HOLLYWOOD—Who is going to take the Oscar for Best Actor? This is a race that I feel is not as clear cut as people suspect, I think it is a two-person race with a few contenders that should be delivering more chatter. Our nominees include Paul Giamatti “The Holdovers,” Bradley Cooper “Maestro,” Colman Domingo “Rustin,” Cillian Murphy “Oppenheimer” and Jeffrey Wright “American Fiction.”

Domingo delivers a rousing turn as Civil Rights Activist Baynard Rustin and in any other year might be the prime contender for the prize. The problem is that his film is not heavily touted as a must-see movie and it hasn’t garnered a ton of traction this awards season like other contenders like “The Holdovers,” “Oppenheimer” and “American Fiction” which earned Best Picture nominations from multiples award shows. Domingo has had a stellar year with his performance in “Rustin,” as well as the modern-day take on “The Color Purple,” but I feel his time may come with his upcoming role in the Michael Jackson biopic.

Cooper, he is proving not only to be a force in front of the camera, but also behind the camera in his latest flick “Maestro” as famed composer Leonard Bernstein. His performance has been heralded as one of Cooper’s best to date. The only caveat is the performances in the film by Cooper and his co-star Carey Mulligan are incredible, but the movie itself is not as solid. You can have great performances in an ok movie win major accolades, but your chances are strengthened when you have a phenomenal movie with Oscar-caliber performances.

Do I expect Cooper to obtain that Oscar now that he has been nominated for Best Actor four times and Supporting Actor once? I wish it were the case, but not in 2024. Not to mention, Cooper has amassed nominations for Best Picture and Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay for films like “A Star is Born” and “American Sniper.” Cooper’s time is coming, but 2024 is not his year.

That brings us to Jeffrey Wright who is a veteran in the industry who has never been nominated, but delivers a star turn in “American Fiction” that is incredible to watch. It is a performance that sucks you in and is just exhilarating to watch from start to finish. He is the dark horse in this category, one that people don’t consider him having much of a fighting chance, but there is a chance Wright is the victor if Giamatti and Murphy (the two frontrunners split the vote).

So let’s chat about Murphy, who before I saw “The Holdovers” I noted there was no chance he didn’t win the Oscar because he captivated the hell out of me in “Oppenheimer.” It was a slow, simmering burn of a performance where he commanded that film from start to finish and blazed a ton of mayhem along the way. As John Oppenheimer, I was educated a bit on a very complicated man, a man who changed this country, but at the same time was persecuted for it as well, and it breaks your heart to watch it unfold in the process.

Before “The Holdovers” was released towards the end of 2023, Murphy would have had the Oscar. I loved this quiet movie from start to finish and it’s a career turn for Giamatti who’s an underrated actor who has delivered fantastic work for years, um “Sideways,” “Cinderella Man” to name a few, and now his quiet, yet stern portrayal of a teacher who is lonely yet struggling inside just connects with you as a viewer.

If there is an edge between Giamatti, it is that his performance delivers an emotional punch for the viewer that Murphy’s doesn’t. You feel the emotion of Giamatti’s character and his pain. With “Oppenheimer” we can feel the emotion in Murphy’s performance, but we don’t actually see him release it to deliver the icing on the cake. This is Paul Giamatti’s year, but if an upset occurs it will be from Jeffrey Wright, not Cillian Murphy because Murphy and Giamatti are neck and neck for the top prize if you ask me.