If there’s a lock in the major Oscar categories, it’s Gary Oldman portraying Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.” The field of five nominees is a rich one, but too many checkboxes point to Oldman this time around.
Oldman is a sturdy yet ranging, veteran actor. (It’s a long resumé to peruse.) He has had one other Oscar nomination, a rather staid lead in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.” “Darkest Hour” provided Oldman with the plum role of his career.
He plays Winston Churchill during the height of Britain’s crisis during World War II. Churchill was not only a hugely tested world leader, he was a force of nature, an unavoidable center of attention. He even had a vulnerable side, which he revealed sparingly and mostly to his wife. Oldman, almost unrecognizable under heavy makeup, struck perfect chords in an iconic part.
Big names are competing with Oldman. If he was prone to worry, it might be about Daniel Day-Lewis. Not only has he won an Oscar three of the other five times he’s been nominated. He’s one of those actors to whom other actors bow with unparalleled respect. And Day-Lewis has declared that “Phantom Thread” will be his last film.
Day-Lewis plays an impeccable, self-assured man with some accessible chinks in his armor. Brilliant as he is, he will not be given an unprecedented fourth Best Actor Oscar for a peculiar role in a curious, however ambitious, little film. (The only other four-time-Oscar actor is Katharine Hepburn.) Voters probably think the 60-year-old will unretire some day for a role that cannot be denied an Oscar.
The big name of Denzel Washington may have ridden his stature onto this year’s list of nominees, but his title role in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” isn’t a contender for Gold.
The film doesn’t quite work, although Denzel gets to play an earnest oddball with an attitude and ideas worth listening to. He’s a talented lawyer so long as he stays in the background where his lack of social skills (perhaps on the autistic spectrum) trip him up. Of course, the story plops him in the foreground.
The nicely appealing role in this group of five nominees (not exactly a description for an Oscar winner) is the coming-of-age teen in “Call Me by Your Name.” Timothée Chalamet -- who also has a nicely appealing role in the Oscar nominated “Lady Bird” -- deserves to be well regarded for tapping the intelligence and sensitivity and balance in his character. Perhaps it’s a nomination-worthy role in a keep your eye on this young man sort of way. Same as the praise for the movie, Chalamet maximizes all the pleasing, not-too-challenging choices applied to this film project.
Far more interesting is Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out.” If they remake “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Kaluuya would be well cast in a contemporary version of that film. He radiates characteristics that manage, even transcend, racial tension.
Meanwhile, the White people in “Get Out” know very well who’s coming to dinner, and Kaluuya bumps down the not-much-funhouse corridors to horror very well.
Could Daniel Kaluuya upset Gary Oldman’s sure bet for Oscar? The lesser prestige in Kaluuya’s horror picture turn, even an impressive horror picture turn, will not derail Gary Oldman’s trip to an Academy Award.