OSCARS: Best Actor Race Pits Veterans Vs. “Sexiest Men Alive”

Call it the battle of the superstars.

Rarely has the Best Actor Oscar race contained so many likely big movie stars. From Clooney and Pitt to DiCaprio and Gosling, the possibilities of a red-carpet smackdown among People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive has tabloid media salivating and Academy Award show producers hoping for a hearttrob lineup that could conceivably boost ratings. Of course, now only the voters in the actors branch have to do is vote for the current golden boys of cinema. In addition to the best-known contenders, you also have the distinct possibility of a French superstar, a Mexican superstar and an Irish stud who stars in a controversial NC-17 sex drama. Here’s a look at the most likely contenders.


Already an Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor for 2005’s Syriana, Clooney is a frontrunner to make the leap to the leading category, where he twice competed and lost in the past (for Michael Clayton and Up In The Air). In a complex role that allows him to go against type and walk a thin line between comedy and drama, Clooney shows he can do it all. With another 2011 high-profile film on his resume in The Ides Of March — in which he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and played a key supporting role — it’s been a great year for George, and voters may just want to recognize that, just as the National Board of Review has already done.

In a role that Robert Redford or Paul Newman might certainly have played in their prime, Brad Pitt hit it over the fence with an understated pitch-perfect portrayal of Billy Beane, the baseball general manager who turned around the Oakland A’s in the most unorthodox fashion imaginable. Pitt fits the role like a glove (too many baseball cliches for you here?) and has already won numerous nominations and the New York Film Critics award for Best Actor. Can he defeat his good friend and Ocean’s co-star Clooney to pull off his first Oscar win?

A three-time nominee who has never gotten the prize, Leo once again immerses himself body and soul into a complex and somewhat confounding historical character. Just as he did with his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Howard Hughes in The Aviator , DiCaprio does not hold back, aging nearly 50 years and acting under pounds of makeup to bring the intriguing and much-debated director of the FBI back to vivid life under Clint Eastwood’s direction. Oscar voters have shown a strong predilection for actors who lose themselves in the lives of well-known figures, so that could be a big plus here. The only drawback could be that the film itself doesn’t seem to be as widely admired as the portrayal of its leading man.

Despite his Blue Valentine co-star Michelle Williams landing an Oscar nod last year, Gosling was egregiously overlooked, and this year voters just may want to make it up to him. Problem is he has two possible entries in the lead actor category that could cancel themselves out and leave him back in the pack of hopefuls. His Steve McQueen-style cool performance in Drive and his morally challenged political operative in The Ides Of March give voters plenty to choose from. Add to that a hilarious supporting role in Crazy, Stupid, Love that has earned him a comedy Golden Globe nod and it’s the Year of Gosling. Or is it?

A household name in France but best known internationally for the OSS James Bond spoofs he did with The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius, Dujardin hit the jackpot with his funny and poignant portrait of a silent film star who hits the skids when talkies arrive. Winning the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival could just be the first stop on the awards circuit for this French charmer. His completely silent performance is what the essence of screen acting is all about, and even the scene-stealing dog Uggie, who plays his faithful companion and co-star Jack, couldn’t make audiences forget the power of his performance.

It seemed as if the fast-rising Fassbender was in every other movie this year. With X Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method and Shame, this Irish actor has been busy. The Los Angeles Film Critics in fact awarded him Best Actor for all four films, but it is the latter that is causing the most Oscar talk for him. Launching awards season with a Venice Film Festival win, Fassbender is on the fast track to his first Oscar nom playing a sex-addicted New Yorker in this NC-17 no-holds barred (and everything-bared) picture. His failure to win a SAG nomination, though, could be troubling.

Although he has so far failed to win any key awards or nominations, Oldman is an actor’s actor and could still pull off a surprise Oscar bid, which after 25 years of wildly different roles would incredibly be just his first. After all, Javier Bardem failed to get any pre-award recognition last year for Biutiful and landed the one that counts in the end. Plus, actors love seeing their colleagues step out of the comfort zone. And for Oldman, playing the low-key George Smiley and stepping into the shoes of the late, great Alec Guiness — who played Smiley in the highly regarded PBS miniseries — that’s exactly what he did, and the critics noticed. Will the Academy?

This great Mexican star won critical plaudits for the not-widely seen illegal immigrant drama that came and went fairly quickly after its June release. But Summit wouldn’t let it go and made sure it was the first DVD screener sent to voters. The gambit paid off in a surprise SAG nomination that has put Bichir’s name in the mix of top contenders — a bit of a longshot still, but he’s climbing with new momentum.


Nominations in the lead category for kid performances are fairly rare, but with no previous experience except a run as Kids Jeopardy! champion, Horn more than proved he could hold his own with the likes of Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks and Max von Sydow.

As a young man diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Golden Globe-nominated Gordon-Levitt had to walk a thin line between comedy and wrenching drama and pulled it off with flair, despite the fact he was a last-minute replacement and had no time to prepare.

The gritty cop drama’s profile is probably too small to gain Harrelson his third Oscar nod, but his performance was generally regarded as the best thing in the film and the kind of against-type acting his fellow thesps usually love.

Wilson’s casting as Woody Allen’s latest screen alter ego was inspired, even though the director never initially thought of him for the role in the time-travelling comedy that has become Allen’s biggest hit ever. A Golden Globe nomination doesn’t hurt Wilson’s chances, but comedy is usually trumped by meatier roles in this category.

As the least known but  only cast member of Revolutionary Road to pull off an Oscar nomination, Shannon immediately established his clout with his peers, who seem to love the guy. A towering performance in the highly dramatic Take Shelter has won him even more notice and an independent Spirit award nomination, but an Oscar bid may be just out of reach in a highly competitive field.

The longest of shots in the field is still one of the most deserving. Sheen, now best known for his role as the president on the long-running series The West Wing, delivers his finest screen work in decades — at least since the heyday of Apocalypse Now and Badlands. In The Way, which was directed by son Emilio Estevez and successfully distributed independently, Sheen is enormously touching as a father taking a long journey along Spain’s Camino de Santiago to honor his late son.

    1. But if I could pick my wish list it’ll be:


      Clooney, Pitt, DiCaprio all overrated.

      Gary Oldman is amazing, but not for TTSS.

    2. If you haven’t seen Birchir in A Better Life, then you have no right to vote for someone else for Best Actor. First see all the movies, then judge. And if you have seen all the movies, how can you not vote for Birchir, he was extraordinary in A Better Life. What an emotional movie that is true everyday!! It may not be based on a true story, but stories like that are happening everyday!! All we want is A Better Life!!

  1. The idea that anyone would consider nominating Brad Pitt in the best actor category is astounding. He makes Keanu Reeves look like Olivier. I am unable to watch Brad Pitt “act” without recoiling. Although many of the people I ask don’t think he’s as bad as I think he is, the majority of them agree that he’s a mediocre actor at best. Putting Brad Pitt’s name in the hat for excellence in acting would be no different than throwing Kim Kardashian in with him. I’m going to be sick. No, really… I am.

    1. My feelings exactly, about both Pitt and Clooney. My head spins when I think that these are the top contenders.

    2. “He makes Keanu Reeves look like Olivier.”
      God, I loved that…
      You are so right in your assessment of Pitt’s “talent”,
      but, sadly, his nomination is all but bought and paid for.

    3. I hate to say it but Holly is right on — I worked with Pitt early on in his career and I every time I see him he’s like Edward Scissorhands without the scissors… a stiff and awkward poser who can hardly walk and talk — a clumsy clod striking profiles… I used to tell people that if Brad’s hair ever fell out he’d be parking cars for a living…. Clooney is a better actor, for sure, but he, too, know he’s in the lucky club… Johnny, as well; they’ve all pulled a bit of a con… but at least Johnny and George are winking at the audience… Poor Brad is taking himself seriously… I nominate him forever for the High Cringe Factor Award — but that’s about it.

  2. Fassbender will be nominated–lack of SAG nomination probably no drawback, seems they tend to favor US actors, no?

  3. I have a feeling the award will go to Pitt for “Moneyball” even though, for my taste, his performance in “Tree of Life” was stronger and more interesting. If Clooney wouldn’t have a little golden man sitting somewhere in his Italian Villa, the award would go to him because his performances seem to get better with age and he certainly is in top form in “The Descendants”.
    In the overall category as best actor of 2011, no one beats the amazing Ryan Gosling from “Crazy Stupid Love” to “Drive” (my personal favorite movie of 2011) to “Ides of March”. Gosling ruled the silver screen last year. In time, he will be an Oscar winner.

  4. One word that the top three in the list have in common: Overrated. In addition, DiCaprio in J. Edgar = Vinnie Chase in Medellin.

    1. @ Wandering Bear: Right you are. And to the rest of you, shame on all of you for no mention of GARY OLDMAN. He is brilliant. What does Hollyweird have against him?

  5. Fassbender, please! And DiCaprio, to my eyes and ears, did far heavier lifting than Pitt or Handsome George, so I hope he makes the cut. In fact, both Fassbender and DiCaprio really dared to be unlikable and broken. Cheers to both.

  6. The fact that Brad Pitt is being spoken about is farcical.

    He stopped attempting to be an actor after Fight Club and Snatch.

    Any one of his ‘works’ after those films, is just Brad Pitt on screen portraying Brad Pitt acting.

    I mean, seriously, the pompous performance he put in for Moneyball, in which he walked around with a ‘Look at me, I’m Brad Pitt acting’ smirk on his face, should have fallen under the cracks, as the majority of his performances post Fight Club and Snatch always have.

    If Moneyball, that long, overdrawn and uneventful film did anything, it was to serve notice that Jonah Hill has the ability to do some great dramatic stuff in the future.

    1. I can’t anyone seriously who says Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio can’t act or are mediocre actors. They are two amazing actors whose resumes are impressive as hell.

      I think people see them and see the youthful pretty boy versions of them and recoil. They throw themselves into each role and always do a stellar job. Has every movie they’ve been in been excellent? No. But their acting is always first rate.

  7. Limitless had a wicked smart script and great performance by Bradley Cooper; funny, smart and wry. He should get some Oscar love for it.

  8. Dominic Cooper deserves — at the very least — to be nominated for Best Actor off of Devil’s Double. While the film seemed to be dumped by Lionsgate it was searingly real and his performance (both of them) was brilliant.

  9. That performance was out of this world. The amount of emotions Fassbender went through was phenomenal. Have not seen anything like it. Love all the other actors. Runner up would be Dujardin! Amazing performance.

  10. Ditto :)

    “Fassbender, please! And DiCaprio, to my eyes and ears, did far heavier lifting than Pitt or Handsome George, so I hope he makes the cut. In fact, both Fassbender and DiCaprio really dared to be unlikable and broken. Cheers to both.”

  11. On Gosling:
    Drive? That’s Ryan playing James Dean in the 21st century…LAME!
    Ides of March? Don’t remember…
    Blue Valentine was Oscar-Worthy I think the Oscars is becoming like Grammy’s by nominating Jethro Tull when Metallica is burning up the airwaves…Blue Valentine was a great Gosling movie.

    On Clooney:
    BORING: Don’t want to watch Hollywood royalty play Hawaaiin royalty…it’s not much of a stretch for an Oscar..please, come on. Movie was good but all it was was Clooney having a temper tantrum…again not much of a stretch…

    On Pitt:
    Again people are confusing good movies with Oscar performances. Pitt played himself. No Beane accent… That movie was bland acting wise.

    On Leo:
    Movie wasn’t as good as others which will hurt Leo. He may win it. The Academy may throw him a bone..

  12. Clooney and Pitt were themselves in very good movies. Fassbender and Dujardin gave stellar, hard, out of the this world performances.

  13. Nick Swardson for Bucky Larson
    Adam Sandler for Jack and Jill
    Kevin James for Zookeeper
    James Franco for Your Highness
    Jason Lee for Alvin and the Chipmunks

  14. The biggest money maker isn’t listed. Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp has been sexist man alive twice. Why wasn’t POC considered.

  15. My choices,based on films only this year, alphabetically. They were all wonderful:
    Jean Dujardin
    Michael Fassbender
    Ryan Gosling
    Bad Pitt
    Michael Shannon

    1. I had the 6:57 pm PST post. I certainly meant “Brad Pitt”, not “Bad Pitt”, please edit. Thanks.

  16. dominic cooper blows almost everybody out of the field and deserves a nomination.. surpasses all the movie star performances and up there with fassbender.

  17. These names and comments are just so sad. It’s encouraging to know that the U.S. intelligence “services” read comic books and watch TV Land just like Tom Cruise, Brad Bird, J.J. Abrams, David Miscavige. They make similar contributions to society and the world, i.e. nothing but emotional and psychological exploitation, creating the amplification systems for international calamity of ongoing anarchy, a toxic Molotov cocktail insisting patriotism be enforced with the fervor of religion; and religion be experienced as a psychotic nationalism of “patriotism.” Bon voyage people. You’ll only find yourselves hurting the ones you love every time. Psychopathy is psychopathy no matter what the label on the bottle.

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