The 10 Most Likely First-Time Oscar Nominees For Acting
By Joey Magidson
I often wonder what it must be like to be an actor or an actress caught up in the Oscar race for the very first time. The blur of events and people is dizzying just for someone covering them, so to be at the center of it all is an incredible thought to process.
Each year, a whole mess of contenders get introduced to the hustle for the first time. A few of them even manage to score nominations for their work, though many have to learn the agony of defeat before the thrill of victory. Those in the latter column sometimes wind up coming back to the race with a whole new perspective down the line and better chances at the nod.
This year, there’s a large number of previously honored men and women looking for further acting accolades, but there are no shortage of thespians who’d be receiving a nomination for the very first time. Many won’t even come close, but there’s a group of ladies and gentlemen who are going to be campaigning hard for the right to be called an Academy Award nominee.
In addition to the 10 I’ve listed, there are other first-timers who may or may not get some recognition during the season. Samantha Barks of Les Miserables is far from out of the conversation for Best Supporting Actress, while longer shots like Bryan Cranston of Argo and Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty hope to stay in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor. Their odds may not be amazingly favorable, but it’d be remiss to leave them out completely from this discussion.
Even less likely, but still on the fringes, indie darlings like Melanie Lynskey of Hello I Must Be Going and Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Smashed hope to remain above water in the Best Actress race. They’re far from the top 10, though, which I’ll get into now.
10. Kristen Stewart, On the Road (Best Supporting Actress)
As hard as it may be to think of Kristen Stewart as a legitimate threat to become an Oscar nominee, she consistently does good work when not involved with that pesky Twilight franchise. She’s receiving some very strong notices for On the Road, which is hoping to be one of the indie award contenders this year.
In her favor is the fact that her vampire franchise is over and done with (at least until the inevitable reboot), so voters won’t be able to thumb their nose at it anymore. On the flip side, On The Road hasn’t gotten the early buzz it needs to make a dent in the crowded field. Stewart benefits from a dearth of Supporting Actress contenders, but she’s going to have an uphill battle to actually get a nom.
9. Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables (Best Supporting Actor)
Most of the awards buzz for this film surrounded other actors and actresses before the press screenings began, but now Eddie Redmayne is looking like someone to watch out for. Les Miserables has perhaps the widest variety of performers competing for notice, most notably prior nominees Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway. There’s another potential first timer I’ll be mentioning later who’s got a better shot than Redmayne, but Redmayne is in the conversation for sure.
If Les Miserables manages the across-the-board nominations most are predicting, the likelihood of Redmayne getting in goes up exponentially. But if the detractors of the film manage to wound it a bit, one of the first casualties are borderline surprise nods like this one. He’s a more likely nominee than Crowe, but not quite a top contender yet.
8. Kelly Reilly, Flight (Best Supporting Actress)
Yes, by and large the talking points for this particular flick center around Denzel Washington, but his so far unheralded co-star Kelly Reilly may actually be able to challenge for a nomination, too. Reilly is being introduced to many audience members for the first time here, and while Washington is everyone’s focus, she will see a strong campaign mounted in her honor as well.
In some ways, Reilly’s chances rest on what happens to Washington. If he locks himself in as a nominee, he could very well take her along with him. If he gets snubbed, she’s locked out of the race for sure. Her work in Flight speaks for itself, so it’ll be up to the campaign to do the rest.
7. Richard Gere, Arbitrage (Best Actor)
Of all the people on this list, Richard Gere is probably the most surprising inclusion, simply because it’s hard to imagine that he’s yet to be nominated. He came close for Chicago, but he’s been on the outside looking in for his whole career so far. Arbitrage is his best chance in a while to finally break.
Arbitrage is a smaller film than most in the race, so while it’s easy to make him the focus of the campaign, Gere is hurt somewhat by being involved in a flick that perhaps wasn’t as widely seen as others. That might spell doom for him, but don’t count him out yet.
6. Ann Dowd, Compliance (Best Supporting Actress)
Often the Academy makes room for a lower profile actor or actress to get into their club, and Ann Dowd is this year’s hope for the working actor. Her tiny film Compliance is all about Dowd, with all manner of publicity hoping to get her that long shot Supporting Actress nomination.
Her name recognition is minimal, but those who pop in a screener of the flick will undoubtedly recognize her, leading to some extra sentiment to nominate for this career-best achievement. Dowd is both buoyed and hurt by what’s pretty much a grassroots and self-funded campaign. It worked once for Melissa Leo, but it’s backfired for plenty before as well. Dowd’s stock, however, is rising as the season continues.
5. Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike (Best Supporting Actor)
Over the past year or two, Matthew McConaughey has largely been able to replace the perception that he’s lightweight pretty boy with that of a respected and growing actor. He stole the show in Magic Mike and also has gotten early precursor mentions for his lead role in Killer Joe and his supporting turn in Bernie. The former has no chance at a nod, and the latter is a long shot, but Magic Mike could very well get him into this exclusive club.
McConuaghey needed an early win to set him forward on the path to a nomination, and the New York Film Critics Circle obliged him. They’re hardly the last word on the matter, and he’ll find plenty of other contenders to fight with, but Warner Brothers is full speed ahead on him for Supporting Actor. They’re making Magic Mike all about him, and so far it’s working.
4. John Goodman, Argo (Best Supporting Actor)
Here’s someone you’d fully expect to have been at least close to a nomination before. Alas, and sadly, this is John Goodman’s first full-speed-ahead chase for a nom, though he’s certainly turning in work as good as he’s ever done before. Argo may be his best bet because of its awards friendliness, but he’ll also get some consideration for Flight as well (Trouble with the Curve … not so much).
Goodman shines in just about anything he does, and obviously this year is no exception. But he’s also perhaps too much of a supporting player overall to get nominated. Even in his own films, he’s upstaged by showier performances, not to mention the contenders he’s dueling with for a nod. I used to think he was more likely to get nominated than I do now, but he’s still a top-tier contender for a citation.
3. Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook (Best Actor)
Just a few years ago, the idea of Bradley Cooper as a serious threat for an Oscar nomination would be roundly rejected by any sane pundit. What a difference a couple of years make, as Cooper now has a National Board of Review win under his belt and is looking more and more like a nominee each day. Silver Linings Playbook easily represents the best performance of his career, and it happens to be a high-profile awards contender as well, which never hurts things.
Cooper is well on his way to a nomination, so as long as he plays his cards right, shaking the right hands and kissing the right babies, it’s hard to imagine him missing out. I don’t think he can win, but that has more to do with Best Actor being an incredibly strong category than his work in any way.
2. Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild (Best Actress)
The young star of Beasts of the Southern Wild has made quite the impression on the Oscar circuit so far. Despite being just 5 years old, little Quvenzhane Wallis has charmed people in the way that a potential Best Actress winner needs to. In fact, if it weren’t for some whispers that Wallis doesn’t deserve the credit for her work as much as her director does, she might be the frontrunner right now.
Wallis is easily one of the nicest stories of the year. She’d be one of the youngest nominees ever, and it’s been said that the Academy likes their winners young, so she could perhaps be a record-breaker at the Oscars. A lot will have to do with if Beasts of the Southern Wild gets some newfound wind at its back, but Wallis is clearly well on her way to a nomination.
1. Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables (Best Actor)
Sometimes an actor just needs the right material. With Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman has found a perfect vehicle to show off his musical talents, which in turn have boosted his stature in the acting community. The film has some huge fans already, and of everyone on this list, Jackman likely stands the best chance of becoming a first-time Oscar nominee.
I’m not ready to go out on this limb yet, but there’s been a lot of speculation that Jackman could eventually become the frontrunner as the season progresses. That’s a long way for him to go, but his likely nomination is the first step. From there, anything is possible.
Of course, other contenders like the aforementioned Barks could make serious plays for a nomination. That being said, those 10 are the ones to expect the most buzz from as the season moves forward. At least two or three of these men and women will find themselves Oscar nominees in just a few months time, forever changing their lives.
Tags: Ann Dowd, Anne Hathaway, Arbitrage, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Bernie, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Bradley Cooper, Bryan Cranston, Chicago, Compliance, Denzel Washington, Eddie Redmayne, Flight, Hello I Must Be Going, Hugh Jackman, Jason Clarke, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Killer Joe, Kristen Stewart, Les Miserables, Magic Mike, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matthew McConaughey, Melanie Lynskey, Melissa Leo, On the Road, Quvenzhane Wallis, Richard Gere, Russell Crowe, Samantha Barks, Silver Linings Playbook, Smashed, Trouble with the Curve, Zero Dark Thirty