Best Actor Nominations: A Short Synopsis of 2023’s Top 5 Leading Men

By Kayla Ellis, Staff Writer

The 2023 Grammys were held recently and, much like the first flurry of snow or a sunburn in May, they began a new season: the 2023 award season.

The Oscar nominees are out and the Best Male Actor category demonstrates a distinct fission that is ripping through Hollywood this year; the age gap. Instead of having a group of 5 middle aged men with a token Anthony Hopkins-type old guy thrown in there, there is a pretty distinct rift among the 2023 nominees.

This year’s line-up can be placed into two groups that I like to call “The Old Guard” and “The New.” Basically, if my mom could recognize a picture of the nominee, they are Old Guard. If I had to tell her who he is and why he’s my phone background, they’re New.


Colin Farrell: Back in the early 2000s, some people considered Colin Farrell the handsome, Irish bad boy of Hollywood because of his hard partying and countless flings. Others considered him the handsome, Irish bad boy of Hollywood because of his terrible accent work and countless box office flops. Here in 2023, he is still handsome and Irish, but the jury was on whether or not he could act. Farrell is continuing his redemption arc that started with “In Bruges” through another Martin McDonagh movie, “Banshees of Inisherin.” He plays a kind-hearted (yet dim-witted) man on a small Irish island who has been rebuked by his only friend (Brendan Gleeson). Both Farrell’s character and the way he plays him are somber, reflective, tainted by a certain sadness, and yet tinged by an undeniable sweetness. While the actor’s personal life has been in the spotlight for decades (with romances spanning from Britney Spears to Elizabeth Taylor), he reached a career high in 2023 with his Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Colin Farrell, Gage Skidmore, Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Colin Farrell, Gage Skidmore, Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Brendan Fraser: Pulled from the depths of ‘90s heart-throb purgatory, Fraser scored an Oscar nomination for his first big role in about 20 years. If you think you don’t know who Brendan Fraser is, just check the DVD collection you used to keep in the car. He’s probably in there as a wise-cracking, swash-buckling adventurer trying to kill “The Mummy” or he’s a loin-clothed, vine-swinging “George of the Jungle.” This year, Fraser has gained traction for his performance as an obese hoarder trying to rekindle his relationship with his daughter in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale;” a role that has also given him social media recognition due to his tendency to cry when he’s the subject of excessive standing ovations. Despite being nominated for just three Oscars, “The Whale” is the vehicle that has officially canonized the long-awaited Brendan Fraser-assaince of the 2020s.

Brendan Fraser at GalaxyCon Raleigh in 2022, Super Festivals, Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Brendan Fraser at GalaxyCon Raleigh in 2022, Super Festivals, Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bill Nighy: Despite his distinct looks and caustic British accent, Bill Nighy has been disappearing in roles for decades. He’s played token characters in hit series like “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” yet is probably best known for being a Mick Jagger-esque celebrity in “Love Actually.” He’s an enigma (read: “good actor”) who somehow fares equally as well in the comedic “Shaun of the Dead” as in the tear-jerking “About Time.” The role for which he is nominated is the grandchild of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” meaning it’s a screenplay adapted from a screenplay adapted from the book. That’s probably why you have never heard of it. Despite the movie’s message being old, it is successful in its job. “Living” makes you not want to die. You can’t say that about some movies these days. Nighy, despite his nomination, will promptly be forgotten by most viewers and will perennially be “that guy from that thing.”


Austin Butler: My mom knows who Elvis is, but she doesn’t know Austin Butler. Just because Austin can’t differentiate between the two doesn’t mean that we can’t. So far along the awards campaign, Butler has made headlines vastly funnier by retaining the Elvis accent that he used for the movie: a deep Southern drawl that sounds as if “Gone With the Wind” mated with a Blues Brother. It doesn’t seem like he’ll be giving it up any time soon, which is scary because he’s currently filming the “Dune” sequel. Despite the critiques of Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” Austin Butler’s transformation from Hannah Montana’s love interest into the King of Rock and Roll was an unforeseen 180 degrees that has garnered audience and Academy acclaim.

Austin Butler at the Elvis Premier in Sydney, Australia, Eva Rinaldi, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Austin Butler at the Elvis Premier in Sydney, Australia, Eva Rinaldi, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Paul Mescal: I can’t lie, I know more about Paul Mescal’s personal life than about his film career. He’s nominated for playing a single father in “Aftersun,” which is ironic because, after his break-up with Phoebe Bridgers, I feel like a child of divorce. Known mostly for being hot, Paul Mescal does have a few acting credits under his belt like the Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s dreamlike psychological drama “The Lost Daughter.” And that’s pretty much it. Seriously. Before “Aftersun”, “The Lost Daughter” was the only full-length film Paul Mescal had acted in. He’s the antithesis of Bill Nighy. Bill is old, seasoned, and British. When you see him, you know you’ve seen him before in something good but you just don’t know what. Paul is young, almost inexperienced, and Irish. You know you’ll see him again, but you just don’t know when. 

Striking Similarities:

While the nominated actors come from varied backgrounds and play vastly different roles, some actors share distinct similarities.

Brendan Fraser and Colin Farrell: Guest starred on “Scrubs” in the early 2000s (in seasons 4 and 3, respectively).

Colin Farrell and Paul Mescal: Both handsome Irishmen who have played characters named Padraic who live on an island starting with “Inish-” in scripts both written and directed by Martin McDonagh- Farrell in “Banshees of Inisherin” and Mescal in the Dublin-based play “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”

Austin Butler and Brendan Fraser: Started off as teenage heart-throbs and now star in roles where they don heavy prosthetics for which the application team is currently nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

Colin Farrell and Austin Butler: Play characters that are betrayed and have a dramatic scene where they yell in front of a bunch of people.

Bill Nighy, Brendan Fraser, and Paul Mescal: Play fathers struggling with their relationships with their children. 

Special Mention: Ke Huy Quan

While I have only talked about the nominees for Best Male Actor, Ke Huy Quan’s career epitomizes the contrast between Old and New that is seen throughout the Oscars this year. So, despite being a Best Supporting Male nominee, I want to mention him. He’s nominated this year for his role as Waymond Wang in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a role originally written for Jackie Chan. Like Fraser, Quan has been out of the acting business since 2002, yet his performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” makes you forget who that Jackie Chan guy is. While hurtling through the multiverse, he switches from meek dad fighting to keep his laundry business alive to movie star to martial artist in the blink of a headset. So, technically, he should be New Guard because he hasn’t acted in 20 years and is now at the forefront of an A24 movie and practically no one over 30 knows what A24 is. However, if you don’t recognize Ke Huy Quan now, you might recognize him when he was a lot younger. He was Data in “The Goonies” and Short Round in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” “EEAAO” was the first movie he was contacted about when he decided he wanted to start acting again. Ke Huy Quan came out of retirement inspired by and with the support of his friends and now has an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Male Actor. Even if he doesn’t win, he had a great time getting there. 

Regardless of who wins the Oscar for Best Male Actor this year, the nominations are already sending out a few clear messages:

  1. The Irish are getting stronger.
  2. Poor father-daughter relationships are award-bait.
  3. If you haven’t been nominated for an Oscar yet, wait 20 years.
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Author: Gettysburgian Staff

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