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Oscars: The Leading Men Leading the Race

THR’s executive editor of awards highlights 10 of the top contenders hoping to land a best actor Oscar nomination.

Dream Scenario, Maestro, Killers of the Flower Moon, Rustin, The Zone of Interest, American Fiction, All of Us Strangers, Oppenheimer, Saltburn and The Holdovers

Clockwise from Top Left: Dream Scenario, Maestro, Killers of the Flower Moon, Rustin, The Zone of Interest, American Fiction, All of Us Strangers, Oppenheimer, Saltburn and The Holdovers A24/Courtesy Everett Collection; Jason McDonald/Netflix; Courtesy of Apple TV+; David Lee/Netflix; Courtesy of A24; Seacia Pavao/FOCUS FEATURES; Courtesy of Amazon Prime; Melinda Sue Gordan/Universal Pictures; Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures; Claire Folger/MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection; Courtesy of Apple TV+; David Lee/Netflix; Courtesy of A24; Claire Folger / MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection; Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures; Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures; Amazon Prime; Seacia Pavao / Focus Features

Nicolas Cage, Dream Scenario

Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

Cage is at his Cage-iest in this dark comedy, playing a boring husband, father and academic who suddenly starts appearing in the dreams of strangers, making him world famous — for better and worse. The performance evokes memories of his Oscar-nominated turn in Adaptation.

Bradley Cooper, Maestro

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper Jason McDonald/Netflix

Cooper’s portrayal of the sexually conflicted composer Leonard Bernstein is poised to bring him his fifth acting Oscar nom and first since he was nominated for A Star Is Born in 2019. Netflix is campaigning hard for him — but also has Rustin’s Colman Domingo in the category.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon Courtesy of Apple TV+.

Leo is in the running for his sixth performance under the direction of Martin Scorsese, in which he plays a simpleton who becomes part of a scheme to kill and rob the Osage community. It could bring him his seventh acting nom; he won for The Revenant in 2016.

Colman Domingo, Rustin

Colman Domingo

Colman Domingo avid Lee/Netflix

For the first film assignment that placed him at the top of a call sheet, this Emmy-winning star of Euphoria has won universal raves. He brings heart, mind and soul to the part of Bayard Rustin, a Black and gay civil rights activist who organized the 1963 March on Washington.

Christian Friedel, The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest Courtesy of A24

A German actor best known for the TV series Babylon Berlin, Friedel has wowed critics and audiences around the world with his portrayal of Rudolf Höss, the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz who lived next door to the concentration camp, in Jonathan Glazer’s haunting film.

Paul Giamatti, The Holdovers

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti Seacia Pavao / FOCUS FEATURES LLC.

This veteran could land a best actor nom 19 years after his prior collaboration with Alexander Payne on indie darling Sideways, for which he was criminally snubbed. He again plays a snob, this time a crusty boarding school instructor forced to stay on campus during Christmas break.

Barry Keoghan, Saltburn

Barry Keoghan

Barry Keoghan Courtesy of Amazon Prime

Just a year after his breakthrough in The Banshees of Inisherin,for which he received a supporting actor nom, this 31-year-old is in contention in the lead category, having given a no-holds-barred performance as a young man with a lot of secrets in Emerald Fennell’s sophomore effort.

Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy Courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

The Irishman best known for the TV series Peaky Blinders has been doing notable work in film for more than 20 years. But never before has he played a part as widely seen or praised as that of J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster biopic.

Andrew Scott, All of Us Strangers

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Fleabag’s “hot priest” has received the strongest reviews of his film career for his quiet work in Andrew Haigh’s supernatural tale about a man who reunites with the parents he lost when he was 12. He has already received a best lead performance Gotham Award nom.

Jeffrey Wright, American Fiction

Jeffrey Wright

Jeffrey Wright Claire Folger / © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

One of the most revered screen actors who’s never received an Oscar nom, this Emmy winner arguably gives the performance of his career as a cranky college professor who writes books that nobody reads — until he writes one, of a very different sort, under a pen name. 

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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