That being said, here’s my predictions for the five men who will get nominated. I’ll adjust accordingly before the onslaught of awards nominations sometime in early December, when the picture will be much clearer.
George Clooney (The Descendants) The current Hollywood class president, Clooney seems to be an Academy favorite, and The Descendants is getting good word. He is also the director of The Ides of March, and actors lover actors who direct.
Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) Gun to my head, I’d have to say he’s the favorite right now to win. Though he still looks like he’s 12, he’s been around a long time and been in some huge movies, so at 36 it could be considered a “you’ve paid your dues, kid” award. Besides, he plays a real person and he’s a straight man playing gay.
Michael Fassbender (Shame or A Dangerous Method) He’s been on the cusp of stardom for a while now, and one of these films could do it for him. In the former he’s a sex addict, but it might be too explicit for Academy tastes. In the latter he plays Carl Jung, and costume dramas are more liked by Oscar, so that may the one that gets him a nod. Or he ends up canceling himself out.
Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus) This one is a hunch, and if the film comes and goes without a trace it will end up looking silly. The Academy seems to hold Shakespearean performances in some kind of awe, and I’ve heard good things about this one, though the play isn’t that well known (I saw Christopher Walken do it at the Public Theater twenty years ago, and it was amazing).
Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March) Another actor who has more than one film this year that could get him a nomination. This one is more likely than Drive, in which he is stoic. The Academy likes performances where you can see the acting.
Other possibilities, in no particular order:
Jean DuJardin (The Artist) A lot of bloggers have him penciled in, but I’m more cautious. I’m not sure how America will respond to a black and white silent film. If he’s nominated, it will be the first performance in a silent film in a loooong time.
Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) There’s mixed word out of Venice on the film, and Oldman has never been nominated before. I wonder if it’s because he’s politically conservative.
Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) I think this guy’s great, and he’s in another role of someone who’s unhinged. It’s a small film, so he’ll really have to knock people out to break through.
Brad Pitt (Moneyball) His stardom earns him a spot here, but it’s hard to believe the film will catch on. It certainly has very little foreign prospects–baseball is hard enough to understand by those who weren’t brought up on it, but try explaining Wins Above Replacement to them.
Johnny Depp (Rum Diary) After seeing the trailer I’m really stoked to see this, and Depp is an Academy favorite, but Hunter S. Thompson may be too much for Academy tastes.
Paul Giamatti (Win Win) Probably came out too long ago to still be in play; he has a better chance in Supporting Actor with The Ides of March.