Will and should win:
Role: Arthur Fleck, clown/would-be stand-up comic.
In his favor: Phoenix is mesmerizing as the tormented Gotham City villain in his formative years. It’s a ferociously demented performance, all skin and bones and convulsive tics and maniacal laughter. He’s controlled yet out of control, a truly frightening dichotomy. (Globes winner/S/B)
Then again: Bad-boy Phoenix has never been one to charm the voters.
“Pain and Glory”
Role: Faded author/playwright Salvador Mallo, a man beset by physical and emotional ailments.
In his favor: So many multitudes are contained in Banderas’ sad eyes; you feel every midlife ache and pain and yearning. Reuniting with Pedro Almodóvar brought out the best in Banderas, and brought him the best actor award at Cannes. (G)
Then again: It’s a small-scale, intimate, subtitled film.
“Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”
Role: Rick Dalton, washed-up action star whose neighbors include Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.
In his favor: Tightly coiled, paranoid and self-loathing, he shines in the long takes that add nothing to the plot but delight us nonetheless. He’s never been more disarming than when he’s schooled by a 10-year-old co-star. (G/S/B)
Then again: He’s in the shadow of Brad Pitt.
Role: Stage director Charlie Barber, who finds himself in a divorce and custody battle.
In his favor: Driver is the Golden Boy incarnate, a man whose orderly and rose-colored world takes a turn for the confounding. From maddeningly obtuse to downright pitiable, he somehow keeps you rooting for him. (G/S/B)
Then again: But can we really root for the guy who has everything — including a MacArthur genius grant?
“The Two Popes”
Role: Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.
In his favor: He plays a popular real-life figure who loves the church, soccer, tango dancing and the Beatles, probably in that order. Pryce has a salt-of-the-earth humility that reminds us why Francis is so beloved. Of the two popes, his the more fully realized story, buttressed by flashbacks to his bumpy path to the priesthood. (G/B)
Then again: The buddy-picture vibe undercuts the subject.
Missed the cut:
Role: Reg Dwight/Elton John in the heady early days.
Why he deserved a nod: He’s got the showmanship down, with or without those silly glasses and sparkly get-ups. If Rami Malek won last year for a lip-syncing Freddie Mercury, Egerton, whose voice is a credible facsimile of Elton’s, should have been a shoo-in. (Globes winner/B)
Then again: A rock star imitator winning again was unlikely.