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The 2020 Frontrunners For Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor

If it seems that the big-screen casts of many awards hopefuls are raining men, you wouldn’t be wrong. Male ensembles are quite in vogue during this unusual pandemic-extended Oscar season and more than a few male co-stars might be pitted against one another.

The race for nomination slots began in earnest in June, when Netflix streamed Spike Lee’s epic-sized “Da 5 Bloods.” Delroy Lindo, who has too often been denied serious recognition for his film work, takes the lead as a Vietnam War Army vet who gathers his fellow squad members to retrieve a stash of gold bars left inside a crashed airplane.

His castmates include Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and the late Chadwick Boseman, who is seen in flashbacks as the Bloods’ leader who was killed in a Vietnamese counter-attack. Lindo is likely to claim a lead berth on the academy ballot while Boseman might get a supporting spot—that is unless he is pitted against his “Bloods” co-star for his final role as an ambitious trumpet player in Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in a performance that critics have proclaimed his best ever.

A different band of brothers shows up in Amazon Prime’s “One Night in Miami,” the highly praised directing debut of actress Regina King. It imagines a meeting between civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), football player and actor Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and popular soul crooner Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) as they gather in a Miami hotel room after watching Eli Goree as the then-Cassius Clay’s surprise defeat of Sonny Liston in February of 1964.

Netflix also has David Fincher’s male-heavy “Mank” with Gary Oldman as “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and backed by such actors as Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer, Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Tom Burke as Orson Welles, Sam Troughton as producer John Houseman, Frdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg, and Charles Dance as media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for “Kane.”

The streaming giant also has Aaron Sorkin’s courtroom drama. “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which takes place in the aftermath of protest marches that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It features an all-star lineup of supporting players including Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Mark Rylance as defense counselor William Kunstler, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Panther Bobby Seale.

At least two male actors are off on their own while dealing with the women in their lives. David Strathairn is a lovelorn admirer of Frances McDormand’s untethered RV owner in "Nomadland" while Anthony Hopkins is Olivia Colman’s aging father and housemate who struggles with dementia in “The Father.” There are other testosterone-driven titles such as “Tenet,” a remake of “The Boys in the Band” and Paul Greengrass’ Western drama “News of the World,” with Tom Hanks as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a widowed Civil War veteran who volunteers to take an orphaned German girl who was snatched from her family by the Kiowa tribe while engaging in a danger-filled trip to reunite with her aunt and uncle. While there are several supporting actresses, including Mare Winningham and Elizabeth Marvel, the focus is on the growing relationship between 12-year-old newcomer Helena Zengel and Hanks, which at times somewhat echoes of “True Grit.”

According to the nearly 3,600 voters who have made predictions on the awards website Gold Derby, here is how the front-runners are stacking up in the actor races for now.

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”): Boseman, who died in August 28 after a four-year battle with colon cancer, is likely to join the list of the seven performers who earned posthumous Oscar nominations: Jeanne Eagels (1929’s “The Letter”), James Dean (1955’s “East of Eden,” 1956’s “Giant”), Spencer Tracy (1967’s “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner”) Peter Finch (1976’s “Network”), Ralph Richardson (1984’s “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan”), Massimo Troisi (1994’s “Il Postino”) and Heath Ledger (2008’s “The Dark Knight”). Given that Boseman’s role as a horn player has earned universal acclaim so far, earning such adjectives as “brilliant,” “electric” and “heroic,” he just might join Finch and Ledger by being the third actor to claim a posthumous trophy.

Anthony Hopkins ("The Father”): For whatever reason, the ravages of dementia has been front and center in several films this season, ranging from the acclaimed documentary “Dick Johnson is Dead” and the horror film “Relic” to lesser-known titles like “The Artist’s Wife,” “Falling” and “Supernova,” starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. But the most glowing reviews belong to Hopkins, who piece by piece loses his grip on reality in this Florian Zeller drama. He, of course, owns a lead Oscar for his signature role as Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” But given that Sir Anthony won for a role that lasted only 16 minutes on the screen, this 82-year-old legend deserves to finally claim a book-end statuette after being passed by for his other four bids in 1993’s “Remains of the Day,” 1995’s “Nixon,” 1997’s “Amistad” and 2019’s “The Two Popes.”

Gary Oldman (“Mank”): When I interviewed the British actor for his Oscar-winning role as Winston Churchill in 2017’s “Darkest Hour,” I told him I was surprised that his only Academy Award nomination was for 2011’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” His reply? “I just never played the game. It was the first time I did a little bit for it.” He added, “I never had a publicist. To this day, I don’t have one.” That said, his amazing range of roles that include Lee Harvey Oswald, Beethoven, Sid Vicious, Dracula, and Sirius Black in the "Harry Potter" franchise pretty much speak for themselves. That includes his take on the witty and rarely sober screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who wrote the script for Orson Welles’ 1941’s “Citizen Kane” but ended up sharing the credit with the film’s star and director.   

Delroy Lindo (“Da 5 Bloods”): This British-born actor might just finally be recognized for his contributions to cinema thanks to his fourth collaboration with filmmaker Spike Lee after appearing in 1992’s “Malcolm X,” 1994’s “Crooklyn” and 1995’s “Clockers.” In “Da 5 Bloods,” Lindo plays Paul, who gathers three of his fellow Vietnam War vets as they head to Ho Chi Minh City, where they will visit a plane crash site to collect the remains of their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Bosman) as well as a stash of gold bars. 

Kingsley Ben-Adir (“One Night in Miami”): This actor, who also played Barack Obama on Showtime’s “The Comey Rule,” takes on civil rights leader Malcolm X in this what-if meet-up featuring boxer Cassius Clay, singer Sam Cooke, and NFL fullback James Brown. Ben-Adir appears to be the designated leading man of this chamber piece, given that he's the most serious thinker of these celebrated men as they debate speaking out against racism.

Best Supporting Actor

Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”): This singer is having quite a year what with reprising his Tony-winning role as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton” that streamed on Disney+. His take here is on the charismatic and flashy pop star Sam Cooke as he nails such notable hits “You Send Me” and “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Those who know that Cooke would be shot and killed at the age of 33 that same year by a manager of an L.A. motel might get a lump in their throat knowing he was too soon gone.

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”): The decision was made that the large ensemble cast of Aaron Sorkin’s courtroom drama would all be considered to be supporting players. That Baron Cohen, known more as a sly farceur, is the one who stood out among a throng of guys is quite meaningful. He has said he was obsessed with Hoffman since he was in his 20s, and he made the most out of playing his dry-humored activist hero. That his riotous return to his role as Borat Sagdiyev in the mockumentary “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” will only boost his chances to take the gold. He previously shared an adapted screenplay Oscar nomination for his first 2006 “Borat” outing.

Mark Rylance (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”): The esteemed British actor won a supporting Oscar for his role as a Russian intelligence officer charged with conspiracy in Steven Spielberg’s 2015 historical drama “Bridge of Spies.” This time, Rylance plays lawyer and civil rights activist William Kunstler, who defended the Chicago Seven while continually butting heads with Frank Langella’s rather clueless judge Julius Hoffman.  

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”): This hot new actor portrayed villainous David Kane/Black Manta in the 2018 “Aquaman” action film and recently won a Primetime Emmy Award for a Limited Series or Movie for his role as Cal Abar in HBO’s “Watchmen.” In “Chicago 7,” he is Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, who doesn’t have his own representation in court. Langella’s Hoffman required that Seale appear bound and gagged in the courtroom. Abdul-Mateen duly seethes and protests his treatment with appropriate righteousness.

Stanley Tucci (“Supernova”): While this memory-loss-themed film had its world premiere at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in September, the Bleecker Street release hasn’t been screened much otherwise. The title is due to be available in in the U.S. on January 29. The story focuses on Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), who have been partners for 20 years. After Tucker learns he has early-onset dementia, the pair decide to travel across England in a rickety RV to visit friends, family and places from their past while making the best of the time he has left. Tucci was previously nominated for supporting Oscar for his serial killer in Peter Jackson’s 2009 supernatural thriller.

Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna spent much of her nearly thirty years at USA TODAY as a senior entertainment reporter. Now unchained from the grind of daily journalism, she is ready to view the world of movies with fresh eyes.

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