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The Oscar Quest: Rankings (Best Actor)

Each time I write up Oscar categories for the Quest, I put rankings at the bottom. I can say what I want, but it really only gains perspective when I show you how I feel about each of the films or performances in relation to the others in the category. Plus, lists are easy to read.

They tend to be slightly different each time. The actual rankings are of course different, but also my methodology behind how I ranked them is different. Each time I do it, I seem to be getting closer to a consensus, so hopefully this one sticks.

The way I’m ranking these performances, as least in this current iteration: for each of the performance-related categories, the rankings are about quality of performance. I’ll vote for what I vote for, but the rankings are meant to reflect what I believe to be the best performances of the category, in order. Now, there may be some slight skewing on a few categories where my personal preference outweighs what may be objective criticism, but I promise those are limited.

Hopefully I can continue updating this as we go, and whenever I watch another movie again and shift my opinion, I’ll go back and reorganize these lists as I see fit. So that means, if this page is different than the actual category I wrote up, that’s the reason. Ideally one day I’ll have set pages for each of the categories and can just have one master location. I think we’re moving closer to that. I just need to get to a place where I feel my opinions have leveled out. We’re not there yet, but I’m working on it.

Anyway, this is a compilation of my rankings for the Best Actor categories:

(NOTE: A * means that’s what I voted for. A nominee that is underlined means that it won. Anything in RED means I haven’t seen it.)

2016

  1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea *
  2. Denzel Washington, Fences
  3. Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  5. Ryan Gosling, La La Land

2015

  1. Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs *
  2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  3. Matt Damon, The Martian
  4. Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
  5. Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

2014

  1. Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) *
  2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
  3. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  4. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  5. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

2013

  1. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club *
  2. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
  4. Bruce Dern, Nebraska
  5. Christian Bale, American Hustle

2012

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln *
  2. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  3. Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
  4. Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Denzel Washington, Flight

2011

  1. Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy *
  2. George Clooney, The Descendants
  3. Jean Dujardin, The Artist
  4. Brad Pitt, Moneyball
  5. Demian Bichir, A Better Life

2010

  1. Colin Firth, The King’s Speech *
  2. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  3. Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  4. Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  5. James Franco, 127 Hours

2009

  1. Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart *
  2. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
  3. Colin Firth, A Single Man
  4. George Clooney, Up in the Air
  5. Morgan Freeman, Invictus

2008

  1. Sean Penn, Milk *
  2. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
  3. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  4. Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
  5. Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon

2007

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood *
  2. George Clooney, Michael Clayton
  3. Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
  4. Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
  5. Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

2006

  1. Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland *
  2. Peter O’Toole, Venus
  3. Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  4. Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond

2005

  1. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote *
  2. David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
  3. Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
  4. Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
  5. Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow

2004

  1. Jamie Foxx, Ray *
  2. Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
  3. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
  4. Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
  5. Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland

2003

  1. Bill Murray, Lost in Translation *
  2. Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  3. Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog
  4. Jude Law, Cold Mountain
  5. Sean Penn, Mystic River

2002

  1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist *
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York
  3. Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt
  4. Nicolas Cage, Adaptation
  5. Michael Caine, The Quiet American

2001

  1. Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind *
  2. Sean Penn, I Am Sam
  3. Denzel Washington, Training Day
  4. Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom
  5. Will Smith, Ali

2000

  1. Tom Hanks, Cast Away *
  2. Geoffrey Rush, Quills
  3. Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls
  4. Russell Crowe, Gladiator
  5. Ed Harris, Pollock

1999

  1. Kevin Spacey, American Beauty *
  2. Russell Crowe, The Insider
  3. Denzel Washington, The Hurricane
  4. Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
  5. Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown

1998

  1. Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters *
  2. Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
  3. Edward Norton, American History X
  4. Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful
  5. Nick Nolte, Affliction

1997

  1. Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets *
  2. Robert Duvall, The Apostle
  3. Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold
  4. Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting
  5. Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog

1996

  1. Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade *
  2. Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient
  3. Woody Harrelson, The People vs. Larry Flynt
  4. Geoffrey Rush, Shine
  5. Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire

1995

  1. Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas *
  2. Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
  3. Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking
  4. Massimo Troisi, Il Postino
  5. Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Holland’s Opus

1994

  1. Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump *
  2. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
  3. Nigel Hawthorne, The Madness of King George
  4. John Travolta, Pulp Fiction
  5. Paul Newman, Nobody’s Fool

1993

  1. Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List *
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father
  3. Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day
  4. Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
  5. Laurence Fishburne, What’s Love Got to Do With It

1992

  1. Denzel Washington, Malcolm X *
  2. Robert Downey, Jr., Chaplin
  3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman
  4. Stephen Rea, The Crying Game
  5. Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

1991

  1. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs *
  2. Robin Williams, The Fisher King
  3. Warren Beatty, Bugsy
  4. Robert De Niro, Cape Fear
  5. Nick Nolte, The Prince of Tides

1990

  1. Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune *
  2. Richard Harris, The Field
  3. Robert De Niro, Awakenings
  4. Gerard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac
  5. Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves

1989

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot *
  2. Kenneth Branagh, Henry V
  3. Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July
  4. Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy
  5. Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society

1988

  1. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man *
  2. Tom Hanks, Big
  3. Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning
  4. Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver
  5. Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror

1987

  1. Michael Douglas, Wall Street *
  2. William Hurt, Broadcast News
  3. Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam
  4. Jack Nicholson, Ironweed
  5. Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes

1986

  1. Paul Newman, The Color of Money *
  2. William Hurt, Children of a Lesser God
  3. Bob Hoskins, Mona Lisa
  4. James Woods, Salvador
  5. Dexter Gordon, Round Midnight

1985

  1. William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman *
  2. Jack Nicholson, Prizzi’s Honor
  3. Harrison Ford, Witness
  4. Jon Voight, Runaway Train
  5. James Garner, Murphy’s Romance

1984

  1. F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus *
  2. Tom Hulce, Amadeus
  3. Albert Finney, Under the Volcano
  4. Sam Waterston, The Killing Fields
  5. Jeff Bridges, Starman

1983

  1. Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies *
  2. Michael Caine, Educating Rita
  3. Tom Courtenay, The Dresser
  4. Albert Finney, The Dresser
  5. Tom Conti, Reuben, Reuben

1982

  1. Paul Newman, The Verdict *
  2. Ben Kingsley, Gandhi
  3. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie
  4. Peter O’Toole, My Favorite Year
  5. Jack Lemmon, Missing

1981

  1. Dudley Moore, Arthur *
  2. Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond
  3. Warren Beatty, Reds
  4. Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City
  5. Paul Newman, Absence of Malice

1980

  1. Robert De Niro, Raging Bull *
  2. John Hurt, The Elephant Man
  3. Robert Duvall, The Great Santini
  4. Peter O’Toole, The Stunt Man
  5. Jack Lemmon, Tribute

1979

  1. Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer *
  2. Roy Scheider, All That Jazz
  3. Peter Sellers, Being There
  4. Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome
  5. Al Pacino, …And Justice for All

1978

  1. Jon Voight, Coming Home *
  2. Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter
  3. Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait
  4. Laurence Olivier, The Boys from Brazil
  5. Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story

1977

  1. Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl *
  2. John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever
  3. Marcello Mastroianni, A Special Day
  4. Richard Burton, Equus
  5. Woody Allen, Annie Hall

1976

  1. Peter Finch, Network *
  2. William Holden, Network
  3. Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver
  4. Sylvester Stallone, Rocky
  5. Giancarlo Giannini, Seven Beauties

1975

  1. Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon *
  2. Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  3. Maximilian Schell, The Man in the Glass Booth
  4. Walter Matthau, The Sunshine Boys
  5. James Whitmore, Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!

1974

  1. Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II *
  2. Jack Nicholson, Chinatown
  3. Dustin Hoffman, Lenny
  4. Art Carney, Harry and Tonto
  5. Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express

1973

  1. Jack Lemmon, Save the Tiger *
  2. Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail
  3. Al Pacino, Serpico
  4. Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris
  5. Robert Redford, The Sting

1972

  1. Marlon Brando, The Godfather *
  2. Peter O’Toole, The Ruling Class
  3. Michael Caine, Sleuth
  4. Laurence Olivier, Sleuth
  5. Paul Winfield, Sounder

1971

  1. Gene Hackman, The French Connection *
  2. Topol, Fiddler on the Roof
  3. George C. Scott, The Hospital
  4. Walter Matthau, Kotch
  5. Peter Finch, Sunday Bloody Sunday

1970

  1. George C. Scott, Patton *
  2. James Earl Jones, The Great White Hope
  3. Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces
  4. Ryan O’Neal, Love Story
  5. Melvyn Douglas, I Never Sang For My Father

1969

  1. Dustin Hoffman, Midnight Cowboy *
  2. Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy
  3. Richard Burton, Anne of the Thousand Days
  4. John Wayne, True Grit
  5. Peter O’Toole, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

1968

  1. Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter *
  2. Cliff Robertson, Charly
  3. Alan Arkin, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  4. Ron Moody, Oliver!
  5. Alan Bates, The Fixer

1967

  1. Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate *
  2. Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night
  3. Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke
  4. Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  5. Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde

1966

  1. Paul Scofield, A Man for All Seasons *
  2. Richard Burton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  3. Michael Caine, Alfie
  4. Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles
  5. Alan Arkin, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

1965

  1. Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold *
  2. Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker
  3. Oskar Werner, Ship of Fools
  4. Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou
  5. Laurence Olivier, Othello

1964

  1. Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb *
  2. Peter O’Toole, Becket
  3. Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady
  4. Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek
  5. Richard Burton, Becket

1963

  1. Paul Newman, Hud *
  2. Richard Harris, This Sporting Life
  3. Albert Finney, Tom Jones
  4. Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field
  5. Rex Harrison, Cleopatra

1962

  1. Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird *
  2. Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia
  3. Jack Lemmon, Days of Wine and Roses
  4. Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz
  5. Marcello Mastroianni, Divorce, Italian Style

1961

  1. Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg *
  2. Paul Newman, The Hustler
  3. Spencer Tracy, Judgment at Nuremberg
  4. Stuart Whitman, The Mark
  5. Charles Boyer, Fanny

1960

  1. Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry *
  2. Jack Lemmon, The Apartment
  3. Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind
  4. Laurence Olivier, The Entertainer
  5. Trevor Howard, Sons and Lovers

1959

  1. James Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder *
  2. Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot
  3. Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur
  4. Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top
  5. Paul Muni, The Last Angry Man

1958

  1. Paul Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof *
  2. Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones
  3. Sidney Poitier, The Defiant Ones
  4. David Niven, Separate Tables
  5. Spencer Tracy, The Old Man and the Sea

1957

  1. Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai *
  2. Charles Laughton, Witness for the Prosecution
  3. Anthony Quinn, Wild Is the Wind
  4. Anthony Franciosa, A Hatful of Rain
  5. Marlon Brando, Sayonara

1956

  1. Rock Hudson, Giant *
  2. James Dean, Giant
  3. Yul Brynner, The King and I
  4. Kirk Douglas, Lust for Life
  5. Laurence Olivier, Richard III

1955

  1. Frank Sinatra, The Man with the Golden Arm *
  2. Ernest Borgnine, Marty
  3. James Dean, East of Eden
  4. James Cagney, Love Me or Leave Me
  5. Spencer Tracy, Bad Day at Black Rock

1954

  1. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront *
  2. Bing Crosby, The Country Girl
  3. Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny
  4. James Mason, A Star Is Born
  5. Dan O’Herlihy, Robinson Crusoe

1953

  1. William Holden, Stalag 17 *
  2. Montgomery Clift, From Here to Eternity
  3. Burt Lancaster, From Here to Eternity
  4. Marlon Brando, Julius Caesar
  5. Richard Burton, The Robe

1952

  1. Gary Cooper, High Noon *
  2. Kirk Douglas, The Bad and the Beautiful
  3. José Ferrer, Moulin Rouge
  4. Marlon Brando, Viva Zapata!
  5. Alec Guinness, The Lavender Hill Mob

1951

  1. Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire *
  2. Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen
  3. Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun
  4. Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory
  5. Fredric March, Death of a Salesman

1950

  1. William Holden, Sunset Boulevard *
  2. Jose Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac
  3. James Stewart, Harvey
  4. Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride
  5. Louis Calhern, The Magnificent Yankee

1949

  1. Broderick Crawford, All the King’s Men *
  2. Gregory Peck, Twelve O’Clock High
  3. John Wayne, Sands of Iwo Jima
  4. Kirk Douglas, Champion
  5. Richard Todd, The Hasty Heart

1948

  1. Laurence Olivier, Hamlet *
  2. Montgomery Clift, The Search
  3. Dan Dailey, When My Baby Smiles at Me
  4. Lew Ayres, Johnny Belinda
  5. Clifton Webb, Sitting Pretty

1947

  1. Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement *
  2. Ronald Colman, A Double Life
  3. John Garfield, Body and Soul
  4. Michael Redgrave, Mourning Becomes Electra
  5. William Powell, Life with Father

1946

  1. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives
  2. James Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life *
  3. Laurence Olivier, Henry V
  4. Gregory Peck, The Yearling
  5. Larry Parks, The Jolson Story

1945

  1. Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend *
  2. Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom
  3. Bing Crosby, The Bells of St. Mary’s
  4. Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh
  5. Cornel Wilde, A Song to Remember

1944

  1. Cary Grant, None But the Lonely Heart *
  2. Charles Boyer, Gaslight
  3. Bing Crosby, Going My Way
  4. Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way
  5. Alexander Knox, Wilson

1943

  1. Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca *
  2. Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine
  3. Gary Cooper, For Whom the Bell Tolls
  4. Mickey Rooney, The Human Comedy
  5. Walter Pidgeon, Madame Curie

1942

  1. James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy *
  2. Ronald Colman, Random Harvest
  3. Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees
  4. Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver
  5. Monty Woolley, The Pied Piper

1941

  1. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane *
  2. Cary Grant, Penny Serenade
  3. Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster
  4. Gary Cooper, Sergeant York
  5. Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

1940

  1. Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath *
  2. Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
  3. Laurence Olivier, Rebecca
  4. Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois
  5. James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story

1939

  1. James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington *
  2. Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
  3. Clark Gable, Gone With the Wind
  4. Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms
  5. Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights

1938

  1. Leslie Howard, Pygmalion *
  2. James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces
  3. Charles Boyer, Algiers
  4. Robert Donat, The Citadel
  5. Spencer Tracy, Boys Town

1937

  1. Spencer Tracy, Captains Courageous *
  2. Fredric March, A Star Is Born
  3. Paul Muni, The Life of Emile Zola
  4. Charles Boyer, Conquest
  5. Robert Montgomery, Night Must Fall

1936

  1. Walter Huston, Dodsworth *
  2. Paul Muni, The Story of Louis Pasteur
  3. Gary Cooper, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  4. William Powell, My Man Godfrey
  5. Spencer Tracy, San Francisco

1935

  1. Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty *
  2. Victor McLaglen, The Informer
  3. Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty
  4. Paul Muni, Black Fury*
  5. Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty

1934

  1. William Powell, The Thin Man *
  2. Clark Gable, It Happened One Night
  3. Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini

1932-1933

  1. Paul Muni, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang *
  2. Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry VIII
  3. Leslie Howard, Berkeley Square

1931-1932

  1. Wallace Beery, The Champ *
  2. Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  3. Alfred Lunt, The Guardsman

1930-1931

  1. Jackie Cooper, Skippy *
  2. Adolphe Menjou, The Front Page
  3. Lionel Barrymore, A Free Soul
  4. Richard Dix, Cimarron
  5. Fredric March, The Royal Family of Broadway

1929-1930

  1. Wallace Beery, The Big House *
  2. George Arliss, Disraeli
  3. Maurice Chevalier, The Love Parade
  4. Maurice Chevalier, The Big Pond
  5. Ronald Colman, Condemned
  6. Ronald Colman, Bulldog Drummond
  7. George Arliss, The Green Goddess
  8. Lawrence Tibbett, The Rogue Song

1928-1929

  1. Warner Baxter, In Old Arizona *
  2. George Bancroft, Thunderbolt
  3. Paul Muni, The Valiant
  4. Chester Morris, Alibi
  5. Lewis Stone, The Patriot (LOST FILM)

1927-1928

  1. Emil Jannings, The Last Command The Way of All Flesh *
  2. Richard Barthelmess, The Noose The Patent Leather Kid

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