I mentioned in my entry on the Supporting Acting categories that there wasn't much suspense. There isn't much more in the lead categories. One of them is a slam-dunk and the other has what was a race but has now seemed to settle into a comfortable call for a performer who, at the year's outset, many would have been surprised to see as an Oscar contender.
The easy race to call is Best Actor. Jeff Bridges will win for his role as the washed-up country singer in Crazy Heart, and though Bridges is very good in the role, a lot of credit belongs to the distributors of the film, who saw that their was no obvious favorite in the Best Actor race and pushed this film into theaters to qualify (at one time it was going to be straight-to-DVD). Whoever pulled the trigger on this saw the perfect storm of Oscar indicators: an actor, now 60, who has been nominated many times but has never won, and is also well-respected as the kind of actor who is rarely flashy; and a role that is surefire Oscar bait, an alcoholic who finds redemption through the love of a good woman. One of these factors alone might not have pulled the trick, but in combination it will prove too tempting for voters to pass up.
If a miracle occurs and Bridges' name is not on the envelope, who would it be? Some talk up Jeremy Renner, who was very good as the danger-addicted bomb defuser in The Hurt Locker. That film seems on the precipice of winning a good share of Oscars, could Renner be caught in the sweep? I don't think so, and I don't buy the comparison to Adrien Brody, who won a surprise Oscar for The Pianist. Brody was the only nominee that year who hadn't won before, while Renner is one of three non-winners, and he won't knock off Bridges.
The other non-winner is Colin Firth, as the gay college professor planning suicide in A Single Man. This is the candidate for those who prize subtle acting, as he doesn't have any obvious scenery-chewing scenes. Firth has been a familiar face for a long time, and is sure to get some support, but it's not enough this year.
The two previous winners are George Clooney, in Up in the Air, and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus. Clooney, had he not won previously (for Syriana in 2005) would be a formidable challenge to Bridges. His role, the unattached frequent-flier who learns what's really important, is also the kind that wins Oscars, and he is a popular figure--someone recently described him as the Hollywood's class president (which had recently been held by Tom Hanks). Freeman, who won in 2004 for Million Dollar Baby, seems to be in the happy-to-be-nominated category, as the film never generated any buzz.
The only acting category with a modicum of suspense is Best Actress. In the fall, it seemed likely that Meryl Streep, the most nominated performer in history, would "finally" win her third Oscar (that there are those who see it as an injustice that she hasn't won an Oscar in twenty-seven years is testament to her legend) for her charming performance as Julia Child in Julie & Julia. I think she could have won last year for Doubt, but Oscar was playing catch-up with Kate Winslet. But an unforeseen player entered the fray, and much like the title of her film, blind-sided Streep with hit that has left the Oscar world buzzing.
That player is Sandra Bullock, in The Blind Side, and just typing this sentence has me recalling how unlikely it all is. Bullock has been a big star for a long time, a reliable earner for the bosses, while not exactly a respected thespian. Her bread and butter has been as the goofy romantic heroine or the lead in turgid psychological thrillers, not the kind of career that gets Oscars. When The Blind Side rolled around, there was nothing about it to me that suggested any Oscar nominations, but it struck a nerve and the folks in Hollywood saw it as an opportunity to honor her for the greenbacks she has pulled in. It is nowhere near an Oscar-worthy performance, but it's competent and professional and my opinion doesn't matter. Bullock will win.
At least I think she will. If enough voters come to their senses and realize what it is they are about to do, someone else may win. It could be Streep, who though she has been nominated more times than anyone, has also lost more times than anyone (and remained a good sport about it). There are also two ingenues in the category, and every once in a while a new face can steal a win in this category. The more likely is Carey Mulligan in An Education. She's been compared to Audrey Hepburn, and Hepburn won this category for her first leading role in Roman Holiday in 1953. Mulligan also reminds me of the situation in 1965, when Julie Christie, another Brit, won in her first starring role for Darling.
The other newcomer is Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. Much has been made of her and this part--an obese, nearly illiterate teen suffering under the hand of an abusive mother. Sidibe is of a body type that is unusual for an actress, and there's been a lot of discussion about her and what her future career may be like. She's been on a lot of chat shows and has shown that she's nothing like Precious, and that if the acting thing doesn't work out she would be a viable candidate to be a co-host on The View. In a less star-filled category she might have a chance, but I don't see it this year.
The performer with no shot this year is Helen Mirren, as the stressed-out wife of Tolstoy in The Last Station. I didn't care for her performance at all--it was much too histrionic for me--but Mirren's reputation got her the nomination. The movie hasn't been seen by many, and she won recently, so she needn't prepare a speech.