Rousing Best Actor race shaping up

Posted by · 9:20 am · November 5th, 2008

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonIn a year I maintain to be disappointing, I must confess that the sprint to the finish is looking more and more exciting all the time, with an exceptional crop of actors vying for Best Actor nominations. This could very well be the year that Clint Eastwood wins an acting Oscar, or that the previously washed-up Mickey Rourke wins for “The Wrestler.”

At this writing I have 12 actors who could potentially land in the field of play, though in fairness, four of the films have not been widely seen and I am going on the buzz and speculation within the industry right now.

There seems to be a lot of belief that Richard Jenkins, a wonderful character actor who has been around forever, could land a nomination for “The Visitor.”  He came back into the public eye as the dead father in HBO’s critically acclaimed “Six Feet Under” and has been working consistently ever since.  This year he did a nice job as the heart and soul of the Coen brothers’ “Burn After Reading.”  If the studio can mount a decent campaign and keep him in the minds of the voters, he may nab a nomination.

But he could easily be left out. Remember Michael Douglas in “Wonder Boys”? After the film’s November re-release for awards consideration helped him win the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Actor, everyone was stunned when he failed to land a nomination with the Academy.

Clint Eastwood seems a lock for “Gran Torino,” though next to nobody has seen the film. Pete Hammond at The Envelope reported second-hand gossip from an insider: “The old guy could actually win it all for this one. He’s THAT good in this.” Eastwood has twice been nominated before and should have been for “The Bridges of Madison County.”  The Academy loves him and he is a well-respected actor as well as director.

Now the younger guys are really cooking this year, led by the great Sean Penn in “Milk,” which some are touting as the finest work of his career. Never before has he been this warm and accessible on screen, creating a character the audience will truly like.

Leonardo DiCaprio, meanwhile, might be the greatest actor of his generation, and has been superb in the past.  There is strong buzz for his performance in “Revolutionary Road,” which will very likely land him a nod for Best Actor and perhaps the award itself.

Paramount is being rather low key about Brad Pitt’s chances in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but again, we have an actor who has been deserving of a nomination before.  Just last year he should have been in the game for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”  But “Button” certainly seems to offer him a chance to flex his acting muscles and silence the critics.  Then again, we are dealing with a guy thought more of as a movie star than an actor.

Veteran actors Frank Langella and Dustin Hoffman are both going to be campaigned for their work in “Frost/Nixon” and “Last Chance Harvey” respectively, and each could earn a nod for their performances.  Langella, however, seems to be the more likely possibility at the moment. Hoffman, a wonderful actor has twice won the lead actor trophy and been nominated several times, while Langella is still waiting for that elusive first nomination.

And the comeback kid (of sorts), Mickey Rourke, a man I never thought would give another great performance, could be the guy to take the whole thing for his stunning work in “The Wrestler.”  The work has been called a performance for the ages.

I have always admired Rourke’s work, but I know for a fact there a lot of people who are not rooting for him. The man made his fair share of enemies in the 1980s and 1990s, and though he is back in the movies, those burned bridges might come back to haunt him. That said, he has given a performance that cannot be denied at least a nomination. And has the AMPAS not forgiven worse behavior than Rourke’s in the past?

Outside chances for a nomination could be Josh Brolin, for his wickedly funny President George W. Bush in “W”; Michael Sheen for “Frost/ Nixon,” though I believe he will end up in the supporting actor category; Benicio Del Toro in “Che,” whose minimalist acting will be recognized if there is a God; and I am going to throw it out there: Robert Downey Jr. for “Iron Man.” He is beloved, the real comeback kid of the year.

And I suppose we should never exclude Will Smith, who has been nominated twice before and could end up among the five for “Seven Pounds.”

Will they go for sentiment and allow both Eastwood and Jenkins nominations? Will Rourke even be nominated? Could a surprise double Best Actor for “Frost/ Nixon” bump one of my choices?  It all could happen, folks. You just never know. The single sure thing about the Academy Awards and their nominations is that there is never a sure thing. EVER.

But for the moment, I’m going with DiCaprio, Eastwood, Langella, Penn and Rourke.

Have your say.  Who are you currently predicting for a Best Actor nomination?

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27 responses so far

  • 1 11-05-2008 at 9:36 am

    Andrew L. said...

    Del Toro, DiCaprio (RR), Penn, Pitt, Rourke

    alt. Eastwood (still not entirely convinced).

    And I think Frost/Nixon is slowly dying.

  • 2 11-05-2008 at 10:15 am

    nick said...

    Jenkins NEEDS to be nominated. A great performance.

    It’s sad that Sam Rockwell’s exceptional work in Snow Angels is gonna get overlooked.

  • 3 11-05-2008 at 10:17 am

    John said...

    Those are the exact 5 I’m going with, as well. It just looks accurate to what AMPAS may do.

  • 4 11-05-2008 at 10:59 am

    Chad said...

    I think Jenkins will get in. Eastwood has no chance.

  • 5 11-05-2008 at 11:15 am

    Ivan said...

    Sean Penn
    Mickey Rourke

    Leonardo DiCaprio
    Richard Jenkins
    Clint Eastwood
    Frank Langella
    Brad Pitt

    Benicio Del Toro
    Josh Brolin
    Robert Downey Jr.

    on supporting field…

    Heath Ledger
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman

    Ralph Fiennes
    Josh Brolin
    Eddie Marsan
    Dev Patel

    Michael Shannon
    Liev Schreiber
    Robert Downey Jr.
    James Franco

  • 6 11-05-2008 at 11:23 am

    -A said...

    Minimalistic… I would call this organic, naturalistic, real, outright morphing into the historical figure in question…

    Guess you have connections, perhaps you could somehow “hang in an ear” and get further confirmation of what Pete Hammond revealed recently. I for one, see no reason to doubt it, as I’ve always sensed that they would most definitely react to him. (To phrase it like that.)

    I am talking about Benicio del Toro in ‘CHE’.

  • 7 11-05-2008 at 11:38 am

    JAB said...

    Leo Wins.
    Langella, Penn, Pitt, & Eastwood got nominated

  • 8 11-05-2008 at 11:45 am

    Adam G. said...

    As much as I like the movie, Robert Downey, Jr. will never be nominated for Iron Man. It’s that simple.

  • 9 11-05-2008 at 1:29 pm

    mike said...

    I am hoping and think:

    del Toro

    Would love:
    Downey, Jr.

    And I want Pitt to win it!

  • 10 11-05-2008 at 1:56 pm

    Joel said...

    They should get over Pitt’s “movie star” status. Seriously. His work as Jesse James was simply stunning, brilliant stuff. If he’s half as good as Benjamin Button, he’ll get nominated, at least. Fourth best performance last year, after Day-Lewis, Affleck (also for Jesse James, strangely), and Bardem.

    That’s all of my thoughts for now.

  • 11 11-05-2008 at 2:05 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I can’t imagine Langella not being nominated. Even if it is the film’s only nod, but he should be on the list.
    As for the rest, could be anyone.

  • 12 11-05-2008 at 2:13 pm

    Joshua said...

    I’m agreeing with John here. Those are my predicted 5 as of now. It just feels that’s the way the Academy will go. Though if someone is out I think it will be Eastwood and he will be replaced by gods knows who.

    Richard Jenkins was good in The Visitor, but I just don’t think he’s gonna get in. I would say Benecio Del Toro, but it does seem that the buzz for Che has died, due to the fact that no one could make sense of Soderbergh’s films earlier this year. And yea…Brad Pitt hasn’t been nominated since 12 Monkeys because he has become a major Movie Star over the years and for some people (AMPAS) it’s hard to look past that.

    So As of Now:

    Leonardo DiCaprio (LOCK) (Read the book and I think this film is gonna be fantastic)

    Clint Eastwood (Not Sure, but he’s safe at this point)

    Frank Langella (Should have been nominated for Good Night and Good Luck, but they could make it up to him this year)

    Sean Penn (People are loving him already)

    Mickey Rourke (Some who have had the privilege to see the film say he’s winning. They could be dramatic or could be telling the truth)

  • 13 11-05-2008 at 2:39 pm

    Billyboy said...

    1. Sean Penn (Winner)
    2. Leonardo DiCaprio
    3. Mickey Rourke
    4. Brad Pitt
    5. Frank Langella

    Would love to see nominated: Del Toro, Seymour Hoffman (Synecdoche, NY), Dustin Hoffman.

  • 14 11-05-2008 at 3:08 pm

    Patrick said...

    Billyboy has is absolutely right. Penn, DiCaprio, Rourke, Pitt and Langella.
    Penn takes it. Eastwood is so over. Also, he endorsed McCain.

  • 15 11-05-2008 at 3:43 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’d hardly call Eastwood a lock with this level of competition.

    You missed Hugh Jackman as a long-shot possibility.

  • 16 11-05-2008 at 3:53 pm

    cinema tek said...

    It´s a pleasure that folks in comments are so over about Clint Eastwood, his performance in Gran Torino´s trailer looks like a crappy cartoon.
    VETERAN SLOT (previous years O´Toole, Eastwood, Kingsley, Caine) belongs to Richard Jenkins or Frank Langella
    STAR SLOT (Clooney, Smith, Depp, Cage)
    DiCaprio vs. Pitt
    COMEBACK SLOT (Travolta, Fonda, Strathairn)
    Rourke (in my dreams Downey Jr)
    BIO SLOT (Whitaker, Hoffman, Foxx, Crowe)
    Sean Penn is a lock, Del Toro is still incontention
    SHOCKING SLOT (Tommy Lee Jones, Howard)
    Brolin or Patel

  • 17 11-05-2008 at 4:25 pm

    McGuff said...

    John, you’ve studied acting, so I’m hoping you’ll address Jenkins performance a little more than you did in the piece. I absolutely adored “The Visitor,” and after 33 movies this year, I have it fourth. I wrote in another thread, I recommend it to everybody, and I think there are two categories (Original Screenplay, Supporting Actress) that it deserves Oscar recognition for.

    And no matter how much I like Jenkins, and no matter how much I liked this movie, I just can’t fathom him in the final five. I can’t think about him ahead of even Josh Brolin. The part just seems so … subdued, maybe … and just not quite enough for what the Academy might be looking for. Rourke, Pitt, Penn, Langella seem to be giving BIG, almost showy, performances, and I can’t help the cynicism that those kind of performances earn awards attention before the Jenkins-types nowadays.

  • 18 11-05-2008 at 4:33 pm

    Adrianna said...

    Sean Penn
    Brad Pitt
    Clint Eastwood
    Frank Langella
    Hugh Jackman

    It’s rare that such a multi-talented actor as Jackman comes along, and even rarer perhaps that such a talent has a reputation for being so nice and such a pleasure to work with. I think that Jackman is as popular with audiences as he is with the artistic community – always a good combination for being nominated for an industry award.

  • 19 11-05-2008 at 5:07 pm

    Joel said...

    Oh and I forgot to say: Thank you, John, for mentioning the Michael Douglas snub for “Wonder Boys.” That was a great film and a great performance.

  • 20 11-05-2008 at 5:43 pm

    Bing147 said...

    You listed 13 in your article, not 12, and I think you need to add Hugh Jackman, he has a shot, maybe not a GREAT one but a shot. Also, as unlikely as it is, I wouldn’t COMPLETELY count out Daniel Craig in Defiance.

  • 21 11-05-2008 at 6:12 pm

    John Foote said...

    Chad, Chad, Chad…have you followed the Oscars? To say Eastwood has no chance is, well, for lack of a better word, silly. He is beloved by the Academy, an icon, who has been honored for his directing and producing and nominated twice for his acting — THEY WANT TO HONOR HIM!!!! I hope Jenkins gets nominated if he is better than the others, but only if…

  • 22 11-05-2008 at 6:28 pm

    Kid said...

    Penn and Rourke look like sure bets. Langella is slowly losing speed. Pitt and Dicaprio are quiet at the moment. I really question Eastwood as a lock I can hardly imagine him in the top 5 in a year like this.

    Penn, Pitt, Rourke, Langella and Dicaprio are my picks with Eastwood and Jenkins close behind.

  • 23 11-05-2008 at 6:43 pm

    Matthew said...

    Back to what ‘nick’ said way up there, it’s sad that “Snow Angels” is going to be overlooked for everything. Sam Rockwell was excellent (definitely one of my favorites of the year), but so was Kate Beckinsale. And David Gordon Green’s direction and writing (though much was improvised) was exceptional as well.

  • 24 11-06-2008 at 1:00 am

    Eunice said...

    I’m going with DeCaprio, Langella, Penn, Pitt, and Brolin. Jackman, Rourke, Eastwood, and Del Toro will be close behind. I have a feeling they won’t nominate Eastwood for ‘Gran Torino’, but I agree on the point about Eastwood being nominated for ‘The Bridges of Madison County’. He should’ve gotten the nom.

    This year is really shaping up to become one of the Oscars’ best years, ever.

  • 25 11-06-2008 at 6:32 am

    red_wine said...

    I have serious reservations about DiCaprio being the best about of his generation. I wouldn’t even say he is a lock for a best actor nomination.

    I’d currently be rooting for Sean Penn, he seems tremendous in Milk and Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, its just the kind of role that he does best.

    Brad Pitt I’m not sure for technical reasons. The structure of the movie demands that his character will be portrayed by many different actors throughout the film with his face painted on top.

  • 26 11-06-2008 at 12:52 pm

    Holly said...

    John , I’m in sync with your opinion that Leo may well be the best of actor of his generation.

    I think your possible list of BA contenders looks strong

  • 27 11-08-2008 at 1:59 am

    RonaldLI said...

    Что за праздник 4 ноября – День народного единства и согласия? Бедный князь Пожарский и новгородский староста Минин в гробу перевернулись бы, метафорически выражаясь, от такой хотиненковской концепции.