Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oscar 2012: Best Actor

This year’s Best Actor Oscar race is similar to the Best Actress contenders. There are two main contenders neck-and-neck at the front, with a possible spoiler, a veteran dark horse, and a surprise nominee. In other words, as with Best Actress, we’re looking at a nail-biter down to the finish line, making this first time in years where there is no clear winner or obvious choice.

Here are the nominees for this year’s Best Actor Oscar.

Demián Bichir for A Better Life

For him: A shock nominee, many feel that he took a spot that may have been meant for a bigger star (cf. Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar). His little-seen art-house film, for those who have actually seen it, is beloved by a small but vocal group of voters and word is that those who’ve seen his performance declare his work to be the best, hands-down. He received a surprise SAG nomination as well, indicating popularity and support amongst his actor peers.

Against him: Very few people saw this film, which is streaming on Netflix after an unremarkable theatrical run. SAG nod aside, he received no other recognition this season. The film, about the immigrant experience in America, is topical and challenging, and may be a bit too political for more conservative voters’ taste. He also represents the lone nomination for his film and at least three of his nominees are front-and-center in Best Picture nominees. For Bichir, the nomination is the reward.

George Clooney for The Descendants

For him: I’ve referred to him as “Mr. Popular” more than once, and indeed he has support from critics, audiences and the Academy alike. He’s won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and National Board of Review honours this year for his role. Clooney has career-best notices and he’s in a Best Picture nominee with broad-based support. He’s proven his versatility by having received seven career Oscar nominations (to date) in the fields of writing, directing and acting. He’s even nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for his well-received directorial effort The Ides of March. Somehow he’s straddled the gossip pages and the critics’ notices, winning respectability while also gracing magazine covers. Although he has a Supporting Actor prize already, for a leading man of his stature, it’s only fitting that he one day win the Leading Actor award as well. Is it time?

Against him: He’s already got an Oscar. It may be too much, too soon, and it’s not like he won’t have any other chances later on in his career. He’s got to watch his back as there’s a great challenge in the form of exciting newcomer (on this side of the pond) Jean Dujardin and his good friend Brad Pitt, both of whom are nominated and are leads in Best Picture nominees. Perhaps Clooney will one day be recognized for directing or writing, instead?

Jean Dujardin in The Artist

For him: Not initially the frontrunner, this charming Gaelic superstar – who’s as big as Clooney and Pitt in France – added to his Cannes Film Festival award by sweeping the Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA prizes within the last month. He faces an acting challenge that no one else in the category takes on in that the role is a silent one. Dujardin didn’t even speak much English a year ago, and yet he learned it in a crash course and has been hitting the American talk show circuit to promote the film tirelessly, even hosting Saturday Night Live. That, folks, is dedication. The mighty Harvey Weinstein’s TWC is behind the campaign and they get results. He could win his award a la Roberto Benigni’s surprising victory for Life is Beautiful.

Against him: The Benigni comparison is a double-edged sword, as it is one of the more derided and criticized Oscar wins in the last twenty years. Dujardin has not yet signed on for any roles in Hollywood, which might make Academy members who are prone to cronyism a bit cagey about choosing a foreigner for the prize. (Then again, that didn’t stop them from choosing all-foreign winners in 2007.) Since the role is silent, they may also wait until they see him in a speaking role before rewarding him. Some Academy members may be resistant to seeing a high-concept silent movie.

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

For him: One of the most revered film veterans, a one-time experimental and still-edgy British actor, Oldman has switched effortlessly between independent films such as Withnail and I and big Hollywood blockbusters like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Harry Potter franchise. It’s been widely noted that this is only his first career Oscar nomination and that might lead some to vote for him as a de facto career award.

Against him: He was MIA from all of the precursor award shortlists and needed at least one major win to make a stronger case for him here. He was the frontrunner for BAFTA, his one solid shot all season at a major acting prize, but he still lost when Dujardin and The Artist cleared the board there. With so many of his fellow nominees in Best Picture nominees, it’ll be tough to make a case for his win. He’ll be back.

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

For him: Like Clooney, he’s insanely popular, a global superstar with few peers. He’s also a multiple nominee this year, as he’s credited as a producer on Best Picture finalist Moneyball. Won the notoriously tony New York Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics best actor awards, indicating that they fully support his artistic choices. And with his role in The Tree of Life, he’s the only nominee in this category to appear in two Best Picture nominees, speaking to the adventurousness of his roles and its artistic payoff. It may be irresistible to Academy voters to give him a statue, as longtime spouse Angelina Jolie has one as well.

Against him: He may be too much of a tabloid favourite to get Hollywood’s most glittering prize. With Clooney and Dujardin winning the lion’s share of awards in the last month of the season, and both their films still playing in theatres, Pitt might have lost some momentum for Moneyball. It’s a talky role, with lots of long monologues, but doesn’t have the big emotional breakdown or typical “Oscar clips” that his main competition has. Perhaps like Robert Redford, to whom he has often been compared, he’ll win for producing or directing one day, instead?

The lowdown

I mentioned that the race was a parallel to Best Actress. In terms of the winners’ chances, here’s how I break them down:

Jean Dujardin = Viola Davis – the likely winner, a mid-career character actor in a Best Picture nominee
George Clooney = Meryl Streep – the megawatt star who was the early frontrunner, but will be recognized again in the future
Brad Pitt = Michelle Williams – the spoiler who could sneak through if the two leaders cancel each other out
Gary Oldman = Glenn Close – respected veteran who could have won had his / her film received more support (coincidentally, both films have three nods apiece)
Damien Bichir = Rooney Mara – surprise nominee and out-of-left-field shock winner if this happens, and neither name slips off the tongue easily

I’m forecasting a win for Dujardin, but won’t be surprised if Natalie Portman reads out “George Clooney” instead.

The Oscar will go to: Jean Dujardin for The Artist.

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