Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Oscar Spotlight: Best Actor

It still feels too early to start ironing out real Oscar predictions, and therefore I’ve decided to take a brief look at the acting categories, one per week, throughout October and November. Many buzzed-about films have yet to be seen, and more may still emerge in the next two months. For now, here’s a brief rundown, sight unseen in some cases, of the likeliest contenders at this point. Please feel free to add your own thoughts as well as to point out any actors I may have missed in the comments section.

Two in a row?

Colin Firth (The King’s Speech)
Last year, Firth was the only mention his film got, whereas this time around it seems like this may be the film to beat in terms of traditional Oscar bait. He didn’t really have a shot last year, and now he’s at the front of the pack in a role about someone with a handicap in a period piece produced by Weinstein. He’s the frontrunner at this point.

Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
He finally won last year on his fifth nomination, thirty-eight years after he first earned a rod for “The Last Picture Show.” Now, he’s back in what should be a showy role in the Coen brothers’ remake of the 1969 John Wayne film. Two important notes: Wayne won the Oscar for this part, and the Coen brothers have helmed two Best Picture nominees (and one winner) in the past three years. While it’s highly unlikely that he’ll win again, he’s a good bet for a repeat nomination.

George Clooney (The American)
This film may have slipped under the radar, but Clooney has collected three nominations in the past five years. While his film probably won’t earn any other accolades, Clooney managed to win back in 2005 for “Syriana,” which earned only a screenplay nod in addition to his mention. He’s the unlikeliest of the bunch, yet he could still surprise.

Carried by their film?

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is a great performance – that’s not really up for debate. But it may not be perceived as seriously as some of the older, more esteemed actors in this category, and the film may perform well without any of its players being recognized. Still, the film is so popular that Eisenberg should ride its wave to a nomination.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception)
This film was one of summer’s most popular flicks, and like the controversial “Sopranos” finale, its fans should speak louder than its detractors. DiCaprio’s role is hardly the strongest in the film (pick Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt instead), but DiCaprio is a three-time Oscar nominee who last made it in for a big action movie with a brain, “Blood Diamond.” Though it’s a long shot, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility. He also has “Shutter Island,” which probably won’t earn any nominations.

Ben Affleck (The Town)
Though he won an Oscar for penning “Good Will Hunting” in 1997 and came close to being nominated for his performance in “Hollywoodland” in 2006, Affleck has never actually been nominated for an acting Oscar, and I suspect this won’t be his year. “The Town” earned strong reviews, but even if voters do like Affleck’s turn, it’s hardly Oscar-worthy.

The usual suspects (a.k.a. past nominees):

Robert Duvall (Get Low)
I discussed this six-time nominee’s chances in yesterday’s Wednesday Oscar Watch in his role as a hermit who wants to plan a funeral party for himself. Peter O’Toole made it in at age 74 for “Venus” a few years, but he was still Oscar-less, both then and now. The 79-year-old Duvall won way back in 1983, and that only means that he probably won’t win. He should be able to get nominated if the unseen contenders don’t perform or pick up buzz as expected. Right now it looks uncertain.

Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version)
He came very close to nominations in 2003 (“American Splendor”) and 2004 (“Sideways”), and it was only in 2005 that he finally got nominated for “Cinderella Man.” He has yet to return since then, while other actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman have earned multiple nominations in the interim. This dramedy should provide the showy role Giamatti needs to re-enter the race, and his chances are mainly due to whether the film is received well in the lead-up to its one-week run in December in New York and Los Angeles.

Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Bardem won his first Oscar for an English-language role, in the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men.” Now he’s back in his native language in his native language in Mexico’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film. Acting in another language, especially for a former Oscar winner, shouldn’t be too much of a detriment; it will all just depend on what kind of domestic competition he has to face.

Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)
Gosling was the underdog nominee in 2006 for “Half Nelson,” and now he’s the romantic lead opposite another former nominee, Michelle Williams. Apparently, the film has an NC-17 rating, which would likely prove problematic and serve as a detractor. Still, Gosling has been doing some terrific work over the past few years, and he’s definitely going to earn another nomination at some point.

Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter)
In a way, Wahlberg’s first Oscar nomination isn’t quite relevant, since it was for a brief, hilarious performance in a Best Picture winner. Now, he’s taking on a dramatic lead in a sports film that will likely invoke positive memories of Oscar movies “The Wrestler” and “Million Dollar Baby.” The film does look good, and Wahlberg is definitely an actor that Oscar voters like, so he’s a decent bet.

Michael Douglas (Solitary Man)
This film flew completely under the radar despite Douglas initially being touted as a contender, and it’s only because Douglas has been in the news lately that he might be able to score another nod. While a nomination shouldn’t be attributed only to his struggle with cancer, that and his peculiar placement in the supporting category for “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps” are the biggest factors in his favor. I don’t think it will ultimately amount to anything.

First-time possibilities:

James Franco (127 Hours)
Franco is the newbie with the best shot considering he’s been close to a nomination recently, with buzz for “Milk” and a Golden Globe nom for “Pineapple Express" in 2008, and the fact that he’s starring in what’s essentially a one-man show (I’m seeing it tonight) directed by Danny Boyle, who helmed 2008’s Best Picture “Slumdog Millionaire.” Unless his film tanks, which it won’t, he’s a shoo-in and probably Firth’s toughest competition.

Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole)
He earned a Golden Globe nomination for the Oscar-snubbed 2006 film “Thank You for Smoking” and hasn’t had a great role since, with the exception of the popular Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.” Now, he’s back and opposite a two-time nominee from the early 2000s, Nicole Kidman, is this heartbreaking and serious drama about a couple dealing with a devastating loss (and directed by John Cameron Mitchell). A contender? Yes. A likely nominee? Probably not.

Stephen Dorff (Somewhere)
I know almost nothing about Dorff and have barely seen any of his movies, but having the lead role in Sofia Coppola’s film could change everything for him. Funnyman Bill Murray earned his first Oscar nomination for Coppola’s Oscar-winning “Lost in Translation,” and this film appears to be very similar in tone and theme. He’s a dark horse, and his chances will depend on how the film is received.

Come back next week for a look at Best Actress!

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