Who Will Win Best Actor at the 2021 Oscars?

Will Chadwick Boseman win a posthumous prize?

ma rainey's black bottom, chadwick boseman
Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' | Netflix
Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' | Netflix

Who will succeed the Joker? Last year, Joaquin Phoenix won his Oscar as the Clown Prince of Crime. There are no famous comic-book villains in the Best Actor race this year, nor are there the kind of typical Oscar blockbusters in the Best Picture running, but there are plenty of men who have given astounding performances vying for the prize. Let's break it down. (Our Best Actress predictions are this way.)

The frontrunner: Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ever since Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was first screened for critics, it seemed likely that Boseman would win a posthumous Oscar for the role of Levee, an ambitious, loquacious trumpeter with an Icarus quality. It's well deserved—the performance is incredible—but also a tribute to all the work he will never get to do after his untimely death from cancer last year.

riz ahmed
Riz Ahmed in 'Sound of Metal' | Amazon Studios

Likely nominees:

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal 

Ahmed, long hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation, gets a showcase in Sound of Metal, playing a heavy metal drummer and former addict who has to reevaluate his life after losing his hearing. He's already won a number of critics awards. 

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Coming back into the Oscar race after last year's supporting nomination for The Two Popes, Hopkins terrifyingly and tragically brings to life a man reeling from the effects of dementia. It's a role that couldn't be farther away from the one he won his trophy for nearly 30 years ago, Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.  

Gary Oldman, Mank

Oldman's probably too recent a winner, for Darkest Hour in 2018, to win again for Mank, and David Fincher's look at old Hollywood isn't the most exciting of contenders. But appearances at the Golden Globes and the SAGs should guarantee him at least a spot. 

Also in the running:

Steven Yeun, Minari 

Yeun should be a shoe-in based on quality of acting alone, but the last spot in this race seems relatively up for grabs, at least for now. He got a SAG nomination, which is a good sign, and hopefully voters gravitate toward Minari in general, in which he plays a Korean immigrant trying to start a farm in Arkansas. 

Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

If you had talked to me before the Globe and the SAG nominations were released, I would have said Lindo is a frontrunner this year. But he was disgracefully snubbed by both those awards bodies for his turn as a Trump-loving Vietnam vet. Perhaps the Oscars will realize the error in that. 

The wildcards:

There are a couple of other actors who could break through. Leslie Odom Jr. has been the representative from One Night in Miami in the supporting categories, but Kingsley Ben-Adir, as Malcolm X, could break through in the lead. Meanwhile, Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian earned a dramatic Golden Globe nomination, beating out the likes of Yeun and Lindo. And then there's Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat. Hey, you never know. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.
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