Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role
Casey Affleck (Manchester By The Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)
Similar to the race for Best Supporting Actor, the Best Actor category has seen a rather unusual flip-flopping of choices. Before the award season kicked off, Casey Affleck looked to be a definite lock for this award, more than any actor in any category. Coming off a sweep of guild and festival awards, Affleck also went on to win the Critics Choice Award and Golden Globe. Yet, while this was all happening controversy arose over a civil lawsuit against the actor from years ago, regarding him making sexual advances on a producer. While the lawsuit was settled outside of court, voters suddenly faced the decision of whether to award Affleck in the same year that Nate Parker was shunned. Parker and his film The Birth of a Nation was considered the early Oscar favourite at the start of 2016, with many believing TBOAN would not only take home Best Picture, but sweep the entire ceremony. However, over the course of 2016, media reports brought up Parker’s past rape allegations and the fact that his co-screenwriter on the film was also charged with the rape. While Parker was acquitted, his co-screenwriter was convicted, though he later got off after appealing the conviction and key witnesses unable to testify. It was revealed, as publicity for the film began, that the key accuser committed suicide in 2012. In interviews Parker deflected questions about the scandal and refused help from other celebrities, leading many to believe he was unapologetic. The Birth of a Nation went on to score zero nominations. This means voters must decide whether Affleck’s past civil suit was on the same level as that of Parker’s criminal. While it is unclear how much of an impact this has had on Affleck’s award chances (considering he was still nominated for the Oscar and the controversy has received less attention than that of Parker), if Affleck does lose, Hollywood stars are going to have to realise that former incidents do impact the politics of the awards.
So if Affleck does not receive the Oscar, who will? Well it will almost certainly be Denzel Washington. Many actually believe Washington is the favourite, and there is clear evidence that he might be. Firstly, he has won two Oscars before and is probably the most prominent black actor of his generation. He not only starred in the film Fences but also directed it, a feat the Academy many want to recognise with this award, considering he didn’t get nominated for the Best Director Oscar. It must also be noted that Fences received a Best Picture nomination but only with three other noms (Best Actor, Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay). While a film receiving a BP nom without any craft noms does happen often, it normally signals very strong support in the acting categories or with a single branch of voters. Finally, and probably most importantly, Washington beat Affleck at the SAG awards. While this is the only major award Washington did win, the SAGs are the most important, with the greatest crossover of voters with the Academy. Having Washington win here cemented his status as an actor’s actor and the love voters have for him in Hollywood. Considering this, if Washington does win, it would be no surprise. Even though he wasn’t even nominated at the BAFTAs (where Affleck won), Washington has never been nominated there (despite winning two Oscars), so its unclear of how much of an impact that will have.
The other three actors are pretty much out of it by this stage. While there is the slight chance Ryan Gosling could win (he did win the Comedy/Musical Golden Globe and has been nominated at every award show), it would only be due to a La La Land sweep which he could be caught up in. Garfield hasn’t won any major awards, though he also starred in the film Silence this year which gained him a load of smaller guild nominations. Voters may look at his work there and in Hacksaw Ridge and could give him the Oscar as recognition for his overall profile, though that seems unlikely. The only other way Garfield could win if if the vote splits between Affleck and Washington, and if La La Land doesn’t find the support it needs for Gosling to win. Mortensen’s nomination is his victory.
Potential Spoiler: Denzel Washington