Posted by · 9:52 am · February 23rd, 2011

The 2010 Best Actor race looks to end up exactly where it started, making it the most predictable category of the evening. In fact, as of late (save for the two Oscars Sean Penn won), this has consistently been one of the easier categories to call. Generally it seems that there is a clear favorite christened before the season is over.

Having said that, this year’s crop of nominees is truly an exceptional one. The one “surprise” of the bunch couldn’t have been more welcome, while overall it’s a nice balance of seasoned veterans, the future of screen acting and those who fall in between. So chalk that up as a big win on the Academy’s part before even casting their winner ballots.

The nominees are:

Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”
Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
James Franco, “127 Hours”

This is the seventh time a nominee is also the Oscarcast’s host, said nominee joining the ranks of Michael Caine, Walter Matthau and David Niven, among others.  Though he isn’t likely to be the second such winner.

Hovering just on the outside of the frontrunners in the lead-up to nominations this year was Javier Bardem, whose stirring, genuine portrayal in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Best Foreign Language Film nominee “Biutiful” is far and away the most accomplished performance of the field. In the end, certainly with a boost from people like Julia Roberts stumping on his behalf, he was able to overcome the unfortunate foreign bias and land his third nomination to date. But he’s probably on the bottom of the list for voters, seeing as each of the other nominees star in films nominated for Best Picture. Oh what a wonderful moment it would be if the Academy saw fit to shock the world on Bardem’s behalf, though. But having just won three years ago, he’ll probably be on the sidelines for a while.

Last year’s winner might have been this year’s winner if Fox Searchlight had decided to keep “Crazy Heart” slated for a 2010 release. Jeff Bridges hooked up with the Coen brothers once again (after famously collaborating with the duo in 1998’s “The Big Lebowski”), and the task was surely daunting: filling the boots of Hollywood legend John Wayne in the remake “True Grit.” To say the least, all involved pulled it off, especially Bridges, who gave the kind of lived-in, vibrant portrayal for which he’s come to be known. After four trips to the show, he finally took home a trophy last year, so he’ll be content to sit back and watch the man he beat then have his turn this time around. I’m sure The Dude will abide, whatever the case.

Certainly a delightful underdog in this year’s race is Jesse Eisenberg, who took his well-worn shtick to a rich and interesting level in “The Social Network.” As Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the actor was able to tap into his typical neurotic faculties to reveal Machiavellian ambition and one of the most memorable characters of the field. He will likely pull his fair share of votes, but like 80% of the nominees in this category, it’s a steep uphill climb. Still, this nomination, and indeed, his work in the film, will guarantee that we see more of him in the future. Hopefully that will include broadened horizons and more unique roles, so that finally audiences will stop thinking it was he who stole Michael Cera’s on-screen disposition and not the other way around.

Is anyone counting on any actor other than Colin Firth to triumph in this field? Many felt the actor deserved a trip to the podium last year for nuanced work in “A Single Man,” but as is the usual case with Oscar, he looks to finally win his award for broader (though no less accomplished) work. In “The King’s Speech,” he had a hell of a role to sink his teeth into, one some actors are already kicking themselves for rejecting. He has dominated the precursor circuit, somehow managing to say something unique each and every time he takes the mic. And he remains one of the most affable people in the game, a gentleman who certainly knows how to work the circuit, poised to be a part of his third Best Picture-winning film to date. All of that — oh, and the actual performance — spells an easy Best Actor win.

Finally we come to the above-mentioned co-host of this year’s Oscar festivities. James Franco joins the company of seven individuals who have hosted the ceremony in the same year they were nominated, and his performance in “127 Hours” is probably the closest thing to a spoiler in the bunch. It’s a one-man show from nearly beginning to end. It takes something special to hold the audience’s attention for that amount of time. And even Tom Hanks didn’t have to be lodged in a tiny spot for the duration of “Cast Away,” so let’s give the work here its due. It’s also incredibly naturalistic, announcing the talent we all knew was buried inside the actor but rarely, in recent years, got the chance to poke through. Good thing for him his mind will be elsewhere on Oscar night.

Will win: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
Could win: James Franco, “127 Hours”
Should win: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”

Should have been here: Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine”

Check out my current rankings for this race at its dedicated Contenders page here.

Who do you think deserves to win the award for Best Actor? Have your say in today’s sidebar poll!

[Photos: Roadside Attractions, The Weinstein Company]

→ 53 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Oscar Guide

53 responses so far

  • 1 2-24-2011 at 10:17 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    Carlos was released in theaters though, don’t think Temple Grandin was.

  • 2 2-24-2011 at 2:39 pm

    SJG said...

    Out of these five, Jesse Eisenberg is my favorite to win, though Colin Firth is a close, close second.

    But if I had a dream lineup, it would go like this (in order of most deserving to win to least deserving):

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island
    Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
    Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
    Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter
    Jeff Bridges, True Grit

  • 3 2-24-2011 at 5:30 pm

    James D. said...

    I get Carlos is not eligible and all. I am saying the rules should have been changed to suit it, though. It is one of the best performances in years.