With three months to go until the Bafta and Oscar ceremonies, Screen celebrates a refreshingly diverse range of early frontrunners in the main acting categories.
In 2020, the acting nominations at both the Bafta Film Awards and US Academy Awards dispirited most in the film industry thanks to a clean sweep of white faces in the former, and just one person of colour — Harriet’s Cynthia Erivo — in the latter.
Even the leadership of those organisations could not hide their embarrassment, with Bafta CEO Amanda Berry owning up to being “very disappointed” at her academy’s nominations.
Bafta has responded with major revisions of its voting processes, and both academies are continuing efforts to broaden and diversify their membership. But even if Bafta had not changed the process, it is inconceivable its voters would this year repeat the all-white list of 2020.
In the leading actor category, for example, two of the five men who currently enjoy the shortest odds from Oscar handicappers are black (Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods) and one is British-Asian (Sound Of Metal’s Riz Ahmed). Others strongly favoured in the category include One Night In Miami’s Kingsley Ben-Adir, Minari’s Steven Yeun, Judas And The Black Messiah’s LaKeith Stanfield and The Mauritanian’s Tahar Rahim.
In the lead actress category, Viola Davis from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is among the foremost frontrunners — and with good reason. A couple of late arrivals to the field of awards contenders – The United States Vs Billie Holiday and Malcolm & Marie – delivered highly fancied performances by Andra Day and Zendaya.
We turn our attention to the supporting acting categories in a separate feature, but it’s worth namechecking Leslie Odom Jr for One Night In Miami, Korean actress Yuh-Jung Youn for Minari and Daniel Kaluuya for Judas And The Black Messiah. Jonathan Majors and Chadwick Boseman are both favoured for Da 5 Bloods — and the latter’s supporting actor win from the New York Film Critics Circle might give this particular campaign the edge. Both Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo have advocates for their work in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Best actor - Leading contenders
Riz Ahmed, Sound Of Metal
A Golden Globe and Emmy nominee for TV miniseries The Night Of, London-born Ahmed is in the running for his first Oscar and Bafta nods with his role in Darius Marder’s drama. Ahmed plays a heavy-metal drummer whose life comes crashing down when he develops severe deafness, already netting the best actor Gotham for this performance. Ahmed is also in contention for Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli, which has seven nominations at the British Independent Film Awards including for actor.
Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night In Miami
Best known for TV roles in the likes of The OA, Peaky Blinders and High Fidelity, Londoner Ben-Adir is already picking up awards recognition (winning breakthrough actor at the Gothams, for example) for his performance as Malcolm X. Regina King directs and Kemp Powers adapts his own acclaimed stage play about four African American icons meeting up one night in 1964.
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Never previously nominated for an Oscar, Bafta or Golden Globe, but a SAG winner in 2019 for outstanding cast in a motion picture (Black Panther), Boseman — who died last August — could follow in the footsteps of Heath Ledger, who posthumously won Oscar gold in 2009 for The Dark Knight. Boseman’s turn as an ambitious blues musician is the beating heart of George C Wolfe’s take on the August Wilson stage play.
Tom Hanks, News Of The World
Hanks has converted two of his six Oscar nominations into wins (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) but — curiously — none of his five Bafta nods (he also has four Globes wins for film work, plus that awards body’s Cecil B DeMille prize). A year after receiving Bafta, Oscar and Globes nominations for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, he is back in contention as a civil war veteran in Paul Greengrass’s western.
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Hopkins picked up four Oscar nominations in the 1990s, winning in 1992 with The Silence Of The Lambs, and then waited until 2020 for his fifth, with The Two Popes (Bafta shows a similar trajectory). The venerated veteran looks set to win voter attention once more with his touching turn in Florian Zeller’s stage play adaptation about a man suffering the painful bewilderment of dementia.
Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods
In a screen career spanning five decades, London-born Lindo has won the respect of filmmakers and the appreciation of audiences, but only modest attention from awards voters (such as a couple of SAG nominations in the cast category). That looks set to change with his role at the centre of Spike Lee’s drama adventure about US Vietnam War veterans returning to recover buried gold and the body of a fallen comrade.
Gary Oldman, Mank
Oldman was nominated by both the UK and US academies as best actor in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Darkest Hour (winning both awards for the latter role), and also netted a Bafta nomination in the same category for Prick Up Your Ears in 1988. David Fincher’s drama about Citizen Kane scribe Herman J Mankiewicz puts Oldman back in contention — despite a notable age discrepancy between the actor and the character he plays.
Tahar Rahim, The Mauritanian
France’s Rahim picked up awards recognition with his big-screen debut in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet, winning two Césars and a Bafta rising star nomination in 2010. He is back on the awards trail this year, playing real-life Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi in Kevin Macdonald’s treatment of Slahi’s memoir Guantanamo Diary, which co-stars Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch and Shailene Woodley.
LaKeith Stanfield, Judas And The Black Messiah
A nominee at the likes of the Gothams (Sorry To Bother You) and Independent Spirits (Short Term 12), Stanfield was also a Bafta rising star nominee in 2019. The actor gets a shot at the awards big time with his role as a petty criminal recruited by the FBI to penetrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party, and inform on its leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
Steven Yeun, Minari
Nominated by multiple critics groups for his performance in Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018), Seoul-born, US-raised Yeun is chasing his first major awards recognition with this role in Lee Isaac Chung’s 1980s-set drama about a first-generation Korean immigrant family seeking a better life by purchasing a farm in Arkansas. The film won the grand jury prize (dramatic) at Sundance 2020.
- Ben Affleck, The Way Back
- Ralph Fiennes, The Dig
- Colin Firth, Supernova
- Adarsh Gourav, The White Tiger
- Tom Holland, Cherry
- Jude Law, The Nest
- John Magaro, First Cow
- Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round
- John David Washington, Tenet and Malcolm & Marie
- Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
- George Clooney, The Midnight Sky
- Denzel Washington, The Little Things
Best actress - Leading contenders
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Nominated three times at both Oscar and Bafta, Davis won gold at both awards in 2017 for her performance opposite Denzel Washington in Fences. Now she is wooing voters with another film based on an August Wilson stage play — this time laying down the law as the real-life Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey, recording a couple of sides in a Chicago studio in 1927.
Andra Day, The United States Vs Billie Holiday
A Grammy nominee for her 2015 studio album ‘Cheers To The Fall’, singer Day had only scant screen credits on her resumé when she was cast as music icon Billie Holiday in this latest from Lee Daniels (Precious, The Butler). The biographical drama sees Holiday targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics in an undercover sting operation, striking up a relationship with one of the agents.
Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Buffalo, New York-born Flanigan makes her screen debut in Eliza Hittman’s self-penned drama about a Pennsylvania teen travelling to New York City with her best friend, who is also her cousin, seeking a termination for an unplanned pregnancy. A best actress win from the New York Film Critics Circle in December should encourage voters to pay extra attention.
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces Of A Woman
A TV Bafta, SAG and Emmy nominee for her work in The Crown, Kirby is now making her mark on film awards, having already picked up the best actress prize at Venice Film Festival for this traumatic Boston-set drama from Hungary’s Kornel Mundruczo (White God). Kirby is also picking up plaudits in the best supporting actress category for Mona Fastvold’s The World To Come.
Sophia Loren, The Life Ahead
The Italian legend was the first to win an acting Oscar for a foreign-language film (in 1962, with Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women), and she was nominated again in 1965 with Marriage Italian Style. Loren is on the awards trail again in this latest treatment of Romain Gary’s 1975 book, previously made into 1977 French film Madame Rosa, and transposed to present-day Italy by her filmmaker son Edoardo Ponti.
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
The acting veteran has earned five Oscar nominations over a screen career spanning four decades, winning in 1997 for Fargo and 2018 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand looks on course for a sixth Oscar (and fifth Bafta) nod, playing a modern nomad — living in a converted van and picking up seasonal work — in Chloé Zhao’s acclaimed follow-up to The Rider.
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe and Bafta in 2010 for her big-screen debut lead role in An Education — winning the latter prize. Notably selective in her choice of roles in recent years (meanwhile her two children were born in 2015 and 2017), the actress is back with a bang in Emerald Fennell’s genre-splicing revenge tale, and offers a highly contrasting turn in UK historical drama The Dig.
Meryl Streep, The Prom
First appearing in the Oscar race in 1979 for The Deer Hunter, Streep has been nominated a further 20 times, winning on three occasions (for Kramer Vs Kramer in 1980, Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011). The awards favourite is back in contention for Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of hit stage musical The Prom, and is also winning admiring glances for her turn in Steven Soderbergh’s Let Them All Talk.
Kate Winslet, Ammonite
With seven Oscar nominations, eight at Bafta and 11 at the Golden Globes (including one for television), Winslet has a rich awards track record, scoring big in 2009 with The Reader. Last earning major nominations in 2016 for Steve Jobs, the actress is winning notice for her restrained turn as real-life 19th-century fossil hunter Mary Anning in this second feature from Francis Lee (God’s Own Country).
Zendaya, Malcolm & Marie
An Emmy winner in 2020 for her role in acclaimed HBO/Amazon Studios teen drama Euphoria, the former Disney Channel star is chasing her first major film nominations in this romantic drama from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson. Shot in 35mm black and white on a single location during the pandemic, Malcolm & Marie was snapped up by Netflix in September, and launches on February 5.
- Nicole Beharie, Miss Juneteenth
- Carrie Coon, The Nest
- Julia Garner, The Assistant
- Yeri Han, Minari
- Elisabeth Moss, Shirley
- Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit
- Meryl Streep, Let Them All Talk
- Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma
- Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
- Morfydd Clark, Saint Maud
- Robin Wright, Land
- Eliza Scanlen, Babyteeth