Academy Award for Best Actor
Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Matt Damon (The Martian)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
This really is Leo’s to lose. After winning nearly every award on the march to the Oscar, DiCaprio has both the momentum and fan support to win. His performance in The Revenant has certainly created great buzz for the film, and is largely the reason it is as popular as it is, with Leo one of the few actors to be a box office draw these days, consistently appearing in acclaimed films that do big business. Everyone knows his reputation with the Academy, after being nominated six times, he has yet to win but 2016 will most certainly be his year. Not only does DiCaprio deserve the award for his performance, but his clever marketing campaign (where he has certainly talked up the difficulties he went through when filming) and consistently gracious approach to award ceremonies should bolster his already very good chances.
It should be noted however that every one of DiCaprio’s fellow nominees still stand a chance of winning (even if it’s a small chance). Cranston’s performance as Walter White on TV’s Breaking Bad, is largely considered one of the greatest performances by an actor, not just on TV but on any medium. While Cranston won multiple Emmys for the role, he has yet to stand out in film, and Trumbo was promoted as his first real chance at an Oscar. However, the film itself did not receive the attention many believed it would, performing poorly at the box office and creating little discussion outside of Hollywood. Trumbo, and Cranston along with it, slowly faded into the background before abruptly be given a lifeline by the SAG Awards, which nominated Cranston and actress Helen Mirren. More than this, the film was nominated for the awards equivalent of Best Picture, Best Ensemble. This signaled greater love for the film and its ensemble than first thought, and Cranston suddenly was a real contender for an Oscar. Following this he received nominations at all major award shows, though without any wins. Could Heisenberg steal the Oscar? He has little chance due to a lack of wins and a lack of a presence outside of those voting. Though the Academy has little worry for fan critical opinion, to win, an actor’s performance must still remain current and on the minds of the public, which Cranston has unfortunately failed at. His only redeeming feature is that he is considered a ‘real American entertainer’, someone who has worked in TV, Film and Stage for decades to great reception and the Academy often looks further than just the actors individual performance when voting.
As mentioned, Leonardo DiCaprio continues to be one of the only actors working today that can consistently bring crowds to his films. Interestingly enough, nominee Matt Damon is another. Damon, who has already won an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting, is in a very similar position as DiCaprio. Both have been nominated for films in which they find their characters isolated and facing the harsh nature, trying to survive against the odds, both also star in films that continue to be on the minds of voters. Damon’s The Martian is the highest grossing of all Best Picture nominees and is making incredible waves on DVD, similar to fellow sci-fi flick Gravity, which will certainly help both the film and its leading man. However unlike DiCaprio, Damon simply has not seen the same level of public awareness for his nomination, and lacks any momentum other than a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy (because the Martian is a comedy right?)
That really is what it comes down to. Each actor nominated in this category deserves to win. Each gave award-worthy performances but have been overshadowed by DiCaprio and his fan insistence that this be the year he finally wins. I could go into further detail about how this applies to Michael Fassbender and Eddie Redmayne, but the truth is, they were just unlucky they had to go up against the DiCaprio behemoth. Fassbender and Redmayne were the initial front runners for the award, yet both of their films underwhelmed and each found themselves overshadowed by their films supposedly supporting actresses. This is especially relevant in Redmayne’s case, as while he was thought to possibly have a back to back win in this category (after winning last year), his role was criticised for not actually being the focus of his film (instead primarily focusing upon Alicia Vikanders character), and not accurately representing transgender figures. Such controversy resulted in The Danish Girl losing all hope for a Best Picture nomination, and damaged Redmayne’s chances of a second Oscar. Redmayne also has to confront his recent Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actor in Jupiter Ascending, which will be handed out around the same time as the Oscars. Fassbender too is faced with the problem that Kate Winslet, the supposedly supporting actress, may be gaining so much heat and buzz off her wins at the Golden Globe and BAFTA, that her performance in Steve Jobs may distract from that of the titular character. If either Steve Jobs or The Danish Girl were nominated for Best Picture, this would be a great problem to have for the producers but not so much for the actors.
While this article may seem repetitive, the problem with this years Best Actor category is that while Leo is a clear winner, no other nominees differentiate themselves from each other, similar to the Best Actress category. For this reason, again it is hard to choose a potential spoiler. Yet, I must. In an attempt to award a less conventional role, the Academy may want to award an astronaut on Mars. Damon certainly has a chance at winning because of his popular reputation and his almost ‘comeback kid’ persona, having not had much critical applause since his role in 2008’s Invictus. But Sylvester Stallone should be eating all that up.
Potential Spoiler: Matt Damon