Best Actor race looking tight as always — expect surprises

Posted by · 11:37 am · September 17th, 2008

Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary RoadThe Best Actor category tends to be one of the more crowded categories come Oscar time, and 2008 looks to be no exception. To be sure, there are a handful of frontrunners as usual, but hovering behind them are another group, more than eight who could easily sneak in and nab a nomination. Last year Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for his powerful work in “The Valley of Elah,” a richly deserved nod, but completely unexpected by the majority of prognosticators.  I remember smiling when I heard his name read, but it was a huge surprise.

I would expect something similar this year, as we have some of the great  actors and potentially stunning performances in contention.

The obvious frontrunner at this point is Mickey Rourke, basking in the attention being given to “The Wrestler.”  His performance is nothing short of miraculous, an astounding piece of acting, and it is great to see him back in the fold.  But when it comes to winning the award, I have to say: not a chance. Rourke is intensely disliked in Hollywood.  He’s seen as someone who basically spit on the industry to walk away and become a boxer. As a friend close to Rourke said, “A lot of people were happy when he left and don’t want this guy back.”

Frank Langella looks to be terrific in the trailers for “Frost/ Nixon.”  He has always been a great actor, better known for his stage work than film, though in the last few years he has become a formidable presence on the big screen. I remember seeing him as “Dracula” both on stage and on film in the late 1970s and hoped he would go far. He did, just not in the movies, until recently.

Kris has Michael Sheen down as a lead actor possibility as well, and I agree. It’s one of those “Amadeus” situations where one performance cannot exist without the other. There is a strong chance that if the film and the actors are terrific, both of them will be nominated, though Langella certainly has the showier role of the two.

Sean Penn is probably headed for his fifth nomination for “Milk,” which could prove to be the actor’s most daring and complex performance to date. Penn is a fearless actor, inhabiting his roles with an authenticity that is unnerving, and again, if he is as good as he appears to be in what we have seen so far, he has to be considered a lock and could potentially grab his second statuette.

Robert Downey Jr. has to be nominated this year for something…my God, “Iron Man” if necessary. For a while now, his supporting performance in “Tropic Thunder” seemed to be a solid bet, but he is said to be very good in “The Soloist.” This is a comeback the Academy  (I think) would like to honor, and Downey is more than deserving of attention for his fine work this year. Jamie Foxx’s performance in the film cannot be ignored though, and Hollywood and the Academy have a soft spot for actors portraying afflicted characters.

Clint Eastwood has earned a lot of attention for his acting since 1992, when he gave a powerful performance in “Unforgiven,” surpasing it 12 years later in “Million Dollar Baby.” As the gruff old bird in “Gran Torino” who befriends a young boy and sister in a gang infested neighborhood, he may have the role of a lifetime, or not. The Academy adores him, more as a director, but hey, he has that going for him this year as well…

Two younger actors hovering for a nod are Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Leonardo DiCaprio in “Revolutionary Road.” DiCaprio is a brilliant actor, capabel of slipping under the skin of the character and disappearing, while Pitt, though very good, lacks DiCaprio’s genius as an artist, in my opinion. That is not to say Pitt does not have the goods.  In the right role, he certainly does. He was outstanding last year in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and deserved to be nominated. His role in “Button” looks demanding, and the AMPAS may finally see fit to nominate him for a lead performance. As for DiCaprio, he can never be counted out, but I do not think it is in the cards for him this year. Only five are called.

Viggo Mortensen got in last year for “Eastern Promises” and could grab a second mention for “The Road,” the film based on Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel.  The narrative sees Mortensen trying to stay alive and out of the way of nasty cannibals (who are trying to do the same) with his son. A brilliant, gifted actor, it sounds like Mortensen will anchor the film, and if strong, could be among the nominees.

“Che” as a four-and-a-half-hour film should land Benicio Del Toro among the nominees for Best Actor, but with IFC Films splitting the film in two for Oscar consideration, I believe the arc of his performance is severly damaged and he will not be nominated.

Who else? If “Lovely, Still” finds a distribution deal, Martin Landau is most deserving for his lonely old man finding romance late in life, the joy altered by a horrible twist.  And Christian McKay, could be campaigned as a lead in “Me and Orson Welles.”  If “Australia” impresses at all, Hugh Jackman could ride that crest to a nomination, though he is the least likely in this article. Is Philip Seymour Hoffman lead or supporting in “Doubt?”  Where does he sit?

And finally, dear Richard Jenkins, who could land his first nomination for “The Visitor.” A veteran character actor given a career kick by his work in “Six Feet Under,” Jenkins is enjoying loads of acclaim for the first time in his long career. Though I highly doubt a nod for him, I will be cheering for him throughout the season.

Who are you predicting for Best Actor this year?  Tell us in the comments section below!

→ 39 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

39 responses so far

  • 1 9-17-2008 at 11:53 am

    Leone said...

    Right now, based on paper and pedigree, I’d say it’s:

    Frank Langella for FROST/NIXON

    Sean Penn for MILK

    Leonardo DiCaprio for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

    Robert Downey, Jr. for THE SOLOIST

    Michael Sheen for FROST/NIXON

    I’m not so convinced about the Mickey Rourke thing and agree with your assessment that he may not be that well-liked. If there is a “comeback of the year” slot to be had, it should go to Robert Downey, Jr. His roles this year have been varied and it has certainly been a fantastic year for him. Some may argue about Rourke’s performance saying that it’s him, not necessarily acting, and the subject matter is likely to turn some people off.

    I’d say the sure things right now are:

    Leonardo DiCaprio
    Frank Langella
    Sean Penn

    with the other two slots up for grabs, but it will be a dog fight.

  • 2 9-17-2008 at 11:59 am

    Joe W said...

    Mickey Rourke
    Frank Langella
    Sean Penn
    Viggo Mortensen
    Leonardo DiCaprio

  • 3 9-17-2008 at 12:06 pm

    Ivan said...

    My personal five
    Viggo Mortensen/The Road
    Sean Penn/Milk
    Mickey Rourke/The Wrestler
    Richard Jenkins/The Visitor
    Benicio Del TOro/Che

    Oscar five
    Frank Langella/Frost-Nixon
    Leonardo DiCaprio/Revolutionary Road
    Robert Downey Jr./The Soloist
    Michael Sheen/Frost-Nixon
    Sean Penn/Milk

  • 4 9-17-2008 at 12:15 pm

    Bryan said...

    Sean Penn
    Frank Langella

    Feeling Confidant:
    Mickey Rourke
    Robert Downey Jr.
    Viggo Mortenson

    Could Spoil It:
    Clint Eastwood

  • 5 9-17-2008 at 12:16 pm

    Liz said...

    Ivan, isn’t it a bit early to declare a “personal five”? You haven’t seen at least two of these movies, right? Or is this just based on your favorite actors from other roles?

    If we can play that game, I’m rooting the hardest for Michael Sheen, if only because he was so robbed for “The Queen” two years ago. I really wish he had gone supporting, though. I think he would have had a better shot there.

  • 6 9-17-2008 at 12:17 pm

    Mark said...

    My top 5 Best Actor Frontrunners:

    Leonardo Dicaprio (Revolutionary Road)
    Mickey Rourke ( The Wrestler)
    Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)
    Sean Penn (Milk)
    Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino)

  • 7 9-17-2008 at 12:18 pm

    Aaron said...

    Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
    Sean Penn, Milk
    Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
    Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    Viggo Mortensen, The Road

    ***I think once Frost/Nixon opens, Universal will push Michael Sheen for supporting. I love him; he was fantastic in The Queen. I just don’t think two performers from one film will be nominated in a crowded category.****

    ***And I love Robert Downey, Jr. and he’s had a great year, but I just can’t imagine him getting a nomination for The Soloist. Although I haven’t seen the film yet, the preview looks incredibly cheesy to me—will he get nominated just because people want to recognize him? The film looks very mediocre.***

  • 8 9-17-2008 at 12:24 pm

    Dillon said...

    Many performances look good, but Viggo looks to be the one that could pull an Adrien Brody on Oscar night and upset Langella, Penn, or Pitt. It’s that kind of role, and he is due.

  • 9 9-17-2008 at 12:27 pm

    JAB said...

    Leonardo DiCaprio, “Revolutionary Road”
    Sean Penn, “Milk”
    Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
    Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
    Brad Pitt, “Benjamin Button”

    Leo Wins.

  • 10 9-17-2008 at 12:44 pm

    M.Harris said...

    Well for what trailers are worth(good or bad) it “looks” like to me the five are

    Jenkins,”The Visitor”
    Pitt,”Benjamin Button”
    Downey,”The Soloist”
    Rourke,”The Wrestler”

  • 11 9-17-2008 at 1:20 pm

    mike said...

    Pitt, “Button”
    Penn, “Milk”
    Mickey, “Wrestler”
    Jenkins, “Vistor” or Viggo, “Road”
    Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”

    Would love for RDJ to be nominated but don’t see how… he should have been nominated for Zodiac.

    Winner – PITT!!!!

    He was robbed of at least a nom last year and had a shot at a nom in Babel too…

  • 12 9-17-2008 at 1:44 pm

    Roger said...

    Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
    Sean Penn, Milk
    Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
    Leonardo Di Caprio, Revolutionary Road
    Viggo Mortensen, The Road

  • 13 9-17-2008 at 1:50 pm

    Luke Gorham said...

    I agree with Aaron that Sheen will be pushed for a Supporting nom once the film opens, a la James McAvoy in “The Last King of Scotland.” I also think Foxx will be pushed for Supporting in the same kind of way.

    As for “Che,” I had heard the film was getting a one-week qualifying run as a united film, and then being released in 2009 as two separate films, thus strengthening Del Toro’s chances.

    I have heard that, based on script readings, Hoffman will be pushed for lead.

    And finally, Michael Fassbinder could surprise for Hunger if the film finds a release date and takes off. His performance was the talk of Toronto this year.

  • 14 9-17-2008 at 1:54 pm

    Jack said...

    Leonardo DiCaprio: Revolutionary Road
    Frank Langella: Frost/Nixon
    Viggo Mortensen: The Road
    Sean Penn: Milk
    Brad Pitt: Benjamin Button

    I’m not buying Rourke yet, like you said he’s too hated in the business.
    My favorite of the bunch on paper has to be Mortensen to win it all.

  • 15 9-17-2008 at 1:55 pm

    Adam G. said...

    Mickey Rourke and Benicio del Toro are both amazing- I’d be content just to watch the two of them duke it out in the lead-up.

    I haven’t really seen anything else that I think is worthy of hype just yet, so I’ll leave the other three blank for now.

  • 16 9-17-2008 at 2:03 pm

    Aaron said...

    frank langella for frost/nixon
    sean penn for milk
    benicio del toro for guerilla (since they split it up it’s said to hold the better performance)
    viggo mortensen for the road
    mickey rourke for the wrestler (read the script, loved it, love rourke, love aronofsky. rourke will connect with the character like downey jr did with iron man. i’d be like a academy award drama version of that kind of performance if you know what i mean, the personalness)

    academy’s choice: langella
    my coice: langella
    “i wish” choice: mortensen

  • 17 9-17-2008 at 2:14 pm

    Rob said...

    Langella looks like a caricature of Nixon. Sean Penn is hardly recognizable as Harvey Milk, I don’t think he’s getting enough buzz for that performance.

  • 18 9-17-2008 at 3:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Aaron and Luke: Sorry, but you’re both wrong. What can I say?

  • 19 9-17-2008 at 3:03 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    RE: Sheen, that is.

  • 20 9-17-2008 at 3:05 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ugh, good call on Fassbender. Been talking him up all year and forgot him for this post.

  • 21 9-17-2008 at 3:29 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I wouldn’t write off a win for Rourke, popularity issues be damned. If he begins to sweep the critics’ awards, I think he could be a serious contender. Also, there’s always at least one small/indie/quirky nominee in the bunch.

    Taking a wild stab in the dark:

    Leonardo DiCaprio
    Philip Seymour Hoffman
    Richard Jenkins
    Sean Penn
    Mickey Rourke

    No Langella? Hey, I like crazy guessing.

    My dream not-a-chance-in-hell nominee? Mathieu Amalric in “Heartbeat Detector.”

  • 22 9-17-2008 at 3:41 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I should add that a few weeks ago my money was on Viggo Mortensen, but that was when I imagined them going for “The Road” as a kind of ‘body of work’ recognition for a strong year. With his other two film having fallen flat, his performance in “The Road” will have to stand alone — and I fear it might be too low-key for their tastes.

  • 23 9-17-2008 at 3:57 pm

    Milk shaking said...

    What about Sheen for lead and Langella for supporting!

    Sean, Viggo, Leonardo, Mickey and Michael

  • 24 9-17-2008 at 3:57 pm

    Milk shaking said...

    What about Sheen for lead and Langella for supporting!

    Sean, Viggo, Leonardo, Mickey and Richard or Michael wrestling for the fifth slot

  • 25 9-17-2008 at 4:00 pm

    N8 said...

    Mickey Rourke
    Frank Langella
    Sean Penn
    Benicio Del Toro
    Robert Downey Jr.

    spoiler: Brad Pitt

  • 26 9-17-2008 at 4:25 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    With all the category placements it’s still a bit early to call. So much can change depending on that. Ledger could still be put in leading. If WB is really as ambitious as they say they are it is very likely. Currently though, I’m with the general flow here. I think it’s already down to 7 or 8 potential names.

  • 27 9-17-2008 at 4:29 pm

    Bryan said...

    Of course, I haven’t seen any of these predicted nominees in their respective movies, so this is solely based on trailers or what I’ve heard about the preformances/movies.

    My Top 5:
    SEAN PENN for “Milk”
    BENICIO DEL TORO for “Che”
    MICKEY ROURKE for “The Wrestler”
    FRANK LANGELLA for “Frost/Nixon”
    MICHAEL SHEEN for “Frost/Nixon”

    Many are calling Langella a lock. And so do I! He’s given some great performances recently that all went unnoticed. This year, he’s in!
    And as for Michael Sheen, in the trailer he looked just as good, if not even better than Langella, plus he was snubbed for “The Queen”.
    So if the studio has the guts to push them both for Lead, I can definitely see it happen!

  • 28 9-17-2008 at 5:00 pm

    M.Harris said...

    I agree with Guy,Iwouldn’t write off a win for Rourke either.Sometimes people have short memories and if his performance is as strong as I”ve heard,it’s a chance that it just can’t be denied.

  • 29 9-17-2008 at 6:06 pm

    JEFF SNEIDER said...

    The Academy’s track record is so spotty lately, I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave Best Actor to Diablo Cody.

  • 30 9-17-2008 at 7:44 pm

    Bing147 said...

    You’re leaving a few out. Notably, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Synechdoche. I’ve heard more than a few people say that if the movie is critically acclaimed, he’s in, that its one that will rack up #1 votes.

    Also, I’ve heard nothing but praise for Jeff Goldblum in Adam Ressurected. A good campaign could get him in, I mean, these are as good of reviews as Rourke has gotten, albeit on a smaller scale since fewer have seen the film. Though it’d have to find distribution first.

    Then you have Daniel Craig in Defiance. If the film is loved, then he’s got a chance, another strong turn as Bond could seriously help.

    If Seven Pounds is any good… they haven’t passed up a chance to honor Smith yet where they really could have, since they started. Even terrible reviews for Pursuit of Happyness didn’t stop them.

    Also, people talk Kate Winslet in the Reader, but what about Ralph Fiennes? He’s had a terriffic year, between this, In Bruges and getting the best reviews of anyone in The Duchess. Doesn’t seem out of wack. I mean, at this point, I could actually see like…19 different performances in there. Penn/Mortenson/Langella/Sheen/Rourke/Pitt/DiCaprio/Downey/Eastwood/Del Toro/Landau/Goldblum/Craig/Jenkins/Smith/Hoffman/Foxx/Fiennes/Jackman. If they go lead, toss in McKay. Talk about a wide open year.

  • 31 9-17-2008 at 7:47 pm

    Patrick said...


  • 32 9-18-2008 at 3:05 am

    ajon said...

    Kris also point out your own views on the best actress’s looks real giddy at the moment.

  • 33 9-18-2008 at 1:02 pm

    Marcus said...

    Benicio Del Toro “Che”
    Leonardo DiCaprio “Revolutionary Road”
    Frank Langella “The Soloist”
    Sean Penn “Milk”
    Mickey Rourke “The Wrestler”

    Almost there:
    Brad Pitt “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button”
    Viggo Mortensen “The Road”

  • 34 9-19-2008 at 2:55 pm

    Andrew said...

    DiCaprio “Revolutionary Road”
    Foxx “The Soloist”
    Langella “Frost/Nixon”
    Pitt “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
    Rourke “The Wrestler”

    I would love to see Penn, Mortensen, or Sheen got a nomination too.

  • 35 10-08-2008 at 10:29 am

    Dean Treadway said...

    My early gut feelings are:

    Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
    Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
    Philip Seymour Hoffman, Synecdoche NY
    Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
    Sean Penn, Milk

    with the award going to Rourke. The young guys will be left out this year. Del Toro’s chances are nil, and BUTTON is starting to look like the MEET JOE BLACK of the year. DiCaprio will be left out of the running, but Winslet will pick up a nod…for THE READER. I believe REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is going to land with a leaden thud. The one wild card here is Clint Eastwood in GRAN TORINO. We just don’t know ANYTHING about that movie.

    Also, if Michael Sheen is put into Best Actor, there could be an upset of my picks; but I think they’ll put him into Supporting Actor (depends on his screen time, really). Downey will have to wait for another year to get on the roster. And Viggo will have to wait for another nod, too.

  • 36 10-08-2008 at 10:30 am

    Dean Treadway said...

    I should also mention another possible Best Actor nominee: Greg Kinnear for FLASH OF GENIUS.

  • 37 1-03-2009 at 10:35 am

    Nick Plowman said...

    OMG, how stupid can some people be?

    The Road is 2009, first of all, as is The Soloist, so y’all can forget about that, no matter how hard you wish it aint gonna happen.

    If Pitt gets nominated Imma be pissed. He was nothing special at all, but yeah, he’s a star in a big movie. Ugh.

    As long as Penn, Rourke and DiCaprio get in, I don’t care who else is nominated.

  • 38 1-03-2009 at 12:35 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nick, did you not realize John posted this WELL before The Soloist and The Road were pushed to 2009? Ease up on the insults.