Every leading contender for a Best Actor nomination at the 2023 Oscars

Every leading contender for a Best Actor nomination at the 2023 Oscars

Long-awaited comebacks. Star-is-born moments. Veterans who are finally in the running. Here are 14 actors to know as the Academy Awards race heats up

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Oscar 2023 best actor contenders: After Yang (Courtesy of A24), The Inspection (Patti Perret), The Whale (Courtesy of A24), Elvis (screenshot)
(Clockwise from bottom left:) After Yang (Courtesy of A24), The Inspection (Patti Perret), The Whale (Courtesy of A24), Elvis (screenshot)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

The Oscar lead actor race has it all this awards season: Beloved screen veterans making long-awaited comebacks. Star-is-born moments. Adam Freakin’ Sandler. The only thing this category doesn’t have? As many contenders as leading actress (stay tuned for our breakdown of that category on Friday).

Regardless of which of the 14 leading men (and 15 performances—way to double dip, Colin Farrell!) on this list make the cut when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 24, 2023, it figures to be quite a race. Just like with this year’s supporting actor group, it’s likely that newbie nominees will be reaching the finish line; only one actor on this best actor list has a little gold man on his mantle, and just one other has been nominated. Read on to find out who, along with which screen legends, both in-the-making and a long-time-coming, might join the Academy’s ranks for the first time.

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Austin Butler, Elvis

Austin Butler, Elvis

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS | Austin Butler’s Pre-Production Test Footage

There’s a little less conversation about Austin Butler’s Oscar chances now than there was during the summer moviegoing doldrums, when his star-making performance in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis launched him to the top of every pundit’s list. But there are several solid reasons the 31-year-old actor is still in the mix: his left hip and his right hip. Also, his pompadour. And most importantly, that voice. Academy voters adore a faithful interpretation of an iconic musician’s performances regardless of whether the actor is singing or lip-synching. Watching Butler, audiences might assume it’s the latter, but he actually recreated the King’s powerhouse vocals himself, thank you very much.

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Diego Calva, Babylon

Diego Calva, Babylon

BABYLON | Official Teaser Trailer (Uncensored) – Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva

Just when Austin Butler thought he had the year’s biggest breakthrough performance, here comes Diego Calva at the last minute with Babylon. Damien Chazelle puts the Mexican actor through his paces in his maximalist take on 1920s Hollywood, making Calva go toe-to-toe with Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and other far more seasoned stars. Calva rises to the occasion and then some as ambitious film assistant Manny, proving he’s not just a terrific actor, but a potentially bankable movie star too.

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Daniel Craig, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Daniel Craig, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Daniel Craig Plays Murder Mystery - Exclusive Clip | Glass Onion | Netflix

Just throwing this out there: could Daniel Craig end up being remembered more for Benoit Blanc than for James Bond? While Craig’s first outing as the charming detective with the soulful Southern drawl, in Knives Out, may not have merited that distinction—or, sadly, an Oscar nomination—the follow-up confirms Blanc belongs in the pantheon of cinematic sleuths. Rian Johnson’s delicious Glass Onion wouldn’t work as well as it does without the balanced shrewdness, subtle poignancy, and sheer amount of fun Craig is having.

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Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) - Maverick’s Test Run Scene | Movieclips

If voters are going to nominate this year’s box office leader (to date) for all the top awards, there’s no way they can leave out its leading man and driving force. Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t exist without Tom Cruise; Tom Cruise is Top Gun: Maverick. The three-time Oscar nominee (for Born On The Fourth Of July, Jerry Maguire, and Magnolia) could return to the list for the first time in over 20 years, in a reminder that pure movie-star charisma is still a prized commodity in Hollywood.

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Colin Farrell, After Yang

Colin Farrell, After Yang

After Yang | Official Trailer HD | A24

You’d be hard-pressed to find an actor who’s having a better 2022 than Colin Farrell. There’s the commercial success of The Batman, featuring his unrecognizable-in-a-good-way Penguin, and the perfect alignment of filmmaker and muse with Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives. And soon we’ll get to the performance that has already topped prediction lists and gathered accolades. But first let’s shout out A24’s After Yang, a meditative, futuristic family drama whose casting of Farrell is one of many master strokes by writer-director Kogonada. After Yang has earned Gotham and Spirit Award nominations, and Farrell won a rare—and auspicious—double-honor from the New York Film Critics Circle, rewarding him for both this film and….

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Colin Farrell, The Banshees Of Inisherin

Colin Farrell, The Banshees Of Inisherin

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN Trailer (2022) Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson

Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees Of Inisherin. As Al Pacino would say in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, what a picture! And while you could make the case that the film’s star is the donkey Jenny, or Sheila Flitton’s spooky banshee, or even the fictional Irish island of the title, here’s the real scene-stealer: Colin Farrell’s eyebrows. With their haunting, hilarious, expressive work in this friendship-breakup story, they almost deserve an Academy Award of their own.

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Brendan Fraser, The Whale

Brendan Fraser, The Whale

THE WHALE Trailer (2022) Brendan Fraser

Brendan Fraser’s inclusion on a list of award contenders is notable for a number of reasons. The star of multiple blockbusters in the 1990s, Fraser is making his prestige-drama comeback after taking a step back from the industry. In The Whale, he plays a character who happens to be queer and obese, the kind of role that gets film buffs and Twitter provocateurs alike talking, for better or worse. This would be the first Oscar nomination for Fraser, who has been a presumed frontrunner since he received an emotional standing ovation at the 2022 Venice Film Festival, where director Darren Aronofsky collected accolades. When audiences can start seeing The Whale in theaters on December 9, we’ll have a better sense of Fraser’s Oscar chances. But for now, we’re penciling the beloved actor in.

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Daniel Kaluuya, Nope

Daniel Kaluuya, Nope

NOPE | Final Trailer

The sole person on this list who’s already got that coveted “Academy Award winner” prefix, Daniel Kaluuya could very well join the ranks of actors earning repeat nominations for performances under the same director. As Get Out and now Nope prove, there are few filmmaker-muse pairings more exciting than Jordan Peele and Kaluuya, so the latter’s inclusion in the Oscar mix has practically been preordained since his casting announcement. Kaluuya also happens to be one of the most fascinating stars working today; the way he uses his eyes in Nope as the taciturn OJ Haywood, looking up at looming threats in the sky, is itself almost award-worthy.

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Felix Kamerrer, All Quiet On The Western Front

Felix Kamerrer, All Quiet On The Western Front

The Making of All Quiet on the Western Front | Netflix

Leonardo DiCaprio earned an Oscar for freezing his ass off and fending off CGI bears in The Revenant. That’s child’s play compared to what Felix Kamerrer and his co-stars endure in Netflix’s grueling World War I epic All Quiet On The Western Front. Germany’s entry for the international film Oscar category is helmed by a director-adapter, Edward Berger, who was as hard on his actors during the realistic trench warfare scenes as he was compassionate with them in the film’s quieter moments. As protagonist Paul Bäumer, Kamerrer nails both extremes with a natural credibility that pulls us into this anti-war war story.

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Gabriel LaBelle, The Fabelmans

Gabriel LaBelle, The Fabelmans

The Fabelmans | Official Trailer [HD]

It should come as no surprise that Gabriel LaBelle beat out thousands of other auditioners for the lead role in The Fabelmans. This was meant to be the ultimate Steven Spielberg movie, a retelling of the director’s childhood that harnesses many of his cinematic tricks. And the 20-year-old LaBelle is stupendous as Sammy Fabelman—he’s the eyes and ears of the audience and is utterly believable as a teenager tortured by what typically tortures teenagers as well as a slew of Spielberg-specific tensions. This is a performance with all the trappings of a star-making turn.

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Paul Mescal, Aftersun

Paul Mescal, Aftersun

Aftersun | Official Trailer HD | A24

Any pop culture aficionado who’s been paying attention surely isn’t shocked to see that Paul Mescal has climbed Hollywood’s ranks and now stands on the cusp of an Oscar nomination. Mescal, who had his breakout role in Normal People, has gained momentum this season and could earn a nod for either his supporting work in God’s Creatures or as leading man of Aftersun. Our money is on the latter, especially since his work as a loving father in Charlotte Wells’ haunting yet warm autobiographical work has already been recognized by the Gotham, Spirit, and British Independent Film Awards.

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Bill Nighy, Living

Bill Nighy, Living

LIVING Trailer 2 (2022) Bill Nighy

How does cinema icon Bill Nighy not yet have an Oscar nomination? Okay, so Love Actually or Shaun Of The Dead or Pirates Of The Caribbean aren’t up the Academy’s alley, but anyone who caught his heartbreaking work in 2014’s Pride and 2018’s Sometimes Always Never knows that Nighy is tailor-made for the kind of restrained yet nuanced performances that award voters love. Living, director Oliver Hermanus’ Sundance Film Festival hit, may be the vehicle that confirms Nighy’s award-worthy status.

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Jeremy Pope, The Inspection

Jeremy Pope, The Inspection

THE INSPECTION Trailer (2022) Jeremy Pope, A24 Movie

The Academy could and should look more often to films like The Inspection, Elegance Bratton’s retelling of his boot camp experience with the Marines during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era. The film succeeds in large part because of Jeremy Pope’s brilliant performance. The Oscars aren’t exactly known for honoring stories from Black queer men, though, and if they ignore Pope’s tenacious turn as Ellis French, it would be their loss.

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Adam Sandler, Hustle

Adam Sandler, Hustle

Hustle starring Adam Sandler | Official Trailer | Netflix

In assessing Adam Sandler’s Oscar chances for the basketball drama Hustle, let’s set aside the “playing against type” narrative, the uncertain Netflix factor, and the fact that even before Uncut Gems, Sandler was doing awards-worthy work. Instead, what could now be the driving force behind an awards campaign for the guy is his astonishingly funny acceptance speech—a specialty of his—for the Gothams’ performer tribute award. If the Academy comes calling at long last, Sandler better make sure he thanks his speech writers (his daughters).

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Song Kang-ho, Broker

Song Kang-ho, Broker

Broker (2022) 브로커 Movie Trailer | EONTALK

An Oscar nomination now would make up for the snub of Song Kang-ho during Parasite’s award-dominating run. A Korean cinema mainstay with a history of performances that deserve such consideration, Song shines in Broker. The Hirokazu Kore-eda film showcases what may be the actor’s greatest strength: bringing a character’s flaws to the forefront, yet getting us to sympathize and eventually empathize with him. As Sang-hyeon, a relentlessly sunny operator of the adoption black market, Song sets a new bar for leading men who can warm and break hearts in equal measure.

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