part of Elvis, and though the film earned mixed reviews, it made more than $150 million at the global box office, and most Academy members adored the campy biopic. Warner Bros. Discovery may have had its fair share of negative headlines in recent weeks, but Elvis certainly wasn’t part of any of them.

Having a film debut in summer can spell disaster for awards chances, but Austin Butler, Baz Luhrmann, and the overall sentiment around Elvis have kept the film firmly within the conversation. Biopics are also typically a tough needle to thread, but Academy members familiar with Elvis, both as a contemporary and as someone they admired when they were young, will feel more than at home with this adaptation. And their praise is not likely to stop at Austin’s incredible performance: Don’t count out Tom Hanks for a supporting performance; though folks were mixed on his work on screen, his name recognition will still get Academy voters’ attention, and sometimes that and a weak year is all you need.

Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin

Shortly after the premiere of The Banshees of Inisherin at the Venice Film Festival, Collin Farrell catapulted into the Best Actor conversation. That’s likely no surprise for anyone who watched his masterful performance as the guileless lout in an unexpected feud with his best friend, but it’s a return to form for both the actor and his In Bruges creative team. The film’s award-winning director Martin Mcdonagh was also the force behind Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, so he’s no stranger to the Academy stage. Both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell were nominated for Best Supporting Actor for that film, with Rockwell ultimately taking home the hardware, and it’s a nomination we expect to be repeated by Farrell’s co-star here, Brendan Gleeson. It’s a strange categorization, as he plays the left hand of this two-handed tale, but Gleeson is eclipsed a bit by Farrell in what has been called the latter’s career-best work.

If Academy voters are in any way confused as to who plays lead and who plays supporting in a performance, they are usually going to err on the side of caution and pick supporting. So Gleeson campaigning for support has the more straightforward effort, but both will have to work very hard to prevent any unintended overlap.

Diego Calva, Babylon

Lukas Haas and Diego Calva in Babylon (2022)

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

Diego Calva is not a name on everyone’s list because Babylon has barely screened for critics, but we have heard whispers that give us plenty to consider. The primary factor is Damien Chazelle, whose upcoming feature stars Brad Pitt, Toby McGuire, Margot Robbie, and Calva, all of whom are expected to have substantial roles in the Old Hollywood comedic adventure. And although Robbie and Pitt, with their star power and name recognition, are the ones folks are looking at early, we actually believe that it will be Calva, who plays a smaller but exciting role in the film, who could be the breakout star.

Early whispers have pointed to him as the standout performance among the Hollywood heavyweights, similar to the shine Chazelle gave Miles Teller’s career after Whiplash. Babylon is also a movie about making movies, which remains a genre Academy voters can’t award with enough prizes. Set in the 1920s, right at the turn between the silent film era and modern movie making, the story also evokes some of the biggest names from the Hollywood Golden Era to frame the action. Calva’s role as the voyeur/detective Torres, the likely outsider looking in to this decadent and opulent world, is primed for recognition.

Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell, Devotion

When we put together this list, we didn’t expect we would have to make space on it for two fighter pilot stories starring Glen Powell, but here we are. Read on below for our thoughts on the Best Actor we are singling out from Top Gun: Maverick, but here we tip our hat to Powell’s work in Devotion. Fresh off winning the Audience Award at the Middleburg Film Festival, J.D. Dillard’s thrilling, action-packed, historical love story is just that – a love story, specifically about the love between friends and the love between a husband and wife amidst a time of war.

Powell and Jonathan Majors, two of Hollywood’s brightest young stars, both of whom have big-budget ambitions in their rearview and on the horizon, are at their best in this film. Though it is a singular effort by both, it is their chemistry on screen together where the film finds its true north. It is challenging to picture a relatively unknown director garnering a Best Actor nomination, but Judas and the Black Messiah reached similar heights just a couple of years ago. What sets Devotion apart is that it harkens back to the old-school movie-making of Patton and The Bridge on the River Kwai, updated under the helm of a talented filmmaker and truly jaw-dropping performances. Majors and Powell have incredible character arcs that never play backseat to the action. “A cut above the usual Hollywood biopic, allowing for a more contemplative portrait of a soft-spoken, courageous man who deserves to be remembered,” wrote Jourdain Searles for The Playlist.

Timothee Chalamet, Bones and All

We would make the case that Timotheé Chalamet’s voice work in Entergalatic, the brainchild of Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi and director Fletcher Moules, is the best work he’s likely to do all year, but that would be just a feeble attempt to charm a Dune star who is (like us) an unbiased Kid Cudi fanatic. Plus, the feature is only up for Emmy consideration. And while the voice work for his friend-turned-creative partner was exceptional, it pales in comparison to his haunting turn in Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All. The award-winning Italian director known for his sensual and delicious cinematography has melded the appetizing with the seductive for a dark turn you didn’t realize you yearned to experience.

In a tale of star-crossed lovers tortured by a hunger for human flesh, our leading lady Maren (Taylor Russell) falls for Lee (Chalamet) while on the run from her latest near discovery. The unexpected romance they kindle gives new meaning to the idea of “finding love in a hopeless place.” After flirting with Oscar nominations for Beautiful Boy and Little Women, Chalamet is now back under Guadagnino’s direction, which could lead to hearing his name called again on Oscar nominations morning. Ryan McQuade from Awardswatch wrote “The film rests on the shoulders of its two lead actors, Russell and Chalamet, whose chemistry is raw, sexy, vulnerable, and earnest.”

Daniel Kaluuya, Nope

Daniel Kaluuya’s work in Jordan Peele’s Nope provided us with one of the most incredible genre performances of 2022, and it’s one we hope Oscar voters don’t ignore. We aren’t holding our breath for obvious reasons, but we still hold out hope. Luckily, the film’s loudest detractors have shown their ignorance with their misinformed takes. Also, now that repeat viewings are available with the film’s home release, it’s possible to examine the cinematic acumen of the feature closely. One cannot be but gobsmacked by all of the visual callbacks and homages Peele pays to spectacle cinema and audiences’ obsession with it. Nowhere is this more carefully reflected than within the careful gaze of lead actor Daniel Kaluuya.

As OJ, a horse wrangler with a superhuman ability to relate to a newfound creature hovering in his stables, Kaluuya is the ultimate everyman placed in extraordinary situations. Peele expects their partnership will bear fruit for decades, if not years, to come. Comparing their work in Nope to that of Get Out shows precisely how far Kaluuya has come as an actor, particularly how his partnership with Peele brings out the best in both. Although the more understated performance here is the hardest to sell to many voters, the stoic and quiet cowboy has never been out of place in the Western, and Hollywood still loves Westerns.

Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

Before you start, we get it. Tom Cruise is a long shot on anybody’s list, and we’d be the first to admit it. We’re not saying that this is a given, but it is looking more likely than it did a few months ago. What we can bet on, however, is that Top Gun is undeniable; the film and its box office dominance goes right to the heart of the typical Academy voter. Despite the Academy’s diversification efforts, the general membership has not changed much over the past 10 years, comprised largely of white men over 65, well established in the industry, who have been working for several years. Oh, and they love Top Gun!

It’s also not lost on anyone that this year, more than any previous year, the Academy is looking for familiarity and stability with names like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, and Brad Pitt leading the way. And as much as they will obviously be voting for Tom Cruise because he brought life and depth to a role that has defined him for years, they will also be voting because they think it is a worthwhile film, particularly in the technical categories, and the marketability of the film improves come Oscar night if Tom Cruise is honored as well.

Also in contention:

Thumbnail images by Searchlight Pictures, Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures

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