In Contention


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 2-23-2011 at 9:56 am

    Someone said...

    I haven’t seen Bardem but from the other four contenders Firth is the best.

  • 2 2-23-2011 at 9:58 am

    Rashad said...

    Should win – Bridges

    Should be there and win – Leo – Shutter Island

    Should be there – Shia LaBeouf – WS2 (better than Eisenberg) and Ben Stiller – Greenberg

  • 3 2-23-2011 at 10:02 am

    JJ1 said...

    Will win: Colin Firth.
    Could win: Javier Bardem; incredible, as well.
    Should win: Colin Firth.

    Should have been here: Leo DiCaprio, Shutter Island. And Gosling, too, for that matter.

    James Franco is my solid 3rd.

  • 4 2-23-2011 at 10:14 am

    Alex in Movieland said...

    Should win – James Franco

  • 5 2-23-2011 at 10:15 am

    Marc R. said...

    Replace Jeff Bridges and Jesse Eisenberg w/ Leo Dicaprio (SI) and Ryan Gosling and not only would you have a much better field of nominees (in a just world Gosling would be winning the Oscar come Sunday), it’s possible this race could have been more interesting. But whatever, I’m fine with Firth winning.

  • 6 2-23-2011 at 10:28 am

    bluemoon02 said...

    This race is pointless without Ryan Gosling in it. Truth be told, I would kick out Jeff Bridges for Gosling. Haven’t watch Biutiful so I dunno how great Bardem is but I am kind of rooting for Eisenberg despite knowing its impossible.

    How is Jeff Bridges’ performance in True Grit better than Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine? Someone explain it to me please.

  • 7 2-23-2011 at 10:30 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    Should Win- Jesse Eisenberg

  • 8 2-23-2011 at 10:34 am

    JJ1 said...

    What Marc R. said.

    Firth, Bardem, Franco, DiCaprio, Gosling would have been fantastic.

    Though, I really do think Eisenberg was great, as well (6th for me).

  • 9 2-23-2011 at 10:45 am

    Andrej said...

    Haven’t seen Biutiful yet, though there was a very early screening here in Chile, but… surprise! it had to be for the same day as my birthday. :(

    Will win: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech.
    Could win: James Franco, 127 Hours.
    Should win: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network.

    Should have been here: Jim Carrey, I Love You Phillip Morris; and Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine.

  • 10 2-23-2011 at 11:08 am

    James D. said...

    Edgar Ramirez was so much better than the other nominees it isn’t even funny.

  • 11 2-23-2011 at 11:20 am

    Silencio said...

    “How is Jeff Bridges’ performance in True Grit better than Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine? Someone explain it to me please.”

    If only their logic were so logical.

  • 12 2-23-2011 at 11:20 am

    Freddy Ardanza said...

    Jesse Eissenberg performance is even more overrated than the social network if that’s even possible. Gosling and Dicaprio should have been nominated instead of Eissenberg.

  • 13 2-23-2011 at 11:22 am

    AJ said...

    Will win: Colin Firth
    Could win: Javier Bardem
    Should win: Jesse Eisenberg
    Should have been here: Robert Duvall

  • 14 2-23-2011 at 11:27 am

    tintin(uruguay) said...

    Will win: Firth
    Could win: –
    Should win: Franco
    Should have been here: DiCaprio(Shutter Island)

  • 15 2-23-2011 at 12:04 pm

    daveylow said...

    Firth, Bardem and Franco are all amazing in their respective films. Ryan Gosling should have been nominated, probably over Eisenberg and Bridges.

  • 16 2-23-2011 at 12:14 pm

    SC said...

    Will win: Colin Firth
    Could win: N/A
    Should win: Colin Firth
    Should have been here: Paul Giamatti

  • 17 2-23-2011 at 12:19 pm

    Patryk said...

    Will win: Colin Firth
    Could win: Jesse Eisenberg
    Should win: Javier Bardem
    Should have been here: Ryan Gosling

  • 18 2-23-2011 at 12:23 pm

    Patryk said...

    Should have been eligible: Edgar Ramirez

  • 19 2-23-2011 at 1:03 pm

    DylanS said...

    Will Win: Colin Firth (I don’t begrudge him the inevitable Oscar, but his unwavering dominance on the circuit this year has grown wearisome to me, especially when you condider that he’s far from the only deserving performance in the field.

    Should Win: Eisenberg is a very close second, and I did love Firth’s performance as well, but James Franco gave us a unique performance that is certainly the most challenging of the performances nominated, but in my mind was also the most nuanced.

    Should Be Here: Mark Wahlberg. I’d readily make the case for Gosling too, but I think it’s riduculous how the Academy has so simple-mindedly looked over this grounded central performance in favor of the showier, flashier work done by his supporting cast, not recognizing that his performance is the one that makes those performances, and the entire film for that matter, work.

  • 20 2-23-2011 at 1:12 pm

    Anita said...

    It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that so many dismiss Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as “overrated” or unworthy of a nomination. Whatever harm the critics did to The Social Network’s Best Picture chances by crowning it their favourite, I still think they’re at least partly responsible for Eisenberg’s nomination. I would never have imagined this subtle and layered a performance getting a lead acting nomination for someone in his 20s. I’m really excited to see what kind of roles he will be offered after this and which ones he will choose. I think he’s done a great job of picking projects so far in his career.

    If Ryan Gosling was nominated, he would be my pick, but out of this roster, it’s Eisenberg. Have you heard from a lot of voters picking Franco, Kris? Because I would think Eisenberg would be in the number 2 spot, no?

  • 21 2-23-2011 at 1:38 pm

    Bill Melidoneas said...

    @James D I’ve yet to see the highly regarded ‘Carlos’. But it premiered on Sundance Channel first b4 it’s theatrical distribution so it wasn’t eligible. Dumb move on their behalf. Why not wait 2-3 weeks screen it in a couple theaters then air it on Sundance??

  • 22 2-23-2011 at 2:10 pm

    James C said...

    Will Win: Firth
    Should Win(after seen Bardem): Jesse Eisenberg

    I have to say I’m still pleased that the academy recognized Eisenberg out of any of the performers. He doesn’t play the most sympathetic character and doesn’t have a sort of scene stealing character like Timberlake who has the prestige of musician/celebrity gone actor. Its a layered, nuanced performance that I could easily see getting overlooked not only for the kind of role he plays or the kind of performance he gives, but also his age could have hindered him.

  • 23 2-23-2011 at 2:40 pm

    Sam C. said...

    Oddly, I’d say this is the only category of the night that’s 100% locked. It always feels like there is a lot of races that are sealed by now. But Firth seems like the night’s only unstoppable slamdunk. Sure the screenplays and Toy Story 3 seems sure bets, but Firth is far and far the night’s biggest lock.

    Kris – each year there’s an acting category that’s a foregone conclusion, and I actually feel that Best Actor has only been that way a few times. 2000, 2001, 2002. 2003 (as you mention), and 2008 (as you mention) were tight races. Even 2006 had some trills with O’Toole drawing upset predictions down to the wire. But there was 4 years in there that from Fox to Day-Lewis that seemed predictable, I guess. And these last two years.

  • 24 2-23-2011 at 2:45 pm

    Sertan said...

    Jesse Eisenberg plays the same guy over and over, with limited range. This time he got lucky with TSN as the guy he kept playing was very similar to his character in TSN!

    Yes, Ryan Gosling should have been included. And yes Javier Bardem is very good in that movie.
    But I think it is already Colin Firth’s Oscar this year! No competition.

  • 25 2-23-2011 at 2:45 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Have to go with Jeff Bridges in “True Grit.” I’m baffled he’s in last place on the poll. I think this is a performance that tops even his Oscar-winning role last year, when Colin Firth really should have won.

  • 26 2-23-2011 at 3:01 pm

    Mike_M said...

    Couldn’t have said it better myself: “Should have been here: Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine””

  • 27 2-23-2011 at 4:19 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Will win: Colin Firth
    Could win: As if
    Should win: Jesse Eisenberg

    Should have been here (and won this whole race in a walk): Ryan Gosling. Still sulking about that one.

  • 28 2-23-2011 at 4:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Bill Melidoneas: The Sundance Channel airing made no difference. Its French TV debut had already ruled it out.

  • 29 2-23-2011 at 4:32 pm

    Simone said...

    Will win: Colin Firth
    Could win: Javier Bardem
    Should win: Colin Firth
    should have been there – Ryan Gosling

  • 30 2-23-2011 at 4:36 pm

    Bryce said...

    Should’ve been here: Gosling, DiCaprio, and Giamatti.

  • 31 2-23-2011 at 4:37 pm

    Cameron said...

    My Personal Line-Up:

    1. Javier Bardem
    2. Jesse Eisenberg
    3. Colin Firth
    4. James Franco
    5. Jeff Bridges

    Surprisingly, my own preferences completely match up with the Academy. Surprise, surprise.

  • 32 2-23-2011 at 4:56 pm

    austin111 said...

    A lot of fine performances this year. Gosling and DiCaprio should be there but I can’t say whose place they’d take. Not really. Just wish they’d nominate more than 5 in years when there really are more than 5 great performances out there. Gosling and DiCaprio will win one of these days, imo. Both are genuinely great in their own ways. Also would add the actor in Carlos and probably Giamatti, who always manages to elevate whatever he’s doing.

  • 33 2-23-2011 at 5:03 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Just wish they’d nominate more than 5 in years when there really are more than 5 great performances out there.

    There are always more than five great performances out there. Always. You just need to dig around.

  • 34 2-23-2011 at 5:18 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I’ve always felt that – in any category across the board – if there are only 3 or 4 worthy candidates (with the vote totals coinciding), then only nominate those 3 or 4. If there are 7 worthy (and the vote totals line-up accordingly), have 7 noms.

    i.e. – for any random year —
    Best Pic – 6 noms.
    Best Actor – 5.
    Best Actress – 5.
    Best S. Actor – 3.
    Best S. Actress – 6.
    Best original screenplay – 8.
    Best make-up – 4.
    Best Sound Editing – 3.

  • 35 2-23-2011 at 5:21 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I don’t know if that would ever work. But it’s a method I’ve always pondered.

  • 36 2-23-2011 at 5:44 pm

    Nelson said...

    A really amazing lineup of actors, it is deservedly Firth’s but they’re all really fantastic.

  • 37 2-23-2011 at 6:04 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    My five this year

    Bardem, Franco, Eisenberg, Gosling, Ramirez

    Tahar Rahim in 6th.

  • 38 2-23-2011 at 7:29 pm

    red_wine said...

    Will win: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
    Could win: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”
    Should win: Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”

    Should have been here: Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos”
    and Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos”
    also Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos”
    along with Edgar Ramirez, “Carlos”

  • 39 2-23-2011 at 7:52 pm

    Afrika said...

    People want Eisenberg to win an Oscar for being a witty nerd? oh my

  • 40 2-23-2011 at 8:11 pm

    Zac said...

    Is this where I get to be smug for knowing that James Franco was a great actor over a decade ago due to his work on Freaks and Geeks, in particular the episode “Tests and Breasts”? ;)

  • 41 2-23-2011 at 8:28 pm

    lily said...

    Will win: Colin Firth
    Should win: Jesse Eisenberg
    Should’ve been here (and should’ve won): Edgar Ramirez
    Should not be here: Jeff Bridges

    I’m glad the Academy acknowledged Eisenberg, it’s not the typical Oscary role but it’s the most subdued and layered performance this year, and his Zuckerberg is the most memorable character than any other this year. Ironically, this is the same sort of acting that defined Firth in A Single Man last year, and probably a reason why he lost. Those sort of performances are easy to overlook but they get better and better with each viewing. So I’ll be happy for Firth winning this year. Hopefully Eisenberg’s nomination will give him more chances to land good roles so that we’ll see more of him and eventually a win for him (not the Lifetime Achievement Award though but knowing the Academy…)

  • 42 2-23-2011 at 8:37 pm

    Dunk said...

    It’s funny that a lot of people think DiCaprio should be nominated for his overrated and, frankly, trying-hard-to-win-Oscar acting in Shutter Island that he recycled for Inception. I miss the old DiCaprio of Gilbert Grape, Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator. He did show a spark of that promise again in Revolutionary Road, but even that was overlooked and he reverted to his desperation again.

    He should try doing that effortless acting again or maybe venture into supporting, then he might win an Oscar.

  • 43 2-23-2011 at 8:42 pm

    Afrika said...

    Can you please tell me why Eisenerg’s acting in TSN is better than Firth’s performance in TKS? thanks in advance.

  • 44 2-23-2011 at 9:11 pm

    lily said...

    @Afrika Well “best” and “better” is a subjective measure. It really depends on how you see it. Eisenberg is my pick this year but really wouldn’t mind Firth :D

  • 45 2-23-2011 at 10:17 pm

    Mike D. Meyers said...

    These should have been the 5 nominees:

    1. Colin Firth
    2. Jesse Eisenberg
    3. Leonardo Di Caprio (Shutter Island)
    4. James Franco
    5. Robert Duvall

  • 46 2-23-2011 at 11:24 pm

    Ella said...

    Will win: Firth
    Could win: Anyone
    Should win: Firth

    Seems it’s become cool to favor Bardem. He’s the pick of people I know who haven’t even seen his film.;-)

  • 47 2-24-2011 at 1:08 am

    decs said...

    Personally, I would have loved to have seen:


  • 48 2-24-2011 at 7:38 am

    Joseph W said...

    My five are:

    Broadbent, Another Year
    Eckhart, Rabbit Hole

    (Haven’t seen Bardem)

  • 49 2-24-2011 at 8:47 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    Javier Bardem gives the Best Actor Performance of the year by far! He blew my away! His presence is just so incredible! I always ask myselve when i saw a Javier Bardem Performance who can a man with so many muscles and who looks so strong, who can he play so vulnerable? It’s soo incredible! He is far better then the rest! When Sandra Bullock will say on Sunday Night And the Oscar goes to: Colin Firth for me she will say And the Oscar goes to: Javier Bardem! He is my personal winner!

    Actor who get snubbed: Mark Whalberg in The Fighter and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine!

  • 50 2-24-2011 at 8:51 am

    Simon Warrasch said...

    How could Edgar Ramirez get nominated for an Oscar? Carlos was a TV-Movie! A Movie made for Television! Then i also could say that Claire Danes for her phenomenal portray in Temple Grandin should have been nominated for Lead Actress! And she should have won this f…… award!

  • 51 2-24-2011 at 10:17 am

    Matthew Starr said...

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

  • 52 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

  • 53 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.