Oscars Watch Guide: Best Actor

Michael Springthorpe
8 min readNov 15, 2022


Let’s finally recognize some longtime faves! Unless… Updated 1/11/23

This award was already locked down to just two men: Brendan Fraser, returning to the big screen after years away in a transformative role; and Colin Farrell, continuing a run of exciting and brilliant performances. And then Austin Butler came along. As Warner Bros. continued their uproarious Elvis screenings, he has seriously enterered the threeway conversation to win…very often seeming like he’s actually in front. The conversation of who (else) will get nominated, however, is much trickier, especially as it only holds two spots. To say this year’s male lead roles are sparse isn’t really accurate, but the ones likely to actually get nominated aren’t strong. Sure, this list is robust, but the distance between Prediction and Prediction (and Prediction and On Deck) is greater here than in other categories.

In this series, starting below with the aformentioned category, I will outline my Predictions, On Decks, and Dark Horses to get nominated in the eight “major” Oscar categories. Hell, I’ve even thrown in Springthorpe’s Wild Card, a movie or role with zero chance of gettin nominated, but 100% worth your time. For each, I provide my take on the film and where (or when) you can find them. Let’s get going!


Austin Butler — Elvis

Where to Find It: On HBOMax now!

Power Ranking: Starring in a biopic is one of the surefire ways of getting nominated for an Oscar. (The others are: wearing a lot of prosthetics, playing a disabled character, and, before 2013, playing a sad gay character. It’s not a perfect system.) But this poorly-reviewed movie came out in July. In the winter, however, there were multiple Academy screenings of the film that — apparently — had repeated standing ovations directed at Austin. Now that precursors are arriving, he’s getting nominations everywhere, and even winning! It’s not a clear-cut race, but most authorities point to him as the favorite to win now.

Springthorpe’s Take: Austin does a stellar job as the King, even as the movie kind of happens around him at times. You could argue — not easily, but it’s possible — that Austin is Supporting and Tom Hanks is the lead, but acting as someone lying under a mountainous fog of drugs isn’t easy, and Austin plays that and the charisma with equal skill. Also, he does all of the singing until Elvis gets old and has a vastly different voice! Suck on that, Rami Malek!

Tom Cruise — Top Gun: Maverick

Where to Find It: On Paramount+ now!

Power Ranking: I mean, he fucking did it! Tom Cruise fucking did it! Nearly forty years later, he starred in a sequel to a well-liked but not critically-acclaimed fighter pilot movie. COVID came, and he held it back. He waited for theaters to return fully — pushing back the release three years in the end — and it became the highest-grossing film of the year, hitting #1 on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The movie is definitely getting a Best Picture and tons of craft nominations, but Tom may just be able to squeak into the fifth spot in a relatively empty category this year.

Springthorpe’s Take: The guy’s not bad! It’s definitely the closest we’ve gotten to real powerful 90’s Cruise in a while, but I’m still holding out for the mythical Les Grossman musical movie. The movie is fundamentally built around his charisma and does not work without him, though.

Colin Farrell — The Banshees of Inisheerin

Where to Find It: On HBOMaxnow!

Power Ranking: Like Jamie Lee Curtis (and Michelle Yeoh), Colin Farrell has never even been nominated for an Oscar. While Brendan started the year in front, Colin won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival and became a co-frontrunner. As the days ticked by, Colin got out in front until the Elvis train steamed by. The SAGs will be a very important point in the race for Colin to earn some gold, but his nomination is set.

Springthorpe’s Take: Oh man, he’s such a sweetie pie! As a simple, maybe boring man whose best friend suddenly breaks up with him and he doesn’t know why Colin shines here. Then, at the end of the film when he turns and becomes truly angry, he shows us the other side of Colin Farrell we’ve come to know and love.

Brendan Fraser — The Whale

Where to Find It: In theaters now!

Power Ranking: For a while, Brendan was the man to beat this year. Before anybody had even seen any of the movies contending for this category, Brendan Fraser was the frontrunner. A millennial audience favorite from his turns in George of the Jungle and The Mummy series, he’s been missing from our screen for years (ostensibly due to being blackballed after credibly accusing the then-president of the HFPA — the powerful organization behind the Golden Globes — of sexual assault). But as bad reviews of the film and the nature of his performance — the straight Brendan plays a gay character while wearing a fatsuit — rolled out, Brendan’s grasp on a win has slipped. Count on that nomination, though.

Springthorpe’s Take: Every minute of this movie feels like a battle between Brendan Fraser and Darren Aronofsky over trying to make Brendan’s character out to be a realistic human being. Brendan fights valiantly, but Darren wins out in making him into a sad caricature. I hope this means more Brendan elsewhere.

Bill Nighy — Living

Where to Find It: In theaters now!

Power Ranking: This movie does not exist, and yet any time you discuss this year’s light Best Actor race, Bill always comes up — which makes it also come up in things like Adapted Screenplay and, jesus, Best Picture. But Bill Nighy is a beloved actor who’s not getting any younger. Couple that with the potential competition in his category, and the former Davy Jones is all but locked in as a nominee this year.

Springthorpe’s Take: Bill Nighy is never bad. And he’s certainly not bad here at all. But the movie as a whole is one of the most “For Retirees At A Matinee” movies ever made. He should have been nominated for the Pirates movies.

On Deck

Paul Mescal — Aftersun

Where to Find It: On VOD now!

Power Ranking: Paul’s big break was in Normal People, a TV show in which he and his costar Daisy Edgar-Jones are most importantly hot as shit. Luckily, Paul is also hot as shit in this movie, but now as daddy. The movie is cleaning up amongst critics (and Brits), but can’t seem to get its foot in the door with major awards groups. With one spot in the category not yet sewn up, this rising star could be a surprise nom.

Springthorpe’s Take: More than anything this year, I think, I really wished I liked this one more than I did. Paul is my favorite part, and if anything it excites me about his potential.

Jeremy Pope — The Inspection

Where to Find It: On VOD now!

Power Ranking: A classic example of a movie that only exists due to a performance, The Inspection’s award hopes live or die by Jeremy Pope’s chances. It’s a critically acclaimed performance, but one that’s still sneaking around on the edges of nominations. Chances are slim.

Springthorpe’s Take: Hands down, this is one of the best PERFORMANCES of the year, let alone for Lead Actor. I’m currently torn between this and another slim-chancer for my personal pick.

Dark Horses

Ralph Fiennes — The Menu

Where to Find It: On HBOMaxnow!

Power Ranking: Ralph Fiennes is a two-time Oscar-nominated actor, he has power! But the last time he got nominated was 1997, and in the last 25 years, he’s done two more career-defining performances (Lord Voldemort and Monsieur Gustave H.) with no Academy recognition. Will his turn as a murderous gourmet chef in The Menu finally catch Oscar’s eye? It’s unlikely, but who’s to say?

Springthorpe’s Take: This is who I’m waffling between with Jeremy Pope. Good acting is big, but truly great acting is small, and Ralph packs this movie with subtle gestures and minute eye twitches. There is a scene of his at the end of the film that nearly brought me to tears.

Adam Sandler — Hustle

Where to Find It: On Netflix now!

Power Ranking: Who saw this coming?! Certainly not me, and I’m pretty sure not Adam Sandler or Netflix, either. Look, I don’t think this one really has any proper chance, but Adam Sandler is nominated for a SAG Award and Tom, Paul, Jeremy, and Ralph aren’t. After a disastrous year for Netflix, they have the time and money to turn on a big push to get at least one acting nomination this year.

Springthorpe’s Take: Imagine if this is how Adam Sandler finally becomes an Oscar nominee. Not for Punch-Drunk Love, not for Uncut Gems, but for the Netflix basketball movie. Anyways, a non-basketball fan, this movie (and Adam especially) are way better than they have any right to be.

Springthorpe’s Wild Card

Ram Charan — RRR

Where to Find It: On Netflix now!

Why It Has No Chance: I’ll be honest, this could technically still happen. But if no one from the cast of Parasite got nominated, I doubt anyone in RRR will.

Springthorpe’s Take: Some people think of acting as an interior, mental act, with stunts, dancing, and singing being just cherries on top. Not me. Ram definitely does a good job at capital-A Acting, but the sheer work he has to do in this film — from fighting an angry horde, looking hot, and doing the best musical number of the year — make him an easy pick.



Michael Springthorpe

Camp Director, Teacher, Performer, and Writer who moved to New York City, then realized there's no woods here. @springthorpeman on Twitter and Instagram.