Best Actor Race: Will Controversy Cost Casey Affleck?

Best Actor: Will Controversy Cost Casey Affleck?

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is a once in a lifetime role for an actor. It’s special. Towering. Emotionally draining. It’s one of the most intricately crafted acting jobs I’ve seen since Steve Carell in Foxcatcher from a couple years ago. It’s that good.

The analysis on Casey Affleck’s Oscar chances is pretty simple – if there were no controversies, he’d win in a landslide. No doubt. The controversies could single-handedly cost him an Oscar. Even when you watch Casey Affleck accept the Golden Globe, you can see the frustration on his face. He knows it. Even with all the Affleck hoopla, he was still the favorite to win this award for a long time. Then the SAG happened. Losing the SAG to Denzel was a MASSIVE momentum shift.

The last time that award didn’t match up with Best Actor was 2003 when Johnny Depp won the SAG for Pirates of the Caribbean (seriously) over Sean Penn in Mystic River, who ultimately won the Oscar. There’s a lot of baggage here, but Affleck’s performance is still going to be tough for anyone to overcome on Oscar night.

Chances of Winning: High

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

What a hell of a year for Andrew Garfield. He could have also been nominated for Silence, in which he’s also incredible. The Spider-Man fiasco is long behind him, as he’s already worked with two acclaimed directors in the same calendar year. His role in Hacksaw Ridge could have easily been a goofy mess, but he’s truly the heart of that film. The brilliance of Hacksaw Ridge is that it plays out like three different movies: The love story. The conscientious objector. The war hero. Garfield encapsulates all of this beautifully. He’s the quintessential leading man. Garfield has very little shot at taking this home, but he’ll no doubt be back here again.

Chances of Winning: Low

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

You could make the argument that Ryan Gosling is over-exposed as much as Jennifer Lawrence. The difference is that it’s impossible to dislike Ryan Gosling right now. Not only is he an extraordinarily talented actor who’s building a resume akin to Leonardo DiCaprio, but he seems like the most likable human being ever. Even if you hate La La Land, it’s absolutely not possible to dislike that performance. I cannot fathom somebody saying “Gosling was overrated in La La Land.” He probably gives the most entertaining performance of the year. While a deep dark horse here, it’s very much like Matt Damon in The Martian – a fun performance, but not a winner.

Chances of Winning: Middle of the Pack

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Captain Fantastic simply doesn’t work without Viggo. I’m not sure who else could have done the anti-establishment frontier dad role better than him. Maybe Steve Carell. Infused with a gluttony of monologues, Viggo’s performance is all piss and vinegar. In a screenplay that’s a bit sloppy, his character is not. I’d see another movie with this guy trudging through the woods while he lectures hikers. Unfortunately, the performance doesn’t have enough serious moments to win him the Oscar. While dead last in this category, he sure as hell deserves to be here.

Chances of Winning: Low

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Denzel Washington (Fences)

I could almost cut and paste what I said about Meryl Streep in my Best Actress analysis. Denzel can do this in his sleep. What separates this particular Denzel role from others is that it’s a Denzel performance on steroids. As Denzel is also the director, it’s like he wound himself up for two hours and never took a breath. It’s an electrifying performance. While Denzel is no doubt the front-runner after winning the SAG, there are three reasons working against him:

1. We’ve seen this before from Denzel.
2. Casey Affleck’s performance still looms.
3. He’s going for his third Oscar. That third Oscar is elite territory. History could definitely be made though. This is easily the most intriguing category of the night.

Chances of Winning: High

Is the Performance Worthy of an Oscar? Yes

Want to know the rest of our predictions, check out our annual Oscar podcast!

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.