Continuing with my ongoing series of early Oscar predictions, we move on to Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
This category is packed to the brim with potential contenders. And yet, I can't imagine a list that doesn't include...
1. Sean Penn in Milk
This role positively screams Oscar-bait, but in a way that (for once) I mostly approve of. I hate biopics, but I feel like the story of openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk is one that is still relevant today. One that we can still take lessons and cues from. Penn is pretty much a lock for a nod as far as I'm concerned. Oscar loves to reward people playing real people. But Sean Penn is not really well liked, as last year's snubs for Into the Wild can attest. Too gay? It might be. It might prevent Penn from winning his second Oscar, even if he deserves it. Wouldn't it be easier to reward...
2. Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
He's playing Richard Nixon in a film based on an acclaimed play. And it's directed by Opie, who some people seem to think is a good filmmaker. Langella is an aging veteran with no nomination to speak of, even after moderate buzz for his performances in recent films like Good Night and Good Luck and Starting Out in the Evening. It seems like a safe bet on paper. But this may not translate well from stage to film (it happens sometimes). If that happens, it may seem underwhelming in the wake of other performances in films based on plays. Such as...
3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
I don't know why more people aren't predicting Hoffman for a nomination. I understand that there's some grey area about how big this role is and whether it will be placed in supporting or lead. But after his throwaway nomination last year in supporting for Charlie Wilson's War, it feels like Hoffman can be nominated for just about anything. So what if he's playing a child molester? I don't understand this whole "Oscar doesn't like unlikable characters" logic that a lot of people seem to adopt, especially since it doesn't really hold up. Sample some of the roles that Oscar has rewarded in the last ten years. Aileen Wuornos, Idi Amin, Daniel Plainview, Anton Chigurh, Karen Crowder, Alonzo (Training Day), Velma Kelly, Jimmy Markum. These characters are all (in some way or another) murderers, by the way and represent samplings from all four acting categories. Just saying.
4. Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
This small indie opened to very good reviews (both for Jenkins's performance and the film itself). Will the minor buzz sustain until year's end? It might. It will certainly take an aggressive FYC campaign on the part of the studio.
5. Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This trailer is absolutely gorgeous. It's a thing of beauty and should be in a museum. And Fincher has been a force to be reckoned with for a long time (when will the AMPAS finally embrace him?) Pitt hasn't been invited back to the party since his nomination in the supporting category for 12 Monkeys (and that was a long time ago). Will they nominate him this year? The idea of Brad and Angelina both getting Oscar nominations seems like a media frenzy the likes of which the Academy can't pass up...How else do you explain Miley (sp.) Cyrus being a presenter last year?
Don't Count Out...
6. Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road
He has two roles this year. It would probably be smart to put him in the top five, right? Maybe. But Leo's been getting nominated pretty consistently since The Aviator. It's a little bit presumptuous to assume that he'll be nominated every two years, dont'cha think? He has the heavily publicized Titanic-reunion with Kate to build up some buzz. If anything, pairing the two together will show how much both have grown as actors, especially Leo who has improved his craft nearly tenfold. But a domestic drama? Directed by Sam Mendes? Could it feel too "been there, done that?"
7. Leonardo DiCaprio in House of Lies
Ridley Scott is a hack. That's why I put Revolutionary Road first. That is all.
8. Benicio del Toro in Che
This performance will have to be very well received for it to receive some attention. del Toro already has a statue and a subsequent nod, so it's not like they're itching to reward him. He is being directed by the Oscar-winning Soderbergh here and it is a biopic, so it warrants some attention.
9. Viggo Mortensen in The Road
The reception of this film will truly tell if cinema-watchers still have a boner for Cormac McCarthy following the success of No Country for Old Men. But I love me some Viggo and would love to see him back at the plate again after his nomination for Eastern Promises last year. And finally...
10. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Because Warner Bros. studios are riding high off this movie's acclaim, which has reached a ridiculous fevered pitch (I settled on a B+ for The Dark Knight, by the way). This may cause them to commit flagrant category fraud and campaign Ledger in lead since he does "dominate" the film. It's possible, but I doubt it because category fraud usually goes in the other direction (leads placed in supporting).