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January 27, 2012

Five Leading Men Vie for Best Actor Oscar

by Penelope Poulou

The Academy Award nominations have confirmed the buzz about sure bets, but also added some surprises. In the category Best Actor in a Leading Role, some of the five nominees were expected to be in the mix.  Others were upsets.

In The Descendants, a bittersweet family drama directed by Alexander Payne, George Clooney plays Matt Smith, a successful lawyer who finds himself at life's crossroads.

After a boating accident, his wife is in a coma and is to be taken off life support. Overnight, Matt becomes a single parent to his two daughters. As if that is not enough, he finds out that before the accident his wife was cheating on him.

In portraying Matt, Clooney loses his Hollywood persona. Matt is frumpy, and he's awkward with his kids and everyone else around him. He appears lost as he tries to make sense of what is happening to him.  

With six Oscar nominations and one Oscar award under his belt, Clooney represents the status quo in Hollywood, but in a good way. He's as attractive as he is talented.

However, his performance as Matt King is reminiscent of Ryan Bingham, the driven businessman dealing with loneliness and middle age that Clooney played in Jason Reitman’s 2009 drama Up in The Air.

Clooney received a nomination for that role but did not win the Oscar. So, the question is will he get an Oscar this time around for a similar performance.

Oscar nominee Jean Dujardin does something quite different.  He offers a tour de force performance as George Valentin, a 1920s silent movie star who loses fame and fortune with the advent of the "talkies."

In The Artist, by Michel Hazanavicius, Dujardin exudes star power. His elegance, expressiveness and infectious smile represent what was alluring in silent films. Dujardin could reap the Oscar unless voters opt for the more wholesome and down to earth character of Los Angeles gardener Carlos Calindo, played by Mexican actor Demian Bichir in the drama A Better Life.

Carlos Calindo is an illegal alien and a devoted father. He wants a better life for his son.

Bichir offers a multilayered performance tackling a subject that speaks to many.

But, as the underdog among the contenders, an award for Bichir would be a surprise.

The Academy's voters could instead be swayed by the all-American character of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland As baseball team, played by Brad Pitt in Moneyball.

Pitt gives a solid performance as the man who employs unorthodox methods to build a baseball team headed for the play-offs.

But the deck could be stacked against him. There's also Gary Oldman, who towers over Pitt in a fine-tuned performance as super spy "Smiley" in the thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

But Gary Oldman's British reserve could alienate voters in the Academy, who might feel that his character is too arcane for the American palate.

All bets are on George Clooney's name in that famous envelope or maybe Monsieur Dujardin.  For sure, Oscar night will be interesting this time around.