Will Smith and Denzel Washington went toe to toe once before at the Oscars, when Smith’s performance in “The Pursuit of Happyness” lost to a volcanic Washington in “Training Day.” This season offers quite the rematch, as Washington’s expert work in “The Tragedy of Macbeth” may be the only real threat to Smith winning his first Academy Award, for “King Richard.”
Cumberbatch and Dinklage could grab two of the other spots here, but I’m curious if Joaquin Phoenix will score a nomination for the appealing “C’mon C’mon,” in which he plays a normal guy taking care of his nephew. It’s Phoenix’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning “Joker,” but the last time he played someone this warm and grounded, in Spike Jonze’s “Her,” voters overlooked him. (They prefer their Phoenix with bright plumage.)
Additional best-actor candidates include the child actor Jude Hill in “Belfast,” Nicolas Cage for an acclaimed turn in “Pig,” an all-in Andrew Garfield in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of the musical “Tick, Tick … Boom!” and several indie leading men hoping to catch Oscar’s eye, including Simon Rex as a washed-up porn star in Sean Baker’s “Red Rocket,” the Cannes best-actor winner Caleb Landry Jones in the gun-massacre drama “Nitram” and longtime supporting player Clifton Collins Jr. taking the lead in the horse-racing film “Jockey.”
Still to see: Netflix has Leonardo DiCaprio going full schlub as an out-of-his-depth astronomer in “Don’t Look Up,” while Apple has a pair of dramas anchored by two-time Oscar winners, the Tom Hanks sci-fi vehicle “Finch” and the cloning parable “Swan Song” with Mahershala Ali.
Two of the last three best-actress winners are back in the race, with Olivia Colman contending as a conflicted mother in “The Lost Daughter” and Frances McDormand mulling spot removal as Lady Macbeth in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” (Though if you want to get technical, they are two of the last four best-actress winners, since McDormand took that trophy twice in the last four match-ups.)
Their competition includes two other Oscar winners, Jennifer Hudson (“Respect”) and Penélope Cruz (a best-actress winner in Venice for Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers”), as well as two-time nominee Jessica Chastain, who’ll be hindered by the so-so reception to her biopic “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” But there are several women who could nab their first-ever nominations, including Kristen Stewart for “Spencer,” Caitriona Balfe as the matriarch of “Belfast,” Tessa Thompson in the race drama “Passing” and the Cannes best-actress winner Renate Reinsve in the thoroughly charming relationship dramedy “The Worst Person in the World.”