Oscar Circuit: Best Actor

11

And the Nominees Are:

Demian Bichir for “A Better Life”
Oscar scene: Telling his son that he does everything for him
George Clooney for “The Descendants”
Oscar scene: Saying goodbye to his wife
Jean Dujardin for “The Artist”
Oscar scene: Our introduction to George Valentin
Gary Oldman for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Oscar scene: Smiley describing the time he met Karla
Brad Pitt for “Moneyball”
Oscar scene: Telling Jonah Hill that if they win, they’ll have changed the game forever

The strongest of the acting categories this year, Best Actor is one of the few that has multiple possibilities of an outcome, and that’s a tremendous thing to have this late in the game. This year’s slate is made up of one prior Oscar winner, one prior nominee, and 3 newcomers, including one long overdue gentleman. Even though there were lots of snubbed performances in this category in 2011, that speaks more to the quality of the lead acting performances during the season than the actual work of the nominees. These are 5 of the top 20 acting jobs of 2011, and that’s a solid grouping by any regard. To learn about how this race might go down, let’s start by looking at some history for Best Actor, shall we?

History isn’t going to incredibly helpful here (as I’ll get into in a moment), but it’s worth taking note of. The past 10 winners of the Best Actor Oscar have been Colin Firth for ‘The King’s Speech’, Jeff Bridges for ‘Crazy Heart’, Sean Penn for ‘Milk’, Daniel Day-Lewis for ‘There Will Be Blood’, Forest Whitaker for ‘The Last King of Scotland’, Philip Seymour Hoffman for ‘Capote’, Jamie Foxx for ‘Ray’, Sean Penn again for ‘Mystic River’, Adrien Brody for ‘The Pianist’, and Denzel Washington for ‘Training Day’. Of these 10 winners, almost all of them dominated the precursors and were forgone conclusions for the win. The only exceptions were both of Penn’s years (where he was up against Mickey Rourke for ‘The Wrestler’ and Bill Murray for ‘Lost in Translation’, respectively) and Washington’s win over strong competition from Russell Crowe’s work in ‘A Beautiful Mind’. Really, the only upset/surprise of late was Brody upending the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis (for ‘Gangs of New York’) and Jack Nicholson (for ‘About Schmidt’). Will something like that happen this year? I don’t personally see it, but the chance is there. A look below at the actors vying for the Oscar will show you how they stand…

Demian Bichir is the first nominated actor, and he’s easily the least likely to win the Oscar. His performance in ‘A Better Life’ is quite good, but this is the very definition of a citation where “the nomination is the reward”. This is Bichir’s first nomination, and really his breakout role for American audiences. His nomination was a testament to emotional campaigning and strong publicity for a little seen flick. As much as anything else, this is going to be a good template for other studios and publicity firms to use to get their under the radar candidate recognized (I actually thought Summit should have pushed Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the same way that they did Bichir, since JGL’s work in ’50/50′ is even better, but that’s just me), but little more will come of it this year. You can cross this one off of your list, since he’s just not going to win the award.

George Clooney is the second actor nominated here, and he spent most of the season as the favorite to win the little gold man for his work in ‘The Descendants’. Things have changed a bit in the final weeks, and now it’s looking like he’s going to end up the runner-up here. A bit of a backlash occurred for Clooney and the film on the whole, and that may have had a bit to do with it, but I still think a lot of voters are going to select him. This is Clooney’s 3rd nomination for Best Actor (going along with a win for Best Supporting Actor, a nomination for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay, making for his 7th overall nomination), and his best chance to win so far. Factoring into his chances is his Adapted Screenplay nomination this year as well for his personal project ‘The Ides of March’. It won’t win, but it shows how well liked he is, so that could mean something. I think he’s ultimately going to lose here, but he’s definitely in the #2 hole and could easily wind up winning.

Jean Dujardin is the third nominated actor, and at this point he’s become the man in the pole position for the Oscar. Dujardin was always thought to be a nominee in the category, but in recent weeks he’s increased his chances quite a bit. He was always looked at as the 3rd or 4th most likely victor, but wins at Cannes (kickstarting his campaign) the Golden Globes, and most recently the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA have made him the odds on favorite for his nearly silent turn in ‘The Artist’. This is Dujardin’s first nomination and even more so than Bichir, this is his introduction to mainstream American audiences. They’re likely to see much more of him now, as the best bet for the Oscar is this charming French fellow. He’s not locked completely, but he’s sitting rather pretty right now. I wouldn’t bet much against him.

Gary Oldman is the fourth actor nominated, and he’s also the 4th most likely winner. It’s lovely to see Oldman finally recognized by the Academy, but it seems like the wrong role to do it for. Frankly, he’s just been better. Obviously, we all know this is Oldman’s first nomination, and while a few voters could decide just nominating him wasn’t enough, I don’t see many actually going that route. The Academy dug on ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ more than was expected, so that could tell us something, but I wouldn’t pay it too much mind. Oldman can now simply graduate from being overdue for a nomination to being overdue for a win. Honestly, I don’t think Oldman minds one bit.

Brad Pitt is the fifth and final nominated actor, and he’s the real wild card of the race. Like the aforementioned Brody, Pitt hasn’t won much (though he’s won more than Brody) for his outstanding work in ‘Moneyball’, but for a long time this season it was thought to be a race between him and his friend Clooney for the Oscar. Dujardin has now jumped over both of them, but everyone (including myself) seems to think Pitt is still in play and the upset special, if you will. This is Pitt’s 4th nomination overall, and second chance at Best Actor. I was initially predicting him early on, but now I think it’s a bit of wishful thinking to still be in his corner. I’d love to see it happen, but Clooney and Dujardin are likely to just be too strong for him. Pitt’s time will come, but it’s not quite yet it seems.

As it stands in the final days of the season, I see this race as being between the favorite Jean Dujardin and George Clooney, with Brad Pitt as a fringe contender. I wouldn’t bet against Dujardin, but a win by Clooney wouldn’t surprise me at all. Pitt winning things would be a surprise, but a pleasant one nonetheless. We shall see what Sunday brings, but no matter what the result, this has been one of the most exciting categories of the year, bar none!

Prediction: Jean Dujardin for The Artist

Snubbed: Michael Fassbender for Shame, Joseph Gordon-Levitt for 50/50, Ryan Gosling for Drive, and Michael Parks for Red State.

Thoughts? Discuss on the Forum!