We continue our 2020 Oscars predictions series, having offered our thoughts on the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress categories.
Last but not least, we look at the nominees for Best Lead Actor at the Oscars. In case you need a refresher, the category includes Antonio Banderas for 'Pain and Glory'; Leonardo DiCaprio for 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'; Adam Driver for 'Marriage Story'; Joaquin Phoenix for 'Joker'; and Jonathan Pryce for 'The Two Popes'.
'Pain and Glory' sees Banderas reunite with Pedro Almodovar, the director who helped jump-start the actor's career in the 80s. Many will likely recognise Banderas for his 90s work like 'Desperado' or 'Zorro', or family series 'Shrek' and 'Spy Kids'. But Banderas, who turns 60 this year, has more than proven himself more than worthy. In 'Pain and Glory', he aptly captures something of a reflective role as Salvador Mallo, a director in his decline. It's the first time he has ever been nominated for an Oscar, and the Spanish language drama is up for Best International Feature at the Oscars too. While Banderas is good, the question of is he good enough to beat these heavyweights is probably no.
Next we come to Jonathon Pryce, who gives a heartwarming, enlivening, humorous and sharp performance as Pope Francis. Pryce's career has been an impressive one between 'Brazil', 'Evita', 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Game of Thrones'. In this writer's opinion though, Netflix made one big misstep in putting Pryce forward in this category. 'The Two Popes' is really a two-hander between Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, who plays Pope Benedict XVI. Hopkins is in fact credited first and yet he's up for best supporting actor while Pryce is up for lead. It's a shame because Pryce could have had a strong shot at the gong in the best supporting actor category (though he would've had to contend with Brad Pitt in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood', admittedly). But Pryce doesn't really stand a chance here.
Speaking of 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood', you've a similar case with Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in that they're interchangeable as lead or supporting actor in the Quentin Tarantino movie. But in this case, the latter did have top billing. DiCaprio's best work with Tarantino to date remains 'Django Unchained', even with the depth and range he brings to the character of flailing actor Rick Dalton. More to the point, Leo got his Oscar (FINALLY!) in 2016 for 'The Revenant'. And since he didn't go as far as getting mauled by a bear in this one, he'll likely be glossed over.
Adam Driver could very well prove a dark horse for Best Lead Actor at the Oscars. In Charlie Baker, a self-centred and sometimes cruel character, Driver brings sympathy and a deep-felt sense of humanity. His character gets more screen time than Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson. But Driver also has the tougher job since Charlie is so unlikable. 'Marriage Story' will likely take home a few gongs, such as best original screenplay and supporting actress for Laura Dern. But Driver, who last year was nominated for best supporting actor for 'BlackKklansman', has one man standing in his way.
Joaquin Phoenix is the clear favourite to win best actor at the Oscars. Phoenix has led an incredible career and been nominated at the Academy Awards four times ('Gladiator', 'Walk the Line', and 'The Master', previously) for his work. Is his titular role in 'Joker' the performance of his career? That's hard to say, as there have been so many phenomenal ones. But it is a worthy Oscar-winning performance as it captures the tragedy, pathos and horror of a man with a serious mental condition, who turns into a violent, radicalist murderer and, scariest of all, a leader.
It's a powerful, moving and unsettling performance that speaks to the top standard of acting in Hollywood today. Thus Phoenix should win. But is it at all possible that in spite of leading the Oscar nominations (with 11 in total), 'Joker' could prove too uncomfortable for Oscar voters to put on a pedestal? It's not implausible.