10 Actors on the Verge of Their First Oscar Nominations

Sandra Hüller (“The Zone of Interest”/“Anatomy of a Fall”)

About 43% of the acting nominations handed out since 2010/11, or 113 out of 260, were given to first-time contenders. While most years see around eight, a record-setting 16 were nominated this past season, meaning only four performers had prior notices. Because many – Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Mark Ruffalo, Octavia Spencer, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Emma Stone, Mahershala Ali, Olivia Colman, Adam Driver, Margot Robbie, and Daniel Kaluuya, just to name a few – received subsequent noms and/or wins within five years, we’re predicting that some of the following actors, more than gaining recognition in 2024, will join an incoming roster of Oscar regulars.

Betting on the newcomer doesn’t always pan out – Paul Dano (“The Fabelmans”) and Caitríona Balfe (“Belfast”) were both passed up for their senior, Oscar-winning co-stars. But considering that, on average, nearly half a given year’s nominees are competing for the first time, new faces deserve at least as much attention as actors with the awards profile of Robert De Niro or Kate Winslet. The number of freshman nominees is unlikely to approach 2022/23’s whopper and should be closer to the mean in light of the field. We believe the following performers have the best odds of filling those eight or nine slots.

Hon. Mentions:

Teyana Taylor for A Thousand and One

A pitfall of prognosticating the Oscars is too eagerly trying to force the current field into whatever shape has been carved by the previous awards season. At the same time, it’s naive to pretend strategists aren’t taking their cues from the recent past. There’s no way discussions aren’t being held about replicating Andrea Riseborough’s insurgency in 2022/23. One potential successor to that playbook is singer-actress Teyana Taylor, who’s received unanimous praise for playing a single mother in a rapidly gentrifying New York City in Sundance 2023 Dramatic Grand Jury winner “A Thousand and One.”

The controversy surrounding Riseborough’s nomination overshadowed something genuinely terrific – the possibility of the Oscars still surprising us, of quality outweighing studio-budgeted campaigns. How much of the outrage was sincere, and how much was the manufactured product of a jilted awards-industrial complex? Though Taylor has Focus Features on her side, it’s tough to picture her performance in this shoestring-budget film from debut director A.V. Rockwell being seriously considered without the breakthrough achieved by the “To Leslie” team.

Jodie Comer for The Bikeriders

We still don’t know much about Jeff Nichols’ “The Bikeriders,” but a test-screening reaction identified Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy as its standouts. If Comer makes the cut, Nichols will have directed two actresses to their first nominations (the other being “Loving’s” Ruth Negga). Comer, the 2023 Tony winner for “Prima Facie,” was a longshot for “The Last Duel,” snubbed across the board, but has only amassed a more prominent profile since.

Ben Affleck for Air

Speaking of people snubbed for “The Last Duel,” Ben Affleck, that film’s bleach-blonde feudal lord, sports another funny hairdo in “Air.” Comparisons between the movie and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” based on their SXSW premieres and spring release dates feel a tad pat. Still, there is a parallel between the sort of performance Affleck gives as Nike co-founder Phil Knight and the one that just earned Jamie Lee Curtis her first Oscar nomination and win. If “Air” becomes a serious contender in Picture, Screenplay, Actor, and Supporting Actress, Affleck might similarly coattail – or be out-Curtis’d by Chris Messina.

10. Paul Dano for Dumb Money

Paul Dano (“Dumb Money”)

Paul Dano should’ve won an Oscar for “The Fabelmans,” and the fact that he wasn’t even nominated is a travesty. That he doesn’t have a single Oscar nomination is just outright unbelievable. In Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money,” which dramatizes the GameStop short squeeze that left market analysts scratching their heads and a few retail traders on Reddit very rich, Dano has a role remarkably similar to the one that got “The Big Short” its only acting nomination.

While Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale in his second Oscar-nominated role since winning on his first try with “The Fighter”) and Keith Gill may be very different from each other in real life, the functions they serve in the cinematic renditions of their stories are essentially identical. If the movie goes “to the moon,” to phrase it in r/wallstreetbets speak, and Dano still doesn’t claim his first nomination, he must’ve eaten too many scones at the wrong awards luncheon.

9. Sandra Hüller for The Zone of Interest/Anatomy of a Fall

Sandra Hüller (“The Zone of Interest”/“Anatomy of a Fall”)

Sandra Hüller is definitely more human as a woman wrongfully (?) accused of her husband’s murder than as the self-proclaimed “queen of Auschwitz,” but “The Zone of Interest” is a more substantial prospect in Picture and Director than “Anatomy of a Fall.” However, many increasingly believe Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or winner is viable across the board despite belonging to a genre not typically recognized by the academy. Even if the mystery-thriller doesn’t become an “Amour”-size hit with voters while “The Zone of Interest” does deliver on its potential, Hüller could still, like Leonardo DiCaprio in 2006/07 and Margot Robbie in 2019/20, make the cut for a non-Best Picture nominee despite starring in a more formidable vehicle. The same is possible for another name on this list.

8. Da’Vine Joy Randolph for The Holdovers

The academy consistently recognized Alexander Payne until “Downsizing.” Focus purchasing his latest for $30 million at a buyers’ screening in Toronto and setting a November release date gives reason to believe the ‘70s-set “The Holdovers” is a return to form. Comedian Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays the head cook of a prep school and a mother grieving the death of her son in Vietnam. Her candidacy depends on whether, as Trevor Matteson (Oscar Buzz) puts it, the movie emerges from TIFF as a “Green Book” or “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.” If “The Holdovers” is the crowdpleaser that steals Picture from the slate’s more rigorous technical achievements, it’s easy to see Randolph becoming this year’s Troy Kotsur.

7. Charles Melton for May December

Actors First Oscar - Charles Melton (“May December”)

In Todd Haynes’ “May December,” a fictionalization of the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal, Charles Melton plays an adult man coming to grips with the illicit origin of his marriage. Concern was expressed out of Cannes that the film’s deliberately campy vibe may not be on the academy’s wavelength, but if the movie is too acclaimed to get snubbed, Melton, said to have “May December’s” most relatable role, might benefit as the point of entry for voters otherwise alienated by Haynes’ blend of tones.

6. Kingsley Ben-Adir and/or Lashana Lynch for Bob Marley: One Love

Kingsley Ben-Adir and/or Lashana Lynch (“Bob Marley: One Love”)

Given that “One Love” is from “King Richard” director Reinaldo Marcus Green, it’ll probably have more in common with “Walk the Line” than “Elvis” and “Rocketman.” Can a restrained music biopic perform well in the age of glitzy maximalism? As long as the reception is enthusiastic, Kingsley Ben-Adir, who had serious Lead Actor hype for “One Night in Miami,” is a no-brainer. Lashana Lynch, in any rising star list’s top five, should also be a strong bet. The trailer didn’t reveal too much of her performance. Still, the decision to emphasize Marley (as if the title’s conspicuous addendum hasn’t done the job) in the film’s first promotional material makes sense. Besides, it’s not like Aunjaune Ellis’ Oscar-nominated performance was prominently featured in early “King Richard” ads.

Read More: 10 Best Actors Who Have Never Won an Oscar

5. Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, and/or Corey Hawkins for The Color Purple

Actors First Oscar - Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, andor Corey Hawkins (“The Color Purple”)

The argument here is simple: Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, and Corey Hawkins (who stirred minor buzz for “The Tragedy of Macbeth” in 2021/22) are all filling roles that have garnered Oscar and/or Tony nominations. Brooks already has a notice for 2015’s Broadway revival. Barring some bizarre turn of events that prevents “The Color Purple” from being a massive awards play, at least two of these nods are inevitable.

4. Greta Lee, John Magaro and/or Teo Yoo for Past Lives

Greta Lee, John Magaro and/or Teo Yoo (“Past Lives”)

Celine Song’s “Past Lives,” a love story set across two decades and continents, has asserted itself as 2023’s critical darling and all but earmarked Greta Lee and John Magaro for Oscar nominations. However, we’re still not sure about Teo Yoo’s chances. This may not turn out to be a critical data point. Still, at the Hollywood Critics Association’s Midseason Awards, Teo fared better in the lead acting category, being named runner-up to Matt Damon (“Air”), than Magaro did in a less competitive supporting category. If the academy shares admiration for “Past Lives” among film journalists, it isn’t difficult to picture the movie carrying all three to Oscar nominations.

3. Cillian Murphy for Oppenheimer

Actors First Oscar - Cillian Murphy (“Oppenheimer”)

Christopher Nolan movies don’t typically garner acting nominations, but “Oppenheimer” isn’t your typical Christopher Nolan movie. Pretty much everyone knows Cillian Murphy, but the actor has never gotten a headlining opportunity quite like this – a narrative that has propelled many to the Dolby Theater. The role is tailor-made for the academy, and it doesn’t hurt that Murphy performs much of it in close-up. There was reason to believe before the film’s release that it would be too cold for voters and consign Murphy to being this year’s Ryan Gosling (“First Man”) rather than Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”). However, overwhelming praise for the movie and performance should put those concerns to rest. Co-star Emily Blunt might also clinch her first nom for playing the eponymous scientist’s emotionally volatile spouse.

2. Colman Domingo for Rustin/The Color Purple

Actors First Oscar - Colman Domingo (“Rustin”/“The Color Purple”)

Colman Domingo is this year’s Colin Farrell – someone perceived as being overdue for recognition appearing in not one, not two, but three potential contenders: “Drive-Away Dolls,” “The Color Purple,” and “Rustin.” His best shot is for one of the latter two. At least with Farrell, we knew all the goodwill from his other performances in 2022 would be directed toward “The Banshees of Inisherin,” but in Domingo’s case, it’s tough to see Civil Rights drama “Rustin” not getting a nomination in Lead Actor. It’s equally difficult to argue that “The Color Purple” will be an above-the-line juggernaut without predicting Domingo as Supporting Actor. At the same time, it’s worth considering that Domingo’s character, Albert Mister Johnson, hasn’t gotten an actor nominated yet for either an Oscar or a Tony. Can Domingo just pull a ScarJo and get nominated for two roles his first time around?

1. Lily Gladstone for Killers of the Flower Moon

Actors First Oscar - Lily Gladstone (“Killers of the Flower Moon”)

Though relatively few people have seen “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Lily Gladstone appears to be as much of a lock as Ke Huy Quan was a year ago. In Martin Scorsese’s latest crime epic, she plays a Native American woman who, in 1920s Oklahoma, becomes a mark for the corrupt oil barons plotting to strip the Osage Nation of its newfound wealth. A story that went around the web shortly before the film’s premiere in May at the Cannes Film Festival – she was apparently disillusioned with acting and on the verge of pursuing a career in IT when Scorsese phoned her – smelled like pre-season awards strategy. Some have noted that musical performances seldom lose this category, a trend that gives the edge to either Danielle Brooks or Taraji P. Henson for “The Color Purple.”

But if that film’s primary acting push is Barrino in Lead and Gladstone’s as good as we hear – in the Best Picture frontrunner, no less – are voters going to suppress their feelings so that the final tally upholds a stat? She has a career narrative and is the beating heart of a film about hot-button topics that haven’t been sufficiently explored on the big screen through an Indigenous perspective. Were Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”) and Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”) up against that when they won their Oscars? Besides, the rule isn’t ironclad; there are exceptions – Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) beat Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods”) – and Lily Gladstone is going to be one of them.

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