The best actor race looks to be competitive this year. Out of the top 10 actors I have ranked, we have 4 previous Oscar winners, and another 4 previous nominees, along with couple of up and comers. Here is the way I see the race at this point.
1. Morgan Freeman, Invictus - Freeman playing Nelson Mandella is a natural fit, and is too good for the Academy to overlook this year. This, coupled with the fact that the film is directed by Clint Eastwood, and they always go his films, this looks like a sure thing.
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine - They love Day-Lewis, and the role in Nine was great on Broadway, and gives him another chance to shine. The only thing that could trip him up: Can he sing?
3. George Clooney, Up in the Air - Clooney has become an Oscar favorite in years past, and this role, as a man who specializes in firing people going through a turning point in his life, seems like a natural Oscar role.
4. Matt Damon, The Informant - I honestly believe that the Academy has been waiting for an opportunity to nominate Damon again, and this role, as a slightly crazy executive who turns against his employers, looks to be a role of comedic genius. But will they go for comedy?
5. Viggo Mortenson, The Road - Mortenson finally got nominated two years ago for Eastern Promises, and the in The Road should be even more harrowing. A showcase role for an actor who they love.
6. Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker - One of the most acclaimed performances of the year so far, Renner has been doing solid work for years now, and this could be their chance to finally acknowledge his work.
7. Sean Penn, The Tree of Life - They love Penn - he already has two Oscars this decade - and director Terence Malick always does great work, so he could easily get in once again for this film.
8. Johnny Depp, Public Enemies - Depp has become an Oscar favorite this decade, receiving three nominations in the past few years. They really want give him a win, so they may be tempted to nominate him for his excellent performance as Dillinger this year. If the fall films disappoint, this could easily move up.
9. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man - No one may know Stuhlbarg’s name yet, but getting the lead role in a Coen brothers movie can do great things for his career. If A Serious Man becomes one of the Coen’s Oscar movies, he could end up an Oscar nominee.
10. Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes - If they nominated him last year for Tropic Thunder, then it’s not much of a stretch to think that it’s at least possible for him to be nominated for Sherlock Holmes. They love him that much.
The best actress race is not as competitive as the best actor race, but there are still a numberof women who could end up in this year’s race.
1. Carey Mulligan, An Education - Newcomer Mulligan has become one of the season’s sure things in the past few months, as she blows away everyone who sees the film. She could easily end up winning this year, so an nomination is all but assured.
2. Hilary Swank, Amelia - Swank has been nominated, and won, twice in the past, so even if I am not so sure that Amelia is going to be the major player that others seem to think it will be, I find it hard to believe that Swank will not be nominated for playing the iconic pilot.
3. Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia - I do not necessarily believe that Streep’s work in this film is among her best (or even a lead role for that matter), but I seem to be in the minority on that one. And I have found that it is never a good idea to bet against Streep, so unless It’s Complicated gets her a nomination, then this one probably will.
4. Saorise Ronan, The Lovely Bones - Ronan maybe young, but she is already a nominee for her great work in Atonement. Unless they decide to run her in the supporting category (and move Weisz to lead), I think she could easily wind up a two time nominee,
5. Abbie Cornish, Bright Star - This film got mixed reviews out of Cannes, but it was mainly the snotty critics who didn’t like it, but even they seem to agree that Abbie Cornish’s performance in this film is great. It has been a while since a Jane Campion film got a major nomination, but this could end up being Cornish’s coming out party.
6. Penelope Cruz, Broken Embraces - Cruz received her first nomination for working with Almodovar, and just received her first win last year, so they clearly like her, so even if this is apparently not one of Almodovar’s best films, she could find herself with another nomination.
7. Gabourey Sidibe, Precious - This movie has received a lot of buzz already as a possible best picture nominee, as well as a supporting actress nominee for Mo’Nique, but for some reason the buzz on Sidibe is still quite quiet. This could easily change, and this newcomer could find herself as a nominee.
8. Audrey Tautou, Coco Before Chanel - Tautou is still waiting for her first nomination, and her performance here might just be her ticket to a nomination. The problem? This is the third movie this year about Coco Chanel, so perhaps no one will care.
9. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antichrist - If the Academy actually watches this movie, and can get over the terrible sexual violence in the film (apparently she cuts off her clit at one point to punish her husband. She must be confused, because really, that’s more of a punishment for her, but whatever?) they may feel that Gainsbourg deserves a nomination for sheer bravery. It worked at Cannes.
10. Meryl Streep, It's Complicated - I have no doubt that Streep will be nominated for something this year, but since there seems to be more buzz on Julie and Julia right now, and we know she’s great in it, so bet on that one, but this could easily become the nominee if it’s even better.
Best Supporting Actor
We already have one guarnteed nominee in this category, but the rest of the spots are up for grabs. Like always, this is going to be a very competitive category.
1. Christophe Waltz, Inglorious Basterds - Even the critics who do not like the movie very much, love Waltz and his amazing work in this film. It already won the prize at Cannes, and there is no doubt that he’ll pick a nomination for this one as well.
2. Matt Damon, Invictus - As I mentioned in the actor category, they really want to nominate Damon again. Working with Eastwood and Freeman seems to be a good way to get another nomination for him, so bet on it.
3. Richard Kind, A Serious Man - Kind is the type of character actor that people recognize, but not love. But if the Coens have given him a great role, then I could easily see him getting a nomination for this film.
4. Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones - It is hard for me to believe that Tucci has never been nominated in the past, but he is given the plum role in Peter Jackson’s new movie, as the murderer. Could easily get nominated.
5. Alfred Molina, An Education - The movie is shaping up to be one of the most talked about films of the year, and Molina is one of those actors you cannot believe has never been nominated before. Esxpect this to be his year.
6. Paul Schneider, Bright Star Schneider has been doing great work for a number of years now, but never seems to quite cross that border into a nomination. Along with Cornish, people seem to love him, so he could find himself in the race.
7. Jason Bateman, Up in the Air - An actor who just seems to get better with each passing year, Up in the Air seems to be one of the big Oscar players this year, so perhaps Bateman will ride the coattails of the movie in a nomination.
8. Richard Gere, Amelia - Like Tucci and Molina, Richard Gere is the type of actor that you cannot quite believe he has never been nominated. Working with Mira Nair and Hilary Swank may finally get Gere a nomination.
9. Kodi Smit McPhee, The Road - Newcomer Smith McPhee has already got some great reviews for this person, as he matches Mortenson, and help him carry the movie. They have certainly given nominations to kids before, so this could happen.
10. Peter Capaldi, In the Loop - Capaldi delivers one of the most loved performances of the year in this brilliant political satire. His main stumbling block is that more people need to actually see the film to get nominated.
Best Supporting Actress
I’m not sure I’d call anyone a lock here, but spots are defiantly filling up already – films being site unseen of course. We’ll have to wait until we get some more reviews coming in to see how things will shake down.
1. Mo'nique, Precious – Precious certainly does seem to be dividing audiences into camps of people who think it’s touching and brilliant, and those who think it’s manipulative in the extreme. Having said that, people seem to rave about Mo’Nique bait-y turn as an abusive mother, so I expect her to get in no matter what.
2. Penelope Cruz, Nine – Cruz has one of the most memorable roles in the film (or so I am told by people who saw the play), and she has been nominated twice in the past few years, so they certainly like her. I expect to see her in play again.
3. Marion Cotillard, Nine – She gets the sympathetic role as Guido’s long suffering wife, and like Cruz, she has a recent win under her belt, making her a likely nominee. The only problem? She is also getting great notices for Public Enemies.
4. Rachel Weisz, The Lovely Bones – Another recent victor (man, if I’m right, I think you could easily be saying Academy Award Winner Mo’Nique soon), Weisz gets the role of the grieving mother in Peter Jackson’s film. And they do love grieving mothers.
5. Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air – To sharp eyed fans, Kendrick has been doing some great work for a number of years now, but her role in this George Clooney movie, that is surely to be a big Oscar hit, could easily be her coming out party. That is if co-star Vera Farmiga does not steal her thunder.
6. Marion Cotillard, Public Enemies – She got unqualified raves, even from people who did not like the movie as much as I did. She has to battle herself, and Nine seems more Oscar friendly though, so bet on that one.
7. Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life – If the Academy does not go with Kendrick in the newcomer slot, perhaps Jessica Chastain will get some love for her work in the new Terence Malick movie. I’m going off nothing on this one.
8. Susan Sarandon, The Lovely Bones – If Weisz’s grieving mother is too much of a downer, perhaps the Academy will show some love to Sarandon (it has been a while) for the role of the fiery grandma.
9. Judi Dench, Nine – Like Streep, Dench can often sneeze and get a nomination, so I would not count her out for this film, even if others have more attention catching roles.
10. Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds – If the fall film disappoint, the Academy may look back at the most fun they had in the summer in a bigger way than imagined. If they do, than Laurent’s brilliant turn may move up this list in a hurry.