It is good to preface the Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay categories with the usual spiel about the Writers Guild Awards (WGA). It has been very common, since 2000, for the WGA award and the Academy Award to go to the same movie in these categories. There is the occasional split, but there are usually a reasonable explanation as to why this occurs (for example, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King pulled off a massive sweep at the Oscars due to the Academy wanting to honor the series as a whole, while the WGA gave it to a much smaller film, American Splendor).
The thing about Academy Award acting categories is that, while they are often some of the most high profile awards of the night, they are also some of the least exciting from a prediction standpoint. Of all categories, the acting categories are usually locked up long before the ceremony begins. In recent history in particular, the same acting nominees usually steamroll through awards season, winning every award leading up to the Oscars. Of course, there is always room for upset. But even so, entering the Oscars it is generally fairly clear who the top one or two contenders are.
This year’s Best Actor category is a little strange for reasons that are bittersweet.
You might think that this category is all wrapped up now that the Golden Globes have happened. But the Globes are not the be-all end-all predictor of the Oscars. This is particularly true in acting categories, where the campaigning to the Globes’ HFPA looks much different than it does for the Academy. Each year, there seems to be at least one off-the-beaten-path choice by the Globes in the acting categories. And this year, that left-field win appears to be from the Best Actress category.
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.