There’s no way to talk about this year’s best actor race without discussing the magic trick Gary Oldman pulls off in Darkest Hour. Within seconds of his first appearance in Joe Wright’s film — about Winston Churchill’s early days in office during a crucial moment in British history — the actor vanishes and all that’s left is Churchill. The transformation goes well beyond prosthetics: It’s an essence captured, a cheeky twinkle, a study in self-doubt and the power of trusting in oneself. And it’s mesmerizing.
Still, a pack of super-talents is nipping at Oldman’s heels. Timothée Chalamet has had quite a season, including a small role in Hostiles and a key one in Lady Bird. But it’s his searing, poignant portrayal of teen Elio — in summer-lovin’-happened-so-fast thrall with an American (a fantastic Armie Hammer) visiting Elio’s Italian home in Call Me by Your Name — that will convince voters that a new star has been born. (Trivia note: if he lands a nomination, Chalamet, 21, would be the youngest best actor nominee since Mickey Rooney for 1939’s Babes in Arms.)
On the other side of the spectrum, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars has claimed he’ll be dimming his light. Daniel Day-Lewis has announced that Phantom Thread, his second pairing with director Paul Thomas Anderson after 2007’s There Will Be Blood, will be his final film. This would be a shame indeed, and Phantom Thread shows Day-Lewis unsurprisingly in deep in the role of an obsessed designer in 1950s London.
And other seasoned players are in the mix, too. Christian Bale gave one of his most natural performances in Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace in 2013, and that collaboration mines gold again with Hostiles, in which Bale delivers some of the top work of his career. Jake Gyllenhaal, who should have half a dozen nominations at this point (*cough* Nightcrawler), is so intensely good and real in Stronger it’s hard to imagine he could be denied. Tom Hanks costars with Meryl Streep in the Steven Spielberg-directed The Post, which is pretty irresistible Academy bait. Ditto Denzel Washington, last year’s runner-up, doing his incredible Denzel thing in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Meanwhile, some new blood is looking to crash the party. Daniel Kaluuya provides the heart and soul (to say nothing of an impeccable accent) in Get Out; Jamie Bell cements his leading-man status by going toe-to-beautiful-toe with Annette Bening in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool; James Franco is funny and committed in The Disaster Artist (and we’re not talking about just the wig!); and Andy Serkis — goodness, doesn’t this man deserve his own special Oscar for embodying Caesar in the Planet of the Apes movies?
Lastly, we know that Hugh Jackman has The Greatest Showman yet to drop, but let’s not forget about the superhuman level of grit and pathos he put into Logan.