As Hollywood begins to turn its attention to next year’s Oscar race, it pays to go a little deeper than just Best Picture. After all a film is nothing without its actors and this year’s possible contenders have a wide range of superb material to work from.
With moviegoers only having a limited amount of time to check out all the potential nominees, we thought we’d make it a little easier. Below we’ve showcase the performances we felt were most your time and most likely to stay with you long after leaving the theater. Here’s our list of 13 Actors That Could Win An Oscar This Year.
10 Will Smith (Concussion)
Will Smith has done amazing work in the past, but it's seemingly never enough to win the Oscar. Yet his role in Concussion is much different than it was in Ali or The Pursuit of Happyness. Here he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who made people realize there is a link between football and concussions.
Forgot for a second the controversy around the film for its depiction of the NFL, and forget that the film itself stands little chance of being nominated. Smith is the driver here and it's him people are talking about when discussing the project.
Smith blends himself effortlessly into the character to the point that you forget your watching him. Omalu is such a smart and likable person that when you take in Smith’s natural charisma, they almost become the same person. Go back and watch the trailer, the promo clips and his interviews and you’ll see what we are talking about.
If Smith doesn’t get nominated, it will be a real shame.
9 Johnny Depp (Black Mass)
Everyone in Hollywood is well versed in the many sides of Johnny Depp.
From Captain Jack Sparrow to Willy Wonka, there isn’t a single character Depp can’t play. Yet because he plays all those out-there characters, you forget he can portray real people as well.
Depp caught everyone off guard by his turn as the notorious "Whitey" Bulger. Audiences and critics alike were stunned as they suddenly remembered this guy could actually act. It’s a brutal role based a brutal person and it really shouldn’t have come as a shock Depp was able to sink his teeth into the part.
Depp has always been a awards favorite and it is likely his charm and appeal that will help him with voters. Black Mass is a great example of a film that may not be an entirely accurate description of real events, but through Depp, you buy into the fact the man at the center of it is truly that dangerous.
8 Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
The Theory of Everything star is already picking up Oscar buzz as early as last year for his role in The Danish Girl. It is very likely Redmayne will at the very least get a nomination and a win would put him in rare company. Only 16 people have won Oscars in back-to-back years and of them only Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks have done it in the Best Actor category.
Redmayne plays Lili Elbe, one of the first people to transition from male to female and, in the process, became a groundbreaking pioneer. The film is based on the novel of the same name by David Ebershoff and while it takes creative liberties, the performances are fully genuine.
7 Matt Damon (The Martian)
Many may forget that, since Matt Damon first broke onto the scene in 1998 with Good Will Hunting, he’s only earned one additional Oscar nomination. While he’s often talked about for consideration, he’s only been up for 2010’s Invictus. It’s likely that stat will change in 2016.
The Martian didn’t just do well critically, it did well financially and that’s a rarity these days. As with DiCaprio in The Revenant, Damon is by himself for a good chunk of the film leaving him to play off himself.
Damon is likable and talented, which the audience immediately picks up on and voters will as well. While the film is an ensemble, The Martian’s success largely hinges on Damon’s performance. In cases where that happens and the actor in question does a solid job, awards usually follow.
6 8 & 9. Michael Keaton & Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
Dramatic ensemble films usually always attract Oscar buzz, the problem for the actors is making themselves stand out ahead of their co-stars.
Right now it looks like the supporting actor race is a battle between Spotlight co-stars Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo. Both men had their share of big scenes and both are no stranger to award season, though Keaton just earned his first nod last year.
The Birdman star likely came “this” close to topping Eddie Redmayne last year in Best Actor. It is possible voters will remember that and vote to reward him here (as it has happened before). The bottom line is that, in addition to be talented, Keaton is charismatic on and off screen and that gets noticed.
With Ruffalo, his Avengers background has certainly raised his profile, and he’s been down this road twice before (Foxcatcher, The Kids Are All Right). While he’s also yet to win, this is one of those roles that really propels him to that next level.
It really could go either way.
5 6 & 7. Tom Hanks & Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
Usually, anytime Tom Hanks attaches himself to a dramatic project, Oscar talk follows. With Bridge of Spies, that streak continues, but the buzz is even louder for his newest on-screen partner Mark Rylance.
Primarily a stage actor (and a Tony-winning one at that), Rylance has come on strong this year as Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy around the events of the Cold War U2 spy incident. Then you have Hanks, whose likeability is easily infused into his character James Donovan, a mild-mannered lawyer roped into the mix.
The two play well off each other, and their performances are elevated by the leadership of director Steven Spielberg (who likely will also get award consideration). Spies is very much your typical Oscar film, but it is so beautifully shot and well-acted that it doesn’t matter.
4 Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
Netflix is looking to conquer film like they’ve conquered TV, and their first attempt at a second pop culture coup is Beasts of No Nation.
The important to thing to remember is that Beasts could have just as easily been a pure theatrical release, but Netflix made a convincing case for why they should release it first.
One of the things liked the most by Netflix’s team was the star power of lead actor Idris Elba. Elba, known primarily for his work on the BBC’s Luther is a unique mix of everything the industry loves. He’s charming, good-looking and his acting skills run the gauntlet. He also flies under the radar just enough that people will never come close to getting tired of him.
Elba immerses himself into every role he’s in and, in Nation, that’s a scary proposition. The film looks at the painfully real problem of child soldiers in Africa and Elba plays a fierce warlord overseeing their training.
He easily be a dark horse in this race.
3 Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Ever since Walter Isaacson wrote his famous biography of the late Steve Jobs, we knew there would be a movie adapted from the book. The question was who would play Jobs and after Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale (among others) were pursued, the filmmakers decided on Michael Fassbender.
We all primarily know Fassbender from his role as Magneto in the new X-Men films, but it is easy to forget he has rich history of meaty parts. He’s been in everything from 12 Years A Slave to 300 to Inglourious Basterds and he’ll soon be seen in Assassin’s Creed and the new Alien films.
That type of filmography doesn’t happen unless you have talent and Fassbender has talent. While Steve Jobs didn’t do well financially, it did well critically and many of the reviewers singled out Fassbender as a reason why. It’s entirely possible Oscar voters will make the same conclusion.
2 Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
Over his career, Bryan Cranston has proved he can do comedy (Malcolm In The Middle) and drama (Breaking Bad); in Trumbo, he gets to show off both of those sides.
Cranston stars as Dalton Trumbo, a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who finds a way around exile. The movie is based on Trumbo’s life and it is really fascinating to watch the lengths this man went to get his good name back.
As with many actors on this list, Cranston is part of an ensemble, but here it is clear he is the lead and everything revolves around his role. Cranston is brilliant as Trumbo, and he makes audiences root for him despite a few times where he looks to become detached from reality.
Regardless the mark of a great actor is getting you to care about his character and Cranston succeeds in spades.
1 1 & 2. Leonardo DiCaprio & Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
You only need to look back at Leonardo DiCaprio’s filmography to see his impressive work. Whether it was for Inception, Shutter Island, Blood Diamond or The Wolf of Wall Street, he’s always shined on screen. Yet, while he was nominated for a few of those roles, he’s never won.
The Revenant is likely going to be his best chance to take Hollywood’s top prize. DiCaprio carries the film largely through his visual performance as he has less than 20 lines of actual dialogue. It’s just DiCaprio and the frozen tundra for a good chunk of the film, but it works.
DiCaprio will engage viewers with his turn as Hugh Glass, a man fighting for life after he’s left for dead by his hunting party following an accident. His character is also based on a real person, which is like catnip to voters
Meanwhile, you can’t overlook DiCaprio’s on-screen foil Tom Hardy. Hardy plays the man responsible for leaving Glass behind and doing a handful of other despicable things in the process. Hardy’s had a great year between this, Legend and Mad Max: Fury Road but while all three have been well-received, Revenant is Hardy at his best.
How many of the above performances have you seen? Did we leave any frontrunners off our list? Which actor do you think will win Best Actor? Hit the comments and let us know.