Adam Driver – “Annette,” “The Last Duel,” “House of Gucci”
Driver has two acting Oscar nominations under his belt: one for his supporting role in 2018’s “BlacKkKlansman” as a white decoy who impersonates a Black policeman and as a lead in 2019’s “Marriage Story” as a theater director whose is going through a contentious divorce. Even though he could qualify for a trio of films this year, critics and audiences haven’t been very keen on his output in 2021.
Andrew Garfield – “tick, tick … Boom!,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye”
This actor earned his first Academy Award chance for his lead role as Desmond Doss, a pacifist combat medic during World War II in 2016’s Mel Gibson-directed battle film “Hacksaw Ridge.” While he tries to bring to life the money-grubbing televangelist Jim Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Chastain overshadows him as his colorful and more sympathetic wife. However, Garfield outdoes himself in the autobiographical musical based on the late “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson’s life. Not only does he play the piano and sing, he also demonstrates a fine mastery of swimming in indoor pools. It helps that a master of musicals like Lin-Manual Miranda, in his film directing debut, is there to keep him afloat.
Richard Jenkins – “The Humans,” “Nightmare Alley”
This much-admired character actor earned a lead nomination for 2007’s “The Visitor” as well as a supporting bid for his work in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2017’s “The Shape of Water.” He reunites with the del Toro on “Alley,” but he is more favored to win for his role as the flawed patriarch who upsets his family’s Thanksgiving gathering in “The Humans.”
Rooney Mara – “Nightmare Alley”
This actress was nominated for her lead role as the rebellious computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” She also earned a Supporting Actress spot for her department store clerk in 1952 who engages in an affair with Cate Blanchett’s rich and glamorous title character in 2015’s “Carol.” Mara plays Cooper’s virtuous and loyal companion in her upcoming film.