If I'm going to be perfectly audience, I think this is one of the weakest years in recent memory for the Best Actor race. That might be because my standards just recently were raised, but I'm having trouble finding any of the supposed frontrunners in this race really that fascinating. There's a similar problem in the Supp. Actor race, but that's more to do with the fact that it's really anyone's game. In the lead category, I'm just having trouble putting much faith behind even one candidate. Of course, there is plenty of room for debate here, and we'll get a better idea of the race when the critics awards start hitting, but for now it's hard to figure this one out.
The nominees seem like the most easily assembled bunch, and yet when you look a little deeper below the surface, there's going to be a tussle for the nominations this year. Brad Pitt has had a ton of buzz recently for "Moneyball", but I'm having strong doubts that will last through till year's end. It's a charming performance, but I don't think that will be enough to eek out a nod. One thing that's important to remember is how elite these races are supposed to be, and Pitt just might be the odd person out in this race. I think it's more likely for him to get passion for "The Tree of Life" than for this, as well he should.
Leonardo DiCaprio has escalated in the ranks since the trailer for "J. Edgar" hit, and I find it hard to dispute that possibility. Even if the film is only a mild success, I'm fairly confident DiCaprio will still be appreciated enough to make the final five. But we still have very little to work off of here, and I maintain that I think DiCaprio isn't the best fit to portray Hoover. Things could still turn around on him. George Clooney is all but locked in here for "The Descendants", with audiences having already given him their vote of approval after the film's premiere at Telluride and Toronto. He's probably the surest thing we've got here.
Gary Oldman is the deepest hope that I have to make it. The man's had too much outstanding work to be ignored entirely by the Academy, and yet he has. What makes "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" such a different story. It's among the strongest roles Oldman has been handed, and it might just be relevant enough to catch the Academy's attention. Of course, it might be marred by the general ensemble feel I keep hearing about the film, but he's still had plenty of proponents throughout it all. I have hopes that he'll make the final cut. He won't win, but he'll almost certainly garner that well deserved nod.
So assuming that Brad Pitt fades as he very well might, there are two slots still left to be filled. I recently commented on the strength of Michael Shannon in this race for his performance in "Take Shelter", and I think he's not as imminently in danger of being forgotten as Pitt is. Such a dynamite performance as it appears stays pretty well embedded in your memory. As for the fifth slot, it's Jean Dujardin's for the taking. "The Artist" hit a bit of a snag of over-anticipation at Toronto, but it should work things out through the next few months. Dujardin was a strong vote months ago at Cannes, and he should remain such through till year's end.
Are there still a few wild-card players that could steal the focus? Absolutely! I'm hearing some fortunate rumblings on Woody Harrelson rising in the coming weeks with his performance in "Rampart". Could steal focus from one of the candidates. Ryan Gosling is in the books, but a side player if anything. "The Ides of March" is his best bet here, and I've had doubts on his performance in that film pretty far towards the start. I'll figure that out when I see the film this Friday. I'm also going to put out an abstract vote of confidence towards Michael Fassbender for "Shame". He could be that sort of surprise that comes in and takes everything. But the film is very opposite to the Academy, so I bring this up with reasonable reservations.