Some people like to talk about “category fraud” in the acting categories. It is generally a fairly semantic debate. Is Lakeith Stanfield the lead of Judas and the Black Messiah? Why, then, is he nominated with Daniel Kaluuya in Supporting? Does that mean there is no lead actor in the film?
But it’s just a matter of campaigning. In general, it is easier to get your film’s actor nominated in a supporting category than it is the lead category. In ensemble films, it is fairly easy to make the argument that anyone is a supporting performance, just based on screentime and/or billing. I’d put Stanfield in the lead category, but I’m also just happy to see him nominated. He and Kaluuya both are two of the best actors working today.
- Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
- Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
- Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami
- Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
- Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah
Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya
Could Win: Sacha Baron Cohen
Dark Horse: Leslie Odom Jr.
It probably isn’t even worth mentioning that my favorite performance in this category is Paul Raci. It isn’t worth it, because I’m fairly certain his chances of winning are slim. For one, understated and subdued performances are not traditionally honored by the Academy. And there is one nominee who’s time seems right to take home an Oscar.
Daniel Kaluuya has been nominated before in a role that would have won in a different year (for some reason, that season favored Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour from the very beginning, and no other contender had a serious shot). Judas and the Black Messiah gives Kaluuya a fairly strong platform to showcase his chops. Not to mention that a category which nominates two performances from the same film means that the acting branch was really taken with it. Kaluuya won the Golden Globe and is nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award. Lakeith Stanfield, on the other hand, was nominated for neither. So Kaluuya is clearly the favored nominee of the two.
One could make the case for Sacha Baron Cohen. He also won a Golden Globe (for a different film than what he’s nominated for here, but still). And his is the most showy and mannered performance of The Trial of the Chicago 7. If Trial were to win anything on Oscar night, it would be this (or maybe screenplay, but that too seems unlikely). I just don’t see Kaluuya losing this one, and the only thing that would change my mind is the SAG going to someone else.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)