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Oscar nominations will be revealed on the 24th.  As arbitrary as the nominations can sometimes seem, there’s definitely method to their madness.  Over the next week, we’ll dive into the potential nominees in each of the big eight categories.  This time around: Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • George Clooney, The Descendants
  • Brad Pitt, Moneyball
  • Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Mark Harris had a great quote about these three: “I can’t remember a year in which the top three candidates for best actor coasted into nomination day with less discussion of the specific merits of their acting.”  I won’t argue against the idea that Oscar has a thing for hot young ingenues, but these three are getting nominations because (among other reasons) they are extremely handsome gentlemen.  Pitt and Clooney won’t be on my ballot, but it is hard to get too worked up here.

GOOD BET

  • (none)

LIKELY IN

  • (none)

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
  • Michael Fassbender, Shame
  • Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
  • Demian Bichir, A Better Life

All five of these actor have had meaningful precursor nominations and are on at least Oscar pundits’s predictions, so it really seems like anyone’s guess.  DiCaprio seemed liked a sure thing heading into Oscar season, but then people actually saw J. Edgar and realized it wasn’t terribly good.  That said, it has earned about $15 million more at the box office than the other four combined.  Fassbender does go full frontal (albeit not nearly as much as you are expecting).  He also is terrific, but is dealing with a challenging movie that is easy to dismiss as him just having sex all the time.  Storywise, Oldman is the lead character, but honestly I think I’d have moved him down to supporting and argued there’s no lead actor at all.  The film underperformed, and if you hear “spy movie” and expect Oldman to be Bond or Bourne, you’ll be sorely disappointing as his role is all stoicism and measured reactions.  Oldman is also somehow still searching for his first Oscar nomination.  If you have seen Michael Shannon in anything, and haven’t seen this bit, you need to watch him in this sketch.  Shannon is all kinds of awesome and actors apparently love his performances, it may come down to how many people actually watched the film.  I’ve talked about Bichir elsewhere.  What is tough is that other than DiCaprio, none of the actors on this list have particularly showy roles.

DARK HORSES

  • Ryan Gosling, Ides of March
  • Ryan Gosling, Drive
  • Woody Harrelson, Rampart

And Gosling also got a Globe nom for Crazy, Stupid, Love.  Drive is a divisive movie and Ides of March  never really found traction (though it has seen a late surge).  Where Chastain’s supporters have rallied around The Help, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus forming for Gosling.  Pretty much no one saw Rampart, which is a hurdle, even though Harrelson is supposed to be great, and he was nominated for an Oscar for The Messengers, Moverman’s last film.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Brendan Gleeson, The Guard
  • Tom Hardy, Warrior
  • Steve Carell, Crazy, Stupid, Love.
  • Thomas Dekker, Kaboom
  • David Hyde Pierce, The Perfect Host
  • Chris Hemsworth, Thor
  • J.K. Simmons, The Music Never Stopped
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Oscar nominations will be revealed Tuesday January 24th. As we get closer, the Grouches will be sharing some thoughts, hopes, and predictions. You can read thoughts on the so-called “major” categories all over the place, but this time around, we share some out there guesses that just might come true.

John:

My longshot hope is for a Best Picture nod for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I loved the film and it’s been sad to see others’ enthusiasm not quite reach mine. When it was first unveiled and later made tons of money in the UK, it seemed to be on its way to awards recognition. But it has stalled to some extent in the US. I’m really hoping the English contingent of the Academy comes through to give votes to their countrymen. These hopes extend to Gary Oldman’s Best Actor chances.

I’m also holding out hope for an Original Screenplay nod for Contagion, a gripping and chilling film about a worldwide epidemic. The amount of research and attention to detail is apparent throughout the film. It works because it’s so well thought out. You can see events playing out just as they do in the film and that makes it all the more frightening. It’s not a likely choice, but it does have something of a chance and the studio has been campaigning for it.

Jared:

If you believe in the wave theory of nominations (that having one person a front-runner for a nomination makes it more likely others get in, e.g. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Oscar-nominated performance in Crazy Heart), then you can build cases for a variety of dark horses to sneak in.  There’s lots of speculative buzz about Robert Forster from The Descendants (and also Judy Greer).  Why not extend that to Corey Stoll?  Midnight in Paris may end up with a Best Picture nod, and it has an ensemble cast filled with well-regarded actors.  Perhaps voters will focus on Stoll to celebrate the acting in the film.

Jessica Chastain makes me think of two fits here.  Ryan Gosling has had, if not a breakout year then an explosive one.  I could see voters wanting to make sure they notice him (though votes could be split between Drive and Ides of March).  And in that vein, if Chastain’s supporters can’t rally around one role, what about Bryce Dallas Howard?  I’m sure I’m not the only one who wasn’t sure which attractive and over the top member of the cast I was supposed to be looking at.

And one really out there thought: screeners for A Better Life went out super early.  So maybe a bunch of people saw it and it pulls in an original screenplay nod for Eric Eason and Roger L. Simon.

Brian:

Tree of Life sneaks into the Best Picture category, forcing Jared and Adam to sit through that mess of a movie

Ben Kingsley is the surprise nominee in Best Supporting Actor for Hugo.

War Horse gets completely shut out, even John Williams gets ignored. I really don’t want to see it.

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