George Clooney has become one of the most respected actors in Hollywood, in part because he chooses his films so carefully. He tends to balance higher profile pet projects (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Ocean’s 11, Leatherheads) with complex political dramas (Syriana, Michael Clayton, The Ides of March) and smaller, character-driven movies like Up in the Air, and the film for which he’s nominated this year, The Descendants. He’s got a lot working in his favor here, as The Descendants has had tremendous word of mouth and has been the picture that’s seen the biggest boost at the box office post-Oscar nominations. The only thing keeping Clooney from being a lock in this category is the fact that he’s already earned two Oscars and the Academy may want to share the love this time around.
Remember Roberto Benigni, that cute little guy who stole everyone’s heart in the film Life is Beautiful and then rode the wave all the way to a Best Actor win in 1999? Well, Jean Dujardin looks like he’s riding the exact same wave as Benigni. Both are charming foreigners who played inspiring characters in small, feel-good movies; each nabbed BAFTA and SAG Best Actor wins prior to the Oscars; and both were adored by American audiences in spite of performances reliant on subtitles (Benigni’s because his film was in Italian, Dujardin’s because his movie, The Artist, is silent.)
The main thing working against Brad Pitt is Moneyball’s limited appeal. If the movie were about baseball, I’d give him a chance, but it’s not. It’s about baseball executives, and despite Pitt’s moving portrayal of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, it’s not a role that evokes the kind of pathos seen in many of the recent Best Actor winners (e.g., Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart, Sean Penn in Milk.) Pitt is a discriminating actor who’s sure to be nominated again, but this performance just isn’t worthy.
So if eliciting the audience’s empathy is one of the keys to winning in this category, than you’d have to say that Demián Bichir at least has a shot. In A Better Life, Bichir plays a Mexican gardener striving to keep his son out of gang entanglements, while building his small business and dodging the INS. Bichir’s performance is thoughtful and touching. Unfortunately, A Better Life is a film that’s been completely overlooked, and those who did manage to catch it, probably did so just after its release last summer, so Bichir’s excellence is likely forgotten.
Gary Oldman, is a Hollywood veteran with a long history of great performances in films like Sid and Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears, The Contender, and now Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oldman’s received a ton of recognition for the espionage thriller and in a weaker year, he’d have a decent shot. This year, however, it’s a two-man race between Dujardin and Clooney.
Should win: Clooney
Will win: Clooney
More Oscar Predictions:
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress