Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Actor

Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.

How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.

We begin with Best Actor. Starting off with a bang. Big category. And also probably one of the three most locked ones of the night. Look, we’re just getting started and have 23 more days of this. Did you really think I was gonna give myself a hard one right off the bat?

Year Best Actor Winner Other Nominees
1927-1928 Emil Jannings, The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh Richard Barthelmess, The Noose and The Patent Leather Kid
1928-1929 Warner Baxter, In Old Arizona George Bancroft, Thunderbolt

Chester Morris, Alibi

Paul Muni, The Valiant

Lewis Stone, The Patriot

1929-1930 George Arliss, Disraeli George Arliss, The Green Goddess

Wallace Beery, The Big House

Maurice Chevalier, The Big Pond and The Love Parade

Ronald Colman, Bulldog Drummond & Condemned

Lawrence Tibbett, The Rogue Song

1930-1931 Lionel Barrymore, A Free Soul Adolphe Menjou, The Front Page

Jackie Cooper, Skippy

Richard Dix, Cimarron

Fredric March, The Royal Family of Broadway

1931-1932 TIE

Frederic March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Wallace Beery, The Champ

Alfred Lunt, The Guardsman
1932-1933 Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry VIII Leslie Howard, Berkeley Square

Paul Muni, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

1934 Clark Gable, It Happened One Night Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini

William Powell, The Thin Man

1935 Victor McLaglen, The Informer Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty

Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty

Paul Muni, Black Fury

Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty

1936 Paul Muni, The Story of Louis Pasteur Gary Cooper, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Walter Huston, Dodsworth

William Powell, My Man Godfrey

Spencer Tracy, San Francisco

1937 Spencer Tracy, Captains Courageous Charles Boyer, Conquest

Fredric March, A Star is Born

Robert Montgomery, Night Must Fall

Paul Muni, The Life of Emile Zola

1938 Spencer Tracy, Boys Town Charles Boyer, Algiers

James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces

Robert Donat, The Citadel

Leslie Howard, Pygmalion

1939 Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind

Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights

Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms

James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

1940 Jimmy Stewart, The Philadelphia Story Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator

Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath

Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois

Laurence Olivier, Rebecca

1941 Gary Cooper, Sergeant York Cary Grant, Penny Serenade

Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster

Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane

1942 James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy Ronald Colman, Random Harvest

Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees

Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver

Monty Woolley, The Pied Piper

1943 Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

Gary Cooper, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Walter Pidgeon, Madame Curie

Mickey Rooney, The Human Comedy

1944 Bing Crosby, Going My Way Charles Boyer, Gaslight

Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way

Cary Grant, None But the Lonely Heart

Alexander Knox, Wilson

1945 Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend Bing Crosby, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Gene Kelley, Anchors Aweigh

Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom

Cornel Wilde, A Song to Remember

1946 Frederic March, The Best Years of Our Lives Laurence Olivier, Henry V

Larry Parks, The Jolson Story

Gregory Peck, The Yearling

James Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life

1947 Ronald Colman, A Double Life John Garfield, Body and Soul

Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement

William Powell, Life with Father

Michael Redgrave, Mourning Becomes Electra

1948 Laurence Olivier, Hamlet Lew Ayres, Johnny Belinda

Montgomery Clift, The Search

Dan Dailey, When My Baby Smiles at Me

Clifton Webb, Sitting Pretty

1949 Broderick Crawford, All the King’s Men Kirk Douglas, Champion

Gregory Peck, Twelve O’Clock High

Richard Todd, The Hasty Heart

John Wayne, Sands of Iwo Jima

1950 José Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac Louis Calhern, The Magnificent Yankee

William Holden, Sunset Boulevard

James Stewart, Harvey

Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride

1951 Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire

Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun

Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory

Fredric March, Death of a Salesman

1952 Gary Cooper, High Noon Marlon Brando, Viva Zapata!

Kirk Douglas, The Bad and the Beautiful

José Ferrer, Moulin Rouge

Alec Guinness, The Lavender Hill Mob

1953 William Holden, Stalag 17 Marlon Brando, Julius Caesar

Richard Burton, The Robe

Montgomery Clift, From Here to Eternity

Burt Lancaster, From Here to Eternity

1954 Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny

Bing Crosby, The Country Girl

James Mason, A Star is Born

Dan O’Herlihy, Robison Crusoe

1955 Ernest Borgnine, Marty James Cagney, Love Me or Leave Me

James Dean, East of Eden

Frank Sinatra, The Man with the Golden Arm

Spencer Tracy, Bad Day at Black Rock

1956 Yul Brynner, The King and I James Dean, Giant

Kirk Douglas, Lust for Life

Rock Hudson, Giant

Laurence Olivier, Richard III

1957 Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai Marlon Brando, Sayonara

Anthony Franciosa, A Hatful of Rain

Charles Laughton, Witness for Prosecution

Anthony Quinn, Wild is the Wind

1958 David Niven, Separate Tables Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones

Paul Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Sidney Poitier, The Defiant Ones

Spencer Tracy, The Old Man and the Sea

1959 Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top

Jack Lemmon, Some Like it Hot

Paul Muni, The Last Angry Man

James Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder

1960 Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry Trevor Howard, Sons and Lovers

Jack Lemmon, The Apartment

Laurence Olivier, The Entertainer

Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind

1961 Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg Charles Boyer, Fanny

Paul Newman, The Hustler

Spencer Tracy, Judgment at Nuremberg

Stuart Whitman, The Mark

1962 Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz

Jack Lemmon, Days of Wine and Roses

Marcello Mastroianni, Divorce, Italian Style

Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia

1963 Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field Albert Finney, Tom Jones

Richard Harris, This Sporting Life

Rex Harrison, Cleopatra

Paul Newman, Hud

1964 Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady Richard Burton, Becket

Peter O’Toole, Becket

Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek

Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1965 Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Laurence Olivier, Othello

Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker

Oskar Werner, Ship of Fools

1966 Paul Scofield, A Man for All Seasons Alan Arkin, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming

Richard Burton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Michael Caine, Alfie

Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles

1967 Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde

Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate

Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke

Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

1968 Cliff Robertson, Charly Alan Arkin, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Alan Bates, The Fixer

Ron Moody, Oliver!

Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter

1969 John Wayne, True Grit Richard Burton, Anne of the Thousand Days

Dustin Hoffman, Midnight Cowboy

Peter O’Toole, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy

1970 George C. Scott, Patton Melvyn Douglas, I Never Sang for My Father

James Earl Jones, The Great White Hope

Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces

Ryan O’Neal, Love Story

1971 Gene Hackman, The French Connection Peter Finch, Sunday Bloody Sunday

Walther Matthau, Kotch

George C. Scott, The Hospital

Chaim Topol, Fiddler on the Roof

1972 Marlon Brando, The Godfather Michael Caine, Sleuth

Laurence Olivier, Sleuth

Peter O’Toole, The Ruling Class

Paul Winfield, Sounder

1973 Jack Lemmon, Save the Tiger Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris

Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail

Al Pacino, Serpico

Robert Redford, The Sting

1974 Art Carney, Harry and Tonto Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express

Dustin Hoffman, Lenny

Jack Nicholson, Chinatown

Al Pacino, The Godfather, Part II

1975 Jack Nicholson, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest Walther Matthau, The Sunshine Boys

Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon

Maximilian Schell, The Man in the Glass Booth

James Whitmore, Give ‘em Hell, Harry!

1976 Peter Finch, Network Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver

Giancarlo Giannini, Seven Beauties

William Holden, Network

Sylvester Stallone, Rocky

1977 Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl Woody Allen, Annie Hall

Richard Burton, Equus

Marcello Mastroianni, A Special Day

John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever

1978 Jon Voight, Coming Home Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait

Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story

Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter

Laurence Olivier, The Boys From Brazil

1979 Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome

Al Pacino, …And Justice for All

Roy Scheider, All That Jazz

Peter Sellers, Being There

1980 Robert De Niro, Raging Bull Robert Duvall, The Great Santini

John Hurt, The Elephant Man

Jack Lemmon, Tribute

Peter O’Toole, The Stunt Man

1981 Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond Warren Beatty, Reds

Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City

Dudley Moore, Arthur

Paul Newman, Absence of Malice

1982 Ben Kingsley, Gandhi Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie

Jack Lemmon, Missing

Paul Newman, The Verdict

Peter O’Toole, My Favorite Year

1983 Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies Michael Caine, Educating Rita

Tom Conti, Reuben, Reuben

Tom Courtenay, The Dresser

Albert Finney, The Dresser

1984 F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus Jeff Bridges, Starman

Albert Finney, Under the Volcano

Tom Hulce, Amadeus

Sam Waterston, The Killing Fields

1985 William Hurt, The Kiss of the Spider Woman Harrison Ford, Witness

James Garner, Murphy’s Romance

Jack Nicholson, Prizzi’s Honor

Jon Voight, Runaway Train

1986 Paul Newman, The Color of Money Dexter Gordon, Round Midnight

Bob Hoskins, Mona Lisa

William Hurt, Children of a Lesser God

James Woods, Salvador

1987 Michael Douglas, Wall Street William Hurt, Broadcast News

Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes

Jack Nicholson, Ironweed

Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam

1988 Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning

Tom Hanks, Big

Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver

Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror

1989 Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot Kenneth Branagh, Henry V

Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July

Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy

Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society

1990 Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves

Robert De Niro, Awakenings

Gérard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac

Richard Harris, The Field

1991 Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs Warren Beatty, Bugsy

Robert De Niro, Cape Fear

Nick Nolte, The Prince of Tides

Robin Williams, The Fisher King

1992 Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman Robert Downey Jr., Chaplin

Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

Stephen Rea, The Crying Game

Denzel Washington, Malcolm X

1993 Tom Hanks, Philadelphia Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father

Laurence Fishburne, What’s Love Got to Do with It

Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day

Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List

1994 Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption

Nigel Hawthorne, The Madness of King George

Paul Newman, Nobody’s Fool

John Travolta, Pulp Fiction

1995 Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Holland’s Opus

Anthony Hopkins, Nixon

Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking

Massimo Troisi, Il Postino

1996 Geoffrey Rush, Shine Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire

Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient

Woody Harrelson, The People vs. Larry Flynt

Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade

1997 Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting

Robert Duvall, The Apostle

Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold

Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog

1998 Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan

Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters

Nick Nolte, Affliction

Edward Norton, American History X

1999 Kevin Spacey, American Beauty Russell Crowe, The Insider

Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story

Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown

Denzel Washington, The Hurricane

2000 Russell Crowe, Gladiator Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls

Tom Hanks, Cast Away

Ed Harris, Pollock

Geoffrey Rush, Quills

2001 Denzel Washington, Training Day Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind

Sean Penn, I Am Sam

Will Smith, Ali

Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom

2002 Adrien Brody, The Pianist Nicolas Cage, Adaptation.

Michael Caine, The Quiet American

Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York

Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt

2003 Sean Penn, Mystic River Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog

Jude Law, Cold Mountain

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

2004 Jamie Foxx, Ray Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda

Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator

Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow

Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain

Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line

David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck

2006 Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond

Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson

Peter O’Toole, Venus

Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness

2007 Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood George Clooney, Michael Clayton

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah

Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

2008 Sean Penn, Milk Richard Jenkins, The Visitor

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

2009 Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart George Clooney, Up in the Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man

Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

2010 Colin Firth, The King’s Speech Javier Bardem, Biutiful

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

James Franco, 127 Hours

2011 Jean Dujardin, The Artist Demian Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

2012 Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables

Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Denzel Washington, Flight

2013 Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club Christian Bale, American Hustle

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

2014 Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

2015 Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

2016 Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

So I think we all know that SAG is the body to listen to in the acting categories. They’re 18/23 all time. That is, 18 times out of 23 SAG ceremonies, the SAG Best Actor winner went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.

The five misses include one where the person won the Oscar… just for Supporting Actor. That was Benicio Del Toro for Traffic. So that aside, SAG’s other misses were 2001 (they had Russell Crowe. Denzel won the Oscar), 2002 (they had Daniel Day-Lewis. Adrien Brody won the Oscar), 2003 (they had Johnny Depp. Sean Penn won the Oscar) and last year (they had Denzel. Casey Affleck won the Oscar). So, before last year, they hit every year since 2003. They’re good.

This year, Gary Oldman won SAG, BFCA and the Globe. And I don’t think anyone believes he’s gonna lose BAFTA. When he does, then we can talk.

Best Actor

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

This year’s category was pretty straightforward. We all knew Oldman, Kaluuya and Chalamet were gonna make it based on the precursors. Daniel Day-Lewis was an easy fourth addition, despite not being nominated for SAG. The only question was really who was gonna get that last spot. The two options were Denzel and James Franco. And in the end, the love of Denzel won out. Which I’m glad for, since he’s incredible in that movie. I think we ended up with pretty much the right category. Still not crazy about the Kaluuya nomination, but he was a consensus choice, so who am I to argue it?


5. Denzel Washington — He snuck in under the wire, and while he is Denzel and that might get him a couple of votes, I don’t think enough people even saw this movie to vote for it. I can’t rationalize any scenario where he’s even fourth in the voting. Which reminds me of 2012, when he was up for flight against Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman and Joaquin Phoenix. I couldn’t see a scenario where he wasn’t anything but fifth in that category either. The nomination here is the reward, and as much as we all love Denzel, they’re really not looking to make up for him not winning last year. He has two, and there will be another time where we might be able to get him another one. This isn’t it.

4. Daniel Kaluuya — The momentum for any film stops once nominations are announced. The finalized category is a whole other beast. You see that every year. Certain movies look like powerhouses and then once nominations hit, you just know they’re gonna go home empty-handed. Kaluuya came along with his film, but he won’t get nearly enough votes to contend in this category. He was strong for the nomination, but it ended there. The only way he gets votes is if people decide to sweep vote Get Out to make statements. Which is not how the majority of the Academy votes, and also still not gonna be enough to even get him third on this list. Another one where the nomination is the reward. I cannot see a scenario where he makes it past fourth in the voting. Get Out will get its share of votes, but it won’t be here.

3. Timothee Chalamet — I could make a case for him being second on this list. But I still can never get over the fact that he’s only 20 years old. And I know for a fact a contingent of Academy voters hold age against people in this category. They think, “He’s young, he’s got time to win. Leave it at a nomination.” And I think, in the end, that’s what’ll get him. He’ll get his votes, that’s for sure. Enough to overtake the other two on this list. But I don’t see him having the momentum to take it home. If he pulls a surprise BAFTA win, which seems hugely unlikely, then we can reconsider. But for now, I think he’ll do okay in the voting, but in the end, fall to the two vets. People unsure in this category are gonna take one of the next two people. They don’t vote for best performance if they don’t have an opinion. They vote for other things. He doesn’t have the intangibles to take this down without visible precursor support.

2. Daniel Day-Lewis — It’s his last film, he’s great in it, and the film had a very strong showing upon nominations. I thought it would get him, Costumes and maybe like one or two other technical awards. I was not expecting a Best Picture and Best Director nomination for it. Which shows overall support. So him being Daniel Day-Lewis and allegedly retiring after this one — I think that’ll get him some votes. Maybe in the end he is a third choice after Chalamet, but I think the age thing hurts Chalamet more than you’d think, and some people might just take him because he’s retiring. Then again, they could not vote for him because he has three already. That’s a distinct possibility. Still, I can’t make a legitimate case for him or Chalamet over Oldman, so wherever you rate them, neither are gonna be the favorite, so who cares?

1. Gary Oldman — He has all the precursors, and once he wins BAFTA, that’ll seal it. He’s a veteran that people love. Constantly referred to as one of the best actors of his generation, long overdue for an award, delivering a powerhouse performance as WINSTON CHURCHILL in a movie that managed to end up with a Best Picture nomination. It would be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history if he lost this one. Not to mention, swing voters who don’t have an opinion are gonna end up taking him because “let him have his Oscar.” I guarantee you people will vote that way. He is unquestionably the favorite here and one of the most sure things you have on the entire ballot.

– – – – – – – – – –


2 responses

  1. I’d vote for DDL now that Franco is out of the running, but…whatever, let Oldman have his Oscar, even if his film arguably the dullest Best Picture nominee.

    February 6, 2018 at 3:31 pm

  2. Pingback: The B+ Oscar Ballot: Guide to the 90th Academy Awards – Site Title

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