Oscars Predictions: Best Actor – Riz Ahmed and John David Washington Rise In the Race

Clayton Davis
·10-min read

Variety's Awards Circuit is home to the official predictions for the upcoming Oscars from Film Awards Editor Clayton Davis. Following Academy Awards history, buzz, news, reviews and sources, the Oscar predictions are updated regularly with the current year's contenders in all categories. Variety's Awards Circuit Prediction schedule consists of four phases, running all year long: Draft, Pre-Season, Regular Season and Post Season. Eligibility calendar and dates of awards will determine how long each phase lasts and will be displayed next to revision date.

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UPDATED: Jan. 14, 2021

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) becomes the leading winner for best actor statues, including the Gotham Awards. He’s building serious momentum that could make him a spoiler in the race, perhaps even overtaking presumed frontrunners Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) and Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”).

(Awards Circuit Winners Chart (2020-2021)


  1. Chadwick Boseman
    "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Levee

    DIRECTOR: George C. Wolfe
    SYNOPSIS: Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable "Mother of the Blues". Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play..
    STARRING: Chadwick Boseman, Dusan Brown, Jonny Coyne, Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Taylour Paige, Michael Potts, Jeremy Shamos, Glynn Turman

  2. Anthony Hopkins
    "The Father" (Sony Pictures Classics)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 5 nominations, 1 win (1991's "The Silence of the Lambs" in best actor)
    ROLE: Anthony

    DIRECTOR: Florian Zeller
    SYNOPSIS: A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages. As he tries to make sense of his changing circumstances, he begins to doubt his loved ones, his own mind and even the fabric of his reality.
    STARRING: Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Anthony Hopkins, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams

  3. Riz Ahmed
    "Sound of Metal" (Amazon Studios)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Ruben

    DIRECTOR: Darius Marder
    SYNOPSIS: A heavy-metal drummer's life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.
    STARRING: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Almaric, Lauren Ridloff

  4. Delroy Lindo
    "Da 5 Bloods" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Paul

    DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
    SYNOPSIS: Four African American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.
    STARRING: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Jonathan Majors, Chadwick Boseman, Isiah Witlock, Jr,, Norm Lewis

  5. Steven Yeun
    "Minari" (A24)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Jacob

    DIRECTOR: Lee Isaac Chung
    SYNOPSIS: A Korean family moves to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s.
    STARRING: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-jung Youn, Will Patton


  1. John David Washington
    "Malcolm & Marie" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Malcolm

    DIRECTOR: Sam Levinson
    SYNOPSIS: A director and his girlfriend's relationship is tested after they return home from his movie premiere and await critics' responses.
    STARRING: John David Washington, Zendaya

  2. Gary Oldman
    "Mank" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 2 nominations, 1 win (2017's "Darkest Hour")
    ROLE: Herman J. Mankiewicz

    DIRECTOR: David Fincher
    SYNOPSIS: 1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles.
    STARRING: Tom Burke, Lily Collins, Joseph Cross, Charles Dance, Monika Gossman, Ferdinand Kingsley, Jamie McShane, Tuppence Middleton, Toby Leonard Moore, Gary Oldman, Tom Pelphrey, Amanda Seyfried, Sam Troughton

  3. Tom Hanks
    "News of the World" (Universal Pictures)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 6 nominations, 2 wins (1993's "Philadelphia" and 1994's "Forrest Gump")
    ROLE: Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd

    DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
    SYNOPSIS: A Civil War veteran agrees to deliver a girl, taken by the Kiowa people years ago, to her aunt and uncle, against her will. They travel hundreds of miles and face grave dangers as they search for a place that either can call home.
    STARRING: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel, Elizabeth Marvel, Mare Winningham, Michael Angelo Covino, Ray McKinnon

  4. Kingsley Ben-Adir
    "One Night in Miami" (Amazon Studios)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Malcolm X

    DIRECTOR: Regina King
    SYNOPSIS: A fictional account of one incredible night in 1964, where four icons of activism, sports and music – Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke – gathered, discussing their roles in the civil rights movement and cultural upheaval of the ’60s.
    STARRING: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom, Jr.

  5. Lakeith Stanfield
    "Judas and the Black Messiah" (HBO Max/Warner Bros.)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: William O'Neal

    DIRECTOR: Shaka King
    SYNOPSIS: The story of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O'Neal.
    STARRING: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons, Martin Sheen, Dominique Thorne, Algee Smith, Lil Rel Howery, Jermaine Fowler


  1. Tahar Rahim
    "The Mauritanian" (STXfilms)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Mohamedou Ould Salahi

    DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
    SYNOPSIS: A detainee at the U.S military's Guantanamo Bay detention center is held without charges for over a decade and seeks help from a defense attorney for his release.
    STARRING:Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shailene Woodley

  2. Sacha Baron Cohen
    "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" (Amazon Studios)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 1 nomination (2006's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" in adapted screenplay)
    ROLE: Borat Sagdiyev

    DIRECTOR: Jason Woliner
    SYNOPSIS: A satire on Trump’s America that follows a Kazakh journalist who’s sent to America to deliver a gift from his government to Vice President Mike Pence. Along the way, his worldview is turned upside down and steadfast beliefs are challenged by his teenage daughter.
    STARRING: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova

  3. Colin Firth
    "Supernova" (Bleecker Street)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 2 nominations, 1 wins (2010's "The King's Speech")
    ROLE: Sam

    DIRECTOR: Harry Macqueen
    : Sam and Tusker are traveling across England in their old RV to visit friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have.
    : Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen, Nina Marlin

  4. Ben Affleck
    "The Way Back" (Warner Bros.)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 2 nominations, 2 wins (1997's "Good Will Hunting" in original screenplay and 2012's "Argo" in best picture)
    ROLE: Jack Cunningham

    DIRECTOR: Gavin O'Connor
    : Jack Cunningham was a high school basketball phenom who walked away from the game, forfeiting his future. Years later, when he reluctantly accepts a coaching job at his alma mater, he may get one last shot at redemption..
    : Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar

  5. Tom Holland
    "Cherry" (Apple TV Plus)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Cherry

    DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
    SYNOPSIS: An Army medic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder becomes a serial bank robber after an addiction to drugs puts him in debt.
    STARRING: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Kelli Berglund, Thomas Lennon

  6. John Magaro
    "First Cow" (A24)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Cookie

    DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardt
    SYNOPSIS: A skilled cook has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon, though he only finds true connection with a Chinese immigrant also seeking his fortune. Soon the two collaborate on a successful business.
    STARRING: John Magaro, Orion Lee

  7. Denzel Washington
    "The Little Things" (HBO Max/Warner Bros.)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 9 nominations, 2 wins (1989's "Glory" and 2001's "Training Day")
    ROLE: Joe Deacon

    DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock
    SYNOPSIS: Two cops track down a serial killer.
    STARRING: Denzel Washington, Jared Leto, Rami Malek

  8. George Clooney
    "The Midnight Sky" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 8 nominations, 2 wins (2005's "Syriana" in supporting actor and 2012's "Argo" in best picture)
    ROLE: Augustine Lofthouse

    DIRECTOR: George Clooney
    SYNOPSIS: This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine, a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
    STARRING: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone, Caoilinn Springall

  9. Jude Law
    "The Nest" (IFC Films)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 2 nominations (1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and 2003's "Cold Mountain")
    ROLE: Rory O'Hara

    DIRECTOR: Sean Durkin
    SYNOPSIS: Life for an entrepreneur and his American family begins to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor..
    STARRING: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell, Tanya Allen

  10. Andy Samberg
    "Palm Springs" (Hulu/Neon)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Nyles

    DIRECTOR: Max Barbakow
    SYNOPSIS: When carefree Nyles and reluctant maid of honor Sarah have a chance encounter at a Palm Springs wedding, things get complicated as they are unable to escape the venue, themselves, or each other.
    STARRING: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin


  1. Dev Patel
    "The Personal History of David Copperfield" (Searchlight Pictures)

    OSCAR HISTORY: 1 nomination (2016's "Lion")
    ROLE: David Copperfield

    DIRECTOR: Armando Iannucci
    SYNOPSIS: A modern take on Charles Dickens's classic tale of a young orphan who is able to triumph over many obstacles.
    STARRING: Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Peter Capaldi, Gwendoline Christie

  2. Adarsh Gouravi
    "The White Tiger" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Balram

    DIRECTOR: Ramin Bahrani
    SYNOPSIS: The epic journey of a poor Indian driver who must use his wit and cunning to break free from servitude to his rich masters and rise to the top of the heap.
    STARRING: Adarsh Gourav, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rajkummar Rao, Mahesh Manjrekar

  3. Jesse Plemons
    "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" (Netflix)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Jake

    DIRECTOR: Charlie Kaufman
    SYNOPSIS: Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents' secluded farm. Upon arriving, she comes to question everything she thought she knew about him, and herself.
    STARRING: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, David Thewlis, Toni Collette

  4. John David Washington
    "Tenet" (Warner Bros.)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: The Protagonist

    DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
    SYNOPSIS: Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
    STARRING: John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh

  5. Peter Gerety
    "Working Man" (Brainstorm Media)

    OSCAR HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Allery Parkes

    DIRECTOR: Robert Jury
    SYNOPSIS: When a factory closure threatens a small Rust Belt town, one older factory worker continues going to his former job every day, despite the shutdown. His peculiar decision has a profound effect on the whole community, though his actions yield an outcome that no one ever expected..
    STARRING: Peter Gerety, Talia Shire, Billy Brown

† = no release date scheduled / could be delayed / may not be eligible
†† = could be campaigned in lead or supporting categories / original or adapted screenplay categories

The Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars is Hollywood’s most prestigious artistic award in the film industry. The most awarded films in Oscar history are “Ben-Hur,” “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” at 11 statuettes. The most nominated films in Academy history are “All About Eve,” “Titanic” and “La La Land” at 14. “La La Land” is the only film of the three to have lost best picture. The biggest Oscar “losers,” meaning most nominated and walk away with zero awards are 1977’s “The Turning Point” and 1985’s “The Color Purple” at 11 each.

Academy Awards Predictions (All Categories)

2021 Golden Globes Predictions (Film)

2021 SAG Awards Predictions (Film)

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