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Handicapping Oscar, Part II

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Having previously covered some of the possible award-worthy movies that could have an Academy Award hoisted by the director while he or she shouts “I’m the king of the world!,” (thank you, James Cameron), let’s move into the always dignified and ego-free world of actors. As usual, there are clearly more possible candidates than available nominee slots.

Of course, that means every year there are examples of actors getting nominated that make you scratch your head, while other potential nominees are left out in the cold. (Well, as cold as winter in southern California can get.)

The following is an analysis of the two lead acting categories and some of the possible nominees heading into Oscar night, March 6, 2006. Keep in mind, unpredictability often reigns in these categories, whether it’s with an out of left field nominee or possibly an unexpected winner. Hence, the reason I’m staying away from the supporting acting races – just too many possibilities right now.

Best Actor
• Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) – For those of you not familiar with this great actor, he is no relation to Dustin Hoffman. Usually, any movie featuring him is better for his presence and with Capote, he has his first high-profile starring role. Portraying the eccentric author Truman Capote, early word is that it would be a major surprise if Hoffman doesn’t garner a nomination.

• Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) – Another near sure thing to be nominated, Phoenix is getting a lot of great publicity for his performance as music icon Johnny Cash. Academy Award voters loves strong performances featuring real-life musicians (Jamie Foxx won portraying Ray Charles and Gary Busey was nominated for his role as Buddy Holly), so Phoenix (himself a previous nominee for Gladiator) has an excellent shot.

• David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) – Strathairn has been in countless movies over the years, including a number directed by Walter Sayles, but hasn’t ever really broken out of the good “character actor” category. That is, until now. The George Clooney-directed movie stars Strathairn as respected broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, as he decides to take on Senator Joseph McCartney during his obsession with uncovering Communists in America. While the film has been fairly low-profile, it remains to be seen if that will hinder Strathairn’s chances.

• Johnny Depp (The Libertine) – Having been nominated two years in a row, Depp is quickly becoming an Oscar favorite, yet is still waiting to get his first award. A nomination is possible with this role as famed 17th century poet, the Earl of Rochester, as its supposedly a meaty role. However, his character is also supposed to be quite unlikable and notorious, having died from syphilis at a fairly young age.

• Bill Murray (Broken Flowers) – Like his role in Lost in Translation, Murray dials it down for a critically-acclaimed performance in this Jim Jarmusch-directed release. But the movie was released several months ago and may be off Oscar radars by the time votes are due.

• Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man) – A three-time nominee and one-time winner (Gladiator), Crowe gives a very strong performance as boxer Jim Braddock in the Depression-era movie directed by Ron Howard. Despite its June release, a nomination is definitely a possibility. But might Oscar voters punish Crowe for his bad boy behavior away from the cameras?

Other possibilities: Viggo Mortensen (A History of Violence), Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener), Nathan Lane (The Producers), Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead or Brokeback Mountain), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Tommy Lee Jones (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) and Eric Bana (Munich).

Best Actress
• Charlize Theron (North Country) – An Oscar-winner in 2003 (Monster), Theron could be staring at her second nomination as a mine worker in Minnesota who files a major sexual harassment suit against the company for whom she is employed. Roles like this are frequently honored by the Academy, so she would seem to be a front-runner.

• Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof) – Another former Oscar-winner (Shakespeare in Love), Paltrow has gotten solid marks for her role in the big-screen adaptation of a theater production, of which she also starred. The film hasn’t really been swept up by critics as some thought, and its box-office has been meager, so those factors could work against her.

• Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) – Having been one of a handful of bankable female stars in Hollywood, Witherspoon has finally gotten the chance to sink her teeth into a substantive role, as June Carter Cash. And like her co-star, Joaquin Phoenix, early reviews have been glowing. So this may be her time.

• Joan Allen (The Upside of Anger) – A three-time Oscar nominee, Allen is a real force of nature in her role as a wife forced to run a household with three teenage daughters after her husband unexpectedly disappears. Being a smaller film that was released in the early part of 2005 could hurt her chances, but the performance is certainly a memorable one for those who have seen it.

Other possibilities: Claire Danes (Shopgirl), Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha), Radha Mitchell (Melinda and Melinda), Julianne Moore (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio), and Felicity Huffman (Transamerica).

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About Mike Cullinan

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Re: the possibility of Viggo Mortenson getting an Oscar for History of Violence:

    (Pretend you hear a fist pounding the desk simultaneously with each following word)

    NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.

  • Don Baiocchi

    And what about Jeff Daniels for The Squid and the Whale? The Oscars often slip in indie nominees, and Daniels is getting great reviews. And since he’s done great work for a long time now (like in Pleasantville and The Hours), many feel he’s overdue for a nomination.