OSCAR: Vets Spotlight Strong Best Actor Field

After a 3-part series highlighting the 2010 Best Picture hopefuls and their realistic Oscar chances, I now turn to the acting races beginning with the men in contention for their lead performances. Of course there is always debate over what constitutes a leading vs supporting role and indeed  the line does get blurred in some instances for competitive reasons. For instance, in 1991, Anthony Hopkins probably could have gone either way for his Hannibal Lecter in Silence Of The Lambs but went for lead and won. Conversely, after toying with a push for lead in 2005’s Syriana, George Clooney made the strategic switch to the less competitive supporting category and won. Interestingly, he faced off against Brokeback Mountain’s co-lead Jake Gyllenhaal who dropped down to supporting category in order to avoid facing off against his co-star Heath Ledger who was eventually nominated for lead actor. Over the course of this young awards season, there has been some buzz here and there about the category status of leading men like Wall Street: Money Never Sleep’s Michael Douglas, The Fighter’s Christian Bale, The Kings Speech’s Geoffrey Rush, Fair Game’s Sean Penn, and Another Year’s Jim Broadbent. All of them have now comfortably settled into supporting mode – at least in the eyes of the studios campaigning them. As far as the Academy is concerned, the ultimate decision will be up to the actors’ peer group and that branch is always capable of surprise. Here is the rundown of those who remain firmly committed to going after the top prize for Best Actor In A Leading Role:

COLIN FIRTH in THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Co)As the stuttering King George VI,  Firth faces a difficult language challenge that he flawlessly pulls off while delivering a 3-dimensional portrait of a man who overcomes all odds to lead his country in a time of war. OSCAR CHANCE: After getting his feet wet in the awards season game with his Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning performance in A Single Man, Firth seems ready to go for all the gold this time around. The fact that the movie is likely to be a frontrunner can only help his chances here. At this early stage, it could be Firth’s to lose.

JAMES FRANCO in 127 HOURS (Fox Searchlight)As Aron Ralston, the extreme sports aficionado who cuts off his own arm when he winds up between a rock and a hard place, Franco is virtually never off screen and has the kind of tour-de-force role that makes people stand up and take notice. OSCAR CHANCE: Would seem a shoo-in for a nomination if queasy voters don’t pass out while watching their screeners (which keeps happening at the Industry screenings). Depending on the movie’s fate, Franco could be disarming competition on the final ballot, too.

ROBERT DUVALL in GET LOW (Sony Pictures Classics)An Oscar winner in this category in 1983 for Tender Mercies, Duvall is an actor’s actor who is back in a strong leading role and runs with it. If the performance can regain momentum from its summer opening, Duvall should be back in the game for the 7th time. OSCAR CHANCE: The film was a strong specialty success for Sony Pictures Classics which plans to go all out for their star. Duvall is on the circuit working it, too, so his Get Low chances seem high if he can keep the Big Mo going.

JEFF BRIDGES in TRUE GRIT (Paramount) – Very few have yet seen the Coen Brothers take on this western classic but coming off his big Best Actor win for last year’s last minute stealth entry, Crazy Heart and back firmly in character mode  Bridges’ interpretation of Rooster Cogburn may be well timed. OSCAR CHANCE: Only two other actors in history, Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks, have been able to pull off back-to-back Best Actor wins  but several have done the win/nomination  combo and that may be what Bridges settles for here.  John Wayne won the 1969 Best Actor prize for the original and no actor has managed the feat of duplicating an Oscar win by playing the same role in a remake.

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO in SHUTTER ISLAND (Paramount) and INCEPTION (Warner Bros) – To be or not to be, that is the question for Leo. To be nominated for Shutter Island , a  February release or Inception, a July release or to be totally forgotten  by actors with short memories. Both Leo studios are planning a big push and he’s got highly emotional moments in each but the big question is does he cancel himself out? OSCAR CHANCE: This guy is overdue but runs the risk of being completely overlooked  because unfortunately he is really good in both. Shutter shows the wider range and Martin Scorsese directed him into a previous nomination for The Aviator so it’s probably the best bet if he just wants to get behind one pony in this race and avoid the split votes.

MARK WAHLBERG in THE FIGHTER (Paramount) - As ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward, Massachusettes native Wahlberg is jumping into the Oscar ring with another Boston-bred character in this emotional true life boxing story. His first nomination came in 2006 for supporting in another Boston-based project, The Departed so his home turf has been good to him.  OSCAR CHANCE: The film is still largely a mystery but has nevertheless generated strong  early buzz for co-stars Christian Bale,Amy Adams and Melissa Leo but they are all in support. Whether  Wahlberg can carry the flag in the lead category against stiffer competition  is a question which should begin to be answered once Paramount starts screenings in earnest next week.

BEN AFFLECK in THE TOWN (Warner Bros) - Affleck wrote and directed himself into his finest performance in years in this gritty crime drama also set in the Boston area. Another native using his hometown for inspiration , Affleck hit all the right notes in a film that has been one of the Fall’s big adult success stories.  OSCAR CHANCE: The actors branch love fellow thesps who can do it all so they might want to reward Affleck with his first acting nod but it’s something of a long shot. He could get points though for suffering the slings and arrows of critics and coming back so strongly  following the Eastwood model.

JESSE EISENBERG in THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Sony Pictures) - It certainly could be ‘the role he was born to play’.  There hasn’t been a greater match between actor and role all year than watching Eisenberg come into his own playing the ever-so-complex Mark Zuckerberg. OSCAR CHANCE: With his adept handling of Aaron Sorkin’s dazzling dialogue, Eisenberg will no doubt impress fellow actors and it’s the kind of intelligent script young thesps are rarely handed.  Despite usual reluctance to nominate actors in this age range in the Best Actor category , Eisenberg is a real contender.

JAVIER BARDEM in BIUTIFUL (Roadside Attractions) - Bardem won a supporting Oscar playing the essence of evil in 2007’s No Country For Old Men but in the Spanish language Biutiful he delivers a full stops-out turn of breathtaking force that took Cannes by storm and landed him the Best Actor prize. OSCAR CHANCE: Cannes isn’t always the best barometer for Oscars and Bardem has to overcome possible reluctance on the part of voters to endure such dark material . Foreign language turns are tougher to get into the race but this one may be irresistible. It’s his best work.

AARON ECKHART in RABBIT HOLE (LionsGate) - Based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning Broadway play Rabbit Hole is a heartbreaking,sometimes oddly funny dissection of a married couple who try to survive the tragedy of losing their 4 year old son in an accident.  Opposite Nicole Kidman , Eckhart has his best screen moments yet.  OSCAR CHANCE: It’s a real actors’ vehicle. Many use scenes from the play for auditions and they should like what Eckhart does here. He could be a sleeper entry from this Toronto pickup and mid-December release.

MICHAEL DOUGLAS in SOLITARY MAN (Anchor Bay) - Released in May this small character-driven indie drama gave Douglas solidly unsympathetic material to play as an asshole down-on-his-luck used car dealer.  Reviews for his performance were stellar but the film wasn’t widely seen. OSCAR CHANCE: The sympathy factor for his ongoing battle with Cancer aside, this role is a worthy contender and Anchor Bay was wise to get the screener out early so actors have been watching it already. Due to limited campaign money, this is another longshot but  could be a real contender for a spot if it is able to up its profile and grab enough eyeballs.

RYAN GOSLING in BLUE VALENTINE (The Weinstein Co) - As a young husband trying to keep his crumbling marriage and family together Gosling  opposite Michelle Williams is intense and memorable. Ever since its debut at Sundance critics have praised the raw acting and it’s probably catnip for the actors branch who have already nominated him once for the equally intense and low-budget Half-Nelson. OSCAR CHANCE: Gosling is going to win one day but maybe not for this currently NC-17 rated drama. A nomination however is entirely possible. His colleagues clearly admire the chances he takes.

KEVIN SPACEY in CASINO JACK (ATO) - A two time Oscar winner, Spacey is popular with his peers and here gets to give a full-bodied comic portrayal of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The film gets an Oscar qualification run in December but sadly its 47 year old director George Hickenlooper didn’t live to see his hoped-for  contender take flight. OSCAR CHANCE: Spacey delivers with a wry and funny Abramoff but the question remains whether enough people will even see it  if this little indie  gets outspent and drowned out in the year-end influx of screenings and screeners.

JAKE GYLLENHAAL in LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (20th Century Fox) - Gyllenhaal has never been better or more appealing in this vibrant and sexy comedy  where he is teamed opposite Anne Hathaway. OSCAR CHANCE: It could be perceived as too light and frothy  to compete against some of the heavier contenders in the category.  Gyllenhaal’s best shot will likely be at the Golden Globes in the Comedy or Musical category, but people will love the side of him he gets to show here and it could give him a real shot to win there.

PAUL GIAMATTI in  BARNEY’S VERSION (Sony Pictures Classics) - Since its Venice and Toronto debuts there hasn’t been a ton of buzz surrounding Giamatti’s  big , commanding performance in this Mordecai Richter adaptation but that could change with its AFI debut later this week. OSCAR CHANCE: So far Giamatti has failed to make a lot of pundits’  lists and reviews are mixed which doesn’t help his cause. Sadly Barney Panofsky may be an acquired taste.

MATT DAMON in HEREAFTER (Warner Bros) - Damon got a supporting nomination last year under the direction of Clint Eastwood in Invictus and here has the lead as a reluctant psychic  in a film with mixed reviews but some key raves from certain influential critics. OSCAR CHANCE: Damon is solidly dependable and believable but the role may be just too low key to gain much notice on its own.

PAUL RUDD in HOW DO YOU KNOW (Sony Pictures) - The new comedy from James L. Brooks carries a high Oscar pedigree with Reese Witherspoon and Jack Nicholson in key roles but word is it’s Rudd who steals the show  and comparisons to Jack Lemmon are already in the air.  OSCAR CHANCE: Unless there is a groundswell when people finally see it , Rudd’s best bet is in the Golden Globe Comedy or Musical category.

ROBERT DE NIRO in STONE (Overture) - The quirky drama has not lit up the boxoffice and is quickly becoming an also-ran despite some of the best reviews DeNiro has received in some time. OSCAR CHANCE: The low profile of the film is likely to stay that way despite Overture’s intention to send screeners next week.  Despite a nice return , De Niro  is most likely going to be sitting this race out counting his money from  Little Fockers.

JIM CARREY in I LOVE YOU, PHILIP MORRIS (Roadside Attractions) - Long delayed due to distribution problems,  Carrey’s bigger-than-life and edgy work will finally deservedly be seen. OSCAR CHANCE: Very minimal . Even in higher profile films the Academy has always managed to ignore Carrey although he has won 3 Golden Globes and like Rudd and Gyllenhaal could be a contender there and that’s what Roadside is aiming for. They definitely like the guy.

ANDY GARCIA in  CITY ISLAND (Anchor Bay) - This early March release was a real crowd pleaser, albeit on a limited release basis, but the company got the screener out early and some members I’ve spoken too are talking like they just discovered a gem. OSCAR CHANCE: Never say never but this is the longest of shots, a real underdog contender that could place Garcia in the Golden Globe race, but Oscar is clearly another league. Problem is a limited budget makes this  grass roots effort for Academy recognition challenging to say the least despite warm personal reviews for Andy who has the advantage of playing a wannabe actor who gets to do a killer impression of Brando.  Then again few thought Sandra Bullock had a shot last year but her movie made $250 million. City Island did 6.

  1. Depending on the movie’s fate, Franco could be disarming competition on the final ballot, too.

    I see what you did there….

  2. I hope that list of performances in films not yet released is strong because I’ve seen all the ones released on your list and Jesse Eisenberg is the only one who gave an Oscar caliber performance although Michael Douglas in Solitary Man and Duvall in Get Low were quite good.

  3. Jesse Eisenberg was amazing in the social network. I really hope he gets a nomination. My pick for the winner this year is Colin Firth.

  4. Where the hell is Ben Mendelsohn for ANIMAL KINGDOM? He gave a tour-de-force performance better than nearly everyone on the above list – it’s a crime if he (and costar Jacki Weaver) are overlooked by the Academy….

  5. I really wish the academy would just lighten up and recognize great comedic performances as they have in years past. I hope that Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and other drugs and Paul Rudd get into the mix — but really WHEN WILL LEO BE THE FRONT RUNNER and actually get nominated and win best actor???? Two very successful movies this year — he’s having the Sandra Bullock year and must I name the other performances that he should have won for? What’s Eating gilbert grape, the aviator, revolutionary Road, the departed, blood diamond…..

    1. Dicaprio’s characters in the 2 movies are too similar and we yet saw Leo in these characters/actings before and he’s not overdue(he yet was nod 3/4 times)

    1. Franco factors HEAVILY into the race. It’s foolish to count him out. He’s in a better position to get a nomination than Eisenberg, though Eisenberg is ENTIRELY deserving. But pretending as if James Franco doesn’t figure in here is insanity.

  6. “John Wayne won the 1969 Best Actor prize for the original and no actor has managed the feat of duplicating an Oscar win by playing the same role in a remake.”

    Of course, not in a remake, but Brando and DeNiro both won for playing the same character (Vito Corleone) in a sequel (The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2).

  7. You can forget about Gylenhall getting nominated for a romcom, Affleck was fine in the “The Town” but was just playing Ben Affleck, I don’t buy the idea he’ll essentially get a directing acknowledgement by way of an acting nom; the NC-17 effectively withdraws Gosling from any serious consideration, no one, I mean no one, saw or is even talking about “Stone.”

    No one saw “Get Low,” Bridges will probably get nominated but a repeat is a stratospheric longshot. Douglas might get some sympathy votes but the movie he was in just can’t carry a best actor run.

    This race will quickly boil down to Eisenberg vs. Firth.

    1. No one saw Venus, In the Valley of Elah and The Visitor…yet Peter O’Toole, Tommy Lee Jones and Richard Jenkins all managed to score Best Actor nominations for their work in those films (that no saw).

      It doesn’t matter whether or not YOU saw them, it matters if the Academy did. Robert Duvall is as respected an actor as the aforementioned three, he could very well be nominated despite your claim. It’s stupid to just dismiss him the way you did.

      And like I posted earlier, James Franco in 127 Hours WILL factor in to the Lead Actor race. It HAS NOT and will not boil down to just Firth or Eisenberg. Eisenberg isn’t even yet a sure thing for the nomination, though his performance was incredible. Counting out Franco is foolish.

  8. Andy Garcia was outstanding in City Island. If you haven’t seen that movie, you should check it out. Really surprised me, it’s hilarious and with a lot of heart.

  9. Were there really no worthy performances from Black actors? That can’t be right, can it?

    And please, no-one mention “The Book of Eli”. Be serious.

  10. We see in the history of Oscars that many actors who win,become
    forgotten because they don´t repeat good performances.What about great actors that have already proven their talent and don´t get to be recognized? This is the case of Leonardo DiCaprio who has this year not one but two roles absolutelly amazing.What do the voters want more to finally give him the Oscar?

  11. Manuela Ferreira, it is all about Hollywood politics. I enjoy Leonardo DiCaprio, but I don’t think he deserves to win an Oscar this year. His performances can’t touch the performances of James Franco, Colin Firth, or even Jesse Eisenberg’s .

  12. Jim Sturgess gives two excellent performances this year.”The Way Back” and ”Heartless” are the proof how talented he is.I just hope he gets some recognition for his performances.Sturgess is one of greatest under-the-radar young actors.

  13. Who has seen both 127 Hours and The King’s Speech? If anyone has, which do you think is the stronger performance Colin Firth or James Franco? And who is more likely to win? I think Franco has a good chance of winning, its a one man show with no one to interact with, which could be seen as the greater actor challenge

    1. it’s Firth’s oscar this year for sure. 127 hours eventually just gets annoying with all the crazy camera and the insane levels of product placement.

  14. Even if Franco gives a more impressive performance, Firth has got a lot on his side – he won’t be considered too young (like Franco), and he’s more “due,” and a lot of people felt he got screwed when he lost last year. Plus, the role Firth is playing had Oscar written all over it before he was even cast.

    Franco will have to give the kind of performance you only see a few times a decade if he’s going to have a chance of winning.

  15. Pete do tell us – what will Dicaprio have to do to win an oscar? It is starting to annoy me now. His lack of an oscar for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? is as astonishing as his performance in that film was. He was brilliant in the Basketball Diaries, The Aviator, The Departed, Revolutionary Road and Shutter Island. He is more consistent than most in Hollywood and it is a pain that giving 2 excellent performances in 1 year (2006 the departed and the blood diamond, 2010 shutter island and inception) works to make him less likely to receive awards than someone who has only given 1 good performance.

    Why is it always someone else’s year?

    1. DiCaprio will need one of two things. Either a less crowded field of contenders or a role that really stands above the rest. Some of the roles he has done have been great, but there was just that one or two others that stood just a bit above it (See 2004 when his Aviator lost to Jamie Foxx’s Ray or 2006 when his Blood Diamond lost to Forrest Whitaker’s Last King of Scotland). I think his best shot was with the Aviator, but there was just so much support for Jamie Foxx playing against type and really becoming Ray Charles that sealed it for him. The problem with his two roles this year are that both, while good, aren’t on the same level as Firth, Franco or Eisenberg. And it doesn’t help that the roles are a bit similar (the intense guy trying to solve the puzzle). He simply needs a role that really knocks it outta the park in a year where no other actor does quite the same. Sometimes you just need the perfect storm…

  16. okay guys,
    There is one thing i want to say. It annoys me when I read your comments !!!!
    When you say” what has leo to do that he is going to be accepted? ” or “He simply needs a role that really knocks you out”
    WHAT THE HELL ???
    Just watch “the aviator” and “revolutionary road” !! I was knocked out when i watched it!
    that row scenes in “revolutionary road” are just brilliant !
    I am “following” him for 8 years now and I have to say that he really had to win one earlier !
    But I really hope that he has a chance in 2011. jessie eisenberg ?? hello ?? he has NO experience at all. and Colin firth is not even recognized !!!
    They might be good actors but they dont deserve an oscar. not now. maybe in 3 years or so !!!
    But Leo has done so much great movies. What else he has to do to win one anyway ???

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