The Oscar Warrior’s Lead Actor Preview

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Now that The Weekend Warrior is over, we can focus on other things and the one thing we really want to spend more time on is this year’s Oscar season, because it’s really looking like it’s going to be an interesting year.

We’ll start off our preview of the Oscar season with the Lead Actor category, which seemed to fill up faster than usual this year, although unlike past years, there doesn’t necessarily seem to be a frontrunner in the vein of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote or Colin Firth in The King’s Speech or Jamie Fox in Ray. Mind you, we’re not ready to make any concrete predictions until we have a chance to see all the movies, but this should give you some idea what to expect in the category.

Possibly the most interesting thing to happen in this year’s Oscar race is the number of actual A-list leading men who are being considered as potential nominees including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. Popularity can certainly play a large factor in Oscar voting because who doesn’t want to be in the presence of hot stars like the names above on Oscar night? Just because you’re already a member of the Academy, that doesn’t meant that you don’t get a bit starstruck when hobnobbing with such big names.

As we mentioned, there isn’t really a frontrunner, but one of the first leading male performances to get attention during festival season was George Clooney as a man trying to deal with the fact his wife dying after learning she was cheating on him in Alexander Payne’s dramedy The Descendants. Having already been nominated in the lead category a number of times and winning in the supporting category, Clooney is pretty much guaranteed to get his sixth nomination this year, and unfortunately, his performance in this will end up overshadowing his supporting performance in his own movie The Ides of March.

Playing a real person has led to a number of Oscar wins for lead actors, most notably Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Truman Capote in Capote and Forrest Whitaker’s Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland or Jamie Foxx’s Ray. Roughly half the Oscar winners in the last decade in this category have been for performance as real people and that’s very telling about the way the Academy thinks and votes.

That gives a bit more weight to Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar – a movie we haven’t seen yet, although we’ve heard early word that it’s a bit of a miss from Eastwood. That didn’t hurt Morgan Freeman being nominated for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in Invictus, but it may make it impossible for Leo to win.

Brad Pitt has gotten attention for his role as baseball manager Billy Beane in Bennett Miller’s adaptation of the Moneyball, which has already done well at the box office and found many fans. It’s a heartwarming performance by Pitt that stands a good chance at getting more attention than DiCaprio just because it benefited from early festival buzz.

Though not playing a real-life person, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of British agent George Smiley in the new adaptation of John Le Carré’s popular spy thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has already been getting attention in England (where it opened last month). Oldman’s reputation as an actor is beyond reproach and the Academy will likely have been waiting for him to star in a movie they can get behind.

At one point, French actor Jean Dujardin may have been seen as a Dark Horse contender for his performance in Michel Hazanavicius’s silent black and white homage to Old Hollywood, The Artist, but the more people see what he does in the movie, the more that are impressed with the virtually unknown actor. Dujardin is in a similar position as Marion Cotillard when she starred in La Vie en Rose (again, playing a real person), and because it’s a silent role, Dujardin may be seen as either having an advantage or a disadvantage over the competition, partially because it’s more difficult to bring the character to life without words.

There’s no denying that Michael Fassbender’s performance as a man suffering from sex addition in Steve McQueen’s Shame makes that movie what it is. Fassbender was royally snubbed for his performance in McQueen’s debut Hunger a few years back, but this time, they have the benefit of Oscar maestros Fox Searchlight. They picked up Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart fairly late in the game a few years back and were able to take Jeff Bridges to a much-deserved Oscar win, so this one should not be counted out, regardless of the difficult NC-17 material.

Then there are a couple of strong performances in relatively lower-profile movies that have played the festival circuit including Woody Harrelson in Oren Moverman’s Rampart, a strong L.A. police drama written by James Ellroy (author of “L.A. Confidential”). Harrelson was nominated in a supporting role for Moverman’s previous film The Messengers, and here, he’s playing a similar bad police officer as Denzel Washington did when he won an Oscar for Training Day. One has to wonder if Millennium Entertainment, who are fairly new to distribution, have what it takes to bring Woody back to Oscar night, but they’ve already hired a good Oscar team to work on the movie which can sometimes make all the difference.

We also were not alone in thinking that Michael Shannon gave a career high performance in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, and screeners of this have already gone out to voting critics’ groups, so maybe they can help raise interest even Shannon is the darkest of dark horses to get recognized.

Ryan Gosling is in an interesting position this year as he’s had two strong performances in two very different movies, Nicolas Refn’s moody thriller Drive and George Clooney’s political drama The Ides of March, something that might instead cancel out his nominations and reduce his chances. Gosling was previously nominated for Half Nelson but snubbed for great performances in Lars and the Real Girl and Blue Valentine.

No one has seen Matt Damon’s performance in Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo yet, but the holiday release and the fact that Crowe has directed other actors to Oscar wins, most notably Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire.

Chris Weitz’s bilingual drama A Better Life features a stunning performance by the virtually unknown Demian Bichir, as a Mexican-born gardener who needs to retrieve a stolen truck while trying to keep his son from joining the local gangs. It’s definitely a longshot that Bichir can get into the race, but he certainly has a lot of support from the studio, Summit, who were one of the first to send out DVD screeners of the movie.

Anyone who saw Jonathan Levine and Seth Rogen’s cancer dramedy 50/50 was probably impressed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s transformation as a victim of cancer – another watermark for past Oscar nominees. Although Gordon-Levitt already has many fans thanks to (500) Days of Summer, he’s more likely to be a frontrunner for the Golden Globe in the Comedy/Musical category, as that’s been one of the regular awards season categories where actors win without there being any correlation to the Academy Awards.

We haven’t heard much about Christopher Plummer’s performance in the filmed one-man show Barrymore, so we don’t know if that’s even in contention anymore, especially since it doesn’t even have distribution yet, but Plummer is more likely to be nominated in one of his two supporting roles this year, either in Beginners or David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Now a number of this year’s potential lead actors have something in common, an accessory if you’d like, and to find out what that is, just check back sometime in the next couple days!

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