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Our 2023 Oscars Predictions: Best Actor

All week I’ve been delivering my Oscars predictions for this year. With Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress in the can, we’ve finally come to Best Actor, perhaps the wide openest of the wide open categories in this year’s Academy Awards.

Doubt it? What if I told you that literally four of the five nominees could realistically walk away with this trophy? It’s okay if you think that’s crazy, just keep reading and I’ll explain why and how this could actually happen.

But first, before we do that, let’s go over the nominees. They are Austin Butler for Elvis, Colin Farrell for The Banshees of Inisherin, Brendan Fraser for The Whale, Paul Mescal for Aftersun and Bill Nighy for Living.

Just like I threw down the gauntlet yesterday, I’m going to do so again today: I love Paul Mescal as an actor, I think he’s wonderful in Aftersun, but if I had my druthers, Tom Cruise would be in his spot here. What the world’s biggest movie star did in Top Gun: Maverick was more than just turn in a brilliant performance, he also did it while flying in real planes, pulling real G’s and producing the hell out of the year’s best film. I begrudge the young Irishman nothing, but to not recognize Cruise here is a traveshamockery of the first order.

Now, having said that, and recognizing that Mescal’s nomination is his reward, that leaves four. Austin Butler has been the nominal frontrunner for most of Oscar season, but to say he’s really the one is sort of silly, because Brendan Fraser has been getting almost as many awards, and Colin Farrell has been universally saluted as well.

Let’s start with Butler, who simply becomes the King of Rock and Roll in the Baz Luhrman film, to the point where, as I watched the end of the movie, I genuinely didn’t know if I was watching the actor or file footage of the King himself. That’s really something. Now, normally, I don’t go in for an impersonation — think Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman, for instance — but what Butler does here is beyond that. It’s an interpretation rather than an impersonation. I think it puts Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning work as Freddie Mercury to shame, in fact, because Butler does all his own singing, whereas Malek lip synched. I was not a fan of the movie, but walked out of the theater totally wowed by what Butler did.

I can say the same about The Whale and Fraser. That movie is a heck of a thing to sit through, but Fraser is just so good as the dying man who has literally eaten himself to death and is just waiting for that final heart attack to happen over the final few days of his life. Fraser could have lost himself in the fat suit he wore, but his empathy and emotion shine through the prosthetics and offer an incredible insight into a terribly unhappy and heartbroken man, who is desperately trying to reconnect with his daughter before he dies. It’s truly remarkable, and I left the theater in some form of awe at what I’d just seen.

Farrell, meanwhile, does something else entirely. Banshees is a brilliantly written movie that uses language in a way that neither of the others does. He also perfectly demonstrates dim optimism and overwhelming sadness in equal measure, while also building up to a violent and destructive fury that leads to the film’s indelible climax. Farrell’s work is quieter than the other two performances, and less flashy, but it is no less impressive. On the contrary, the restraint he shows is spellbinding, and even if he hasn’t won as many pre-Oscar trophies as the other two have, I think he’s got a genuine shot to steal this.

But that’s only four, and here’s where the fifth one comes in: Bill Nighy’s heartbreaking performance as a dying 1950s British bureaucrat in Living was actually my favorite nominated turn this year, and of the bunch, is the one I most want to sit through again to see all the subtlety he brings to the role, as well as the swath of emotions he can play in a single scene. To see a man go from full repression to a pride that seems to want to burst from his chest is really what acting is about. The arc that Nighy gives us, the pathos and the joy, the sadness and triumph, is the kind of thing that any performer should aspire to achieve. It’s transcendent, and there was nothing else on screen this year quite like it.

There’s a very slight chance, but if Butler, Farrell and Fraser split the vote, Nighy could conceivably sneak through. I think it’s a real long shot, but it is possible.

More likely, however, is that it comes down to Butler and Fraser, and my money is on Fraser.

WHO WILL WIN: Brendan Fraser

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