The Best Actor gauntlet

Isaac Hinson, Columnist

One of the most coveted awards of the ceremony, the Best Actor race is always tight, and this year seems to be no different. After being won last year by Will Smith for his performance in “King Richard” no more than three hours after the Chris Rock slap incident, the Academy seems to be looking for a feel-good story with this year’s class. 

Nominated this year are Austin Butler for “Elvis,” Colin Farrell for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” Brendan Fraser for “The Whale,” Paul Mescal for “Aftersun” and Bill Nighy for “Living.” Farrell, Butler, Mescal, Fraser and Nighy are all first-time nominees, which only further shows that the Academy wants a fresh start. 

Austin Butler

If I had to choose right now who I think is going to walk away with Best Actor, I would say Austin Butler. The Academy awarded Rami Malek for far worse work in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and his work in “Elvis” is likely the most seen among general audiences and academy voters. 

Butler is admittedly the safe pick, both for myself and for the Academy. I don’t think Butler has the best work here, but it’s not bad by any means, in fact he is quite good in the movie, and rarely does the Academy award the truly best work of the year. In many years, people will tell you that the best performance of the year wasn’t even nominated. 

Colin Farrell

With a win at the Golden Globes, and being awarded the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, Colin Farrell is currently the consensus front-runner to win Best Actor. Since his breakout in 2002s “Minority Report,” Farrell has been riding the line between B-list action star and auteur, and it seems he finally is going to be acknowledged for his efforts with the latter. 

Farrell is truly incredible in “Banshees.” It’s his best work to date, and he deserves recognition for it. He captures and deconstructs masculinity, our attachment to others and our longing for closure with his performance here. 

If there were no storylines involved with voting, and the award went to the wholly best performance of the year, there’s no doubt in my mind that Farrell would be leaving the show next month as a first-time Oscar winner. 

Brendan Fraser

In what is the most storyline driven nomination of the year, Brendan Fraser has already won the Critc’s Choice Award for Best Actor, arguably one of the most influential awards to win pre-Oscars. However, it seems that Fraser has all but lost all of his steam heading into the Oscars. 

This has to do with one thing: people are actually getting a chance to see “The Whale,” and they’re not liking it. Prior to the last month, it was nearly impossible to actually watch “The Whale” unless you lived in New York, Los Angeles or had a chance to catch it on the festival circuit. Now that people are seeing it in normal environments, and they’re not being caught in the emotions of being in the same room as Fraser while watching, the lackluster script and questionable ethics of the movie seem more prominent. 

However, this is an acting award and by all accounts voters seem to really enjoy the performance. There’s a chance it could win by aggregating enough second and third place votes, but with how loaded this year’s class is, I would say that’s unlikely. A Fraser win seems like a pipedream at this point. 

Paul Mescal

Mescal comes to this year’s ceremony as the new kid on the block. Just turning 27 on Feb. 2, “Aftersun” is Mescal’s first real break into the American-film scene. He has received awards and praise before, for his work on “Normal People,” but this has been his first exposure to the mass movie-watching population. 

In terms of being a surprise contender, I think Mescal is the most likely non-Butler or Farrell actor here to win. He has all the momentum in the world, and I think will receive a lot of second and third place votes. “Aftersun” has had one of the hottest word-of-mouth campaigns in recent years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it pays out in dividends. 

Bill Nighy

While Bill Nighy is a fantastic actor, and gives an incredibly sentimental performance in “Living,” it’s hard not to look at this nomination as simply filler and a legacy-nomination. 

This doesn’t mean Nighy doesn’t deserve his flowers. He is a long-time screen acting legend, for his work in “Love Actually” among other things, and has never really been able to find the right role to be showcased on a big stage. But, “Living” simply hasn’t made enough noise for true contention, and I think that Nighy, while good in the movie, doesn’t elevate it enough to break that barrier.