Last week, 18 animated features officially entered themselves into the Oscar race. How many of them will make the final cut BEFORE the final cut (aka the nominee list) is still left to be decided. It is the same with any awards category. Some films weed themselves out by being bad and then the prognosticators who play the game whittle down the rest until it’s time to get serious. And we are almost there. A few days before Thanksgiving, The Awards Line will take a look at the Screenplay categories. A few days after on Nov. 28, the New York Film Critics will be jumping the gun on everyone to get their two cents in first while Los Angeles and Chicago will take a few extra weeks to soak in and ponder the year in film.. By the end of this month the race will be in full gear, more cutthroat and shifting almost day-to-day. It will be interesting to see how it effects a category like Best Actor, which some some say is all but decided already.

THE LEADERS

The Descendants George Clooney The Awards Line: The Race for Best Actor
 

We can usually find a trio of frontrunners for nominations, if not always the favorite to win. In no particular order it is very likely we will be seeing Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan (aka George Clooney & Brad Pitt) battling it out over their 4th & 3rd nominations, respectively, for The Descendants and Moneyball. With all that star power though, all eyes may be turning to Jean Dujardin, the OSS 117 star who wonderfully portrays the falling silent film star in Oscar favorite, The Artist. There is already speculation that he could be this year’s Benigni, in terms of a foreign production grabbing the spotlight. Not with all the annoying exuberance and chair-stepping, hopefully.

If there was an alternate universe Oscars – and many of us wish there were sometimes – just look at the G-Men that could be competing. Paul Giamatti as the lawyer/wrestling coach trying to keep his family afloat in Win Win. Mel Gibson suffering a mental breakdown and talking through a puppet in The Beaver. Joseph-Gordon Levitt as the affable cancer patient in 50/50. Ryan Gosling as the shy, but tough low-talking getaway expert in Drive. Or Ryan Gosling as the suave, but sensitive ladies’ man in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Sorry, Ides of March, but those two performances were better. It practically sounds like the final list right there. Hell, Gibson even throws in an accent. Though we should still give Gosling a fighting chance, other favorites from earlier in the year like Demián Bichir (A Better Life) as “the bicycle thief” masquerading as a modern day illegal landscaper and Tom Hardy (Warrior) as the tough-skinned MMA fighter with estranged family issues, are likely long out of the race unless the critics make a point to resurrect their place in the conversation.

So who are we left with? We are still waiting to see how much we should pay attention to Daniel Craig (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo). Gary Oldman, an actor who has unfathomably never been nominated for an Oscar (even the Emmys gave him a shot with a guest spot on Friends, for God’s sake), may finally be given his shot for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Whether one responds to the film’s dry, Cold War-esque, le Carré-ish tone, Oldman’s performance only gets better as the film goes along and fits cozily as of now into the fourth slot. Then there are the festival Michaels, Shannon and Fassbender, Shannon is earning raves for Take Shelter, currently in theaters. But Fassbender, who has already had a pretty solid year with Jane Eyre and X-Men: First Class, may be peaking at just the right time with Shame, which has already been soaking up accolades in fest after fest since September. It may be time for him to bust his Oscar cherry as well. Especially since the Leonardo DiCaprio / J. Edgar train may be derailing as we speak. Personally I had him out there as a frontrunner based on just a minute of speech footage from CinemaCon earlier this year, and his performance is certainly one of the few positives about the film (along with the makeup, which could be the one and only lock for it.) But the film as a whole is so unfocused, so poorly conceived and put together, so very just – BAD! – that DiCaprio’s chances are going to sink with each pair of eyes that discover it.

NEEDING SUPPORT

The Supporting Actor race, on the other hand, is not nearly as clear cut. For one, there is still way too much to be seen. Can anyone emerge from War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Iron Lady? Just how prominent will Tom Hanks be in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? There are faves right now but very few anyone wants to throw the lock tag on, although Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier in My Week With Marilyn and Christopher Plummer as the dead, gay dad in Beginners are brought up a lot. Also earning praise in the father department are Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life) and Nick Nolte (Warrior). Nolte was perceived as the frontrunner in the weeks leading up to the film’s release before nobody showed up to see it in one of the year’s most unfortunate box office stories. And if Pitt is favored for Moneyball, will he be able to pull off the double nomination?

Scene-stealers were in abundant supply this year with Colin Farrell (Horrible Bosses), David Tennant (Fright Night) and John C. Reilly (Cedar Rapids AND Terri). But it is Corey Stoll’s turn as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight In Paris that has us wondering whether or not this relative unknown can ride Woody Allen’s history with his supporting players getting nominated. (The last was in 2007 when Penelope Cruz was the first to be nominated for an Allen film since 1999′s Sweet and Lowdown.) Or will it be Albert Brooks making his first return as a nominee since 1987′s Broadcast News for his against-type villain in Drive? That’s all without forgetting solid support from Bobby Cannavale (Win Win), Seth Rogen (50/50), Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and a performance that hopefully will not be overshadowed by the power of its leading actress. Patton Oswalt is stellar in Jason Reitman’s Young Adult and if, nothing else, the campaign on Twitter leading up to nomination morning should be a lot of fun. He’s funny, goes toe-to-toe with one of the year’s best performances from Charlize Theron, and he’s got a limp in the film. What more do you want?

And we are still not done. John Hawkes might be getting more attention for Martha Marcy May Marlene if he didn’t have a somewhat similar turn in the richer Winter’s Bone. Who do you like more in Contagion? Laurence Fishburne’s calm voice of reason or Jude Law’s terrific rabble-rousing “graffiti with punctuation” blogger? What about The Ides of March? Does Paul Giamatti’s work in Win Win and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s in Moneyball give it an extra push? Probably not with all this competition. Finally, there was everyone’s flavor of the month in August – Andy Serkis and his invaluable contributions in bringing Caesar to life in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. We have been down this road before. Support could not get Robin Williams nominated for Aladdin nor for Serkis and everything he brought to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, not to mention as Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The technology is even better today, but is anyone ready to embrace it as a performance medium? Articles will be written, fanboys will cry out and there may even be a nomination or two along the way. But even if we dismiss the entire supporting cast of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (a list that includes Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong, among others) what kind of percentage can we really count on for Serkis? Read below to find out.

rise of the apes making of The Awards Line: The Race for Best Actor

BEST ACTOR NOMINEE CHANCES

1. George Clooney (The Descendants) – 75%
2. Jean Dujardin (The Artist) – 75%
3. Brad Pitt (Moneyball) – 70%
4. Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) – 60%
5. Michael Fassbender (Shame) – 55%
6. Ryan Gosling (Drive) – 45%
7. Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) – 40%
8. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50) – 25%
9. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) – 20%
10. Demián Bichir (A Better Life) – 10%

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR NOMINEE CHANCES

1. Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn) – 70%
2. Christopher Plummer (Beginners) – 70%
3. Nick Nolte (Warrior) – 60%
4. Albert Brooks (Drive) – 55%
5. Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life) – 40%
6. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Ides of March) – 35%
7. Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) – 30%
8. Corey Stoll (Midnight In Paris) – 25%
9. Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) – 20%
10. Tom Hanks (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) – 15%

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