2012 Oscar Preview: Best Actor and Best Actress

     November 25, 2011

Yesterday we unveiled our picks for the top contenders in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories for the upcoming 84th Academy Awards. Today, we’re taking on Best Actor and Best Actress. Though it’s still relatively early in the race, we’ve got some surefire contenders and a couple of clear frontrunners for the top acting categories. In addition to Academy darlings like George Clooney and Meryl Streep, we’ve seen some extraordinary performances from relative newcomers likes Elizabeth Olsen and Michael Fassbender. As I stressed yesterday, it’s still pretty early so things can definitely change between now and February, but there are certainly some clear frontrunners in these two races already. Hit the jump to see find out how everyone stacks up.

the-help-movie-image-viola-davis-01Best Actress

Frontrunners:

Viola Davis – The Help

Likely to be nominated:

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Charlize Theron – Young Adult

Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin

Kirsten Dunst – Melancholia

Other contenders:

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

charlize-theron-young-adult-movie-image-1Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Best Actress race is largely untested at the moment, with a number of highly anticipated performances still unseen. The undisputed frontrunner here though, and likely winner, is Viola Davis for The Help. She made waves in 2008’s Doubt where she overshadowed the one-and-only Meryl Streep, and now she’s got a lead performance all her own. It’s simply the right performance at the right time, and she’ll likely take home the trophy. Speaking of Streep, two tested heavyweights threaten to trump younger actresses in the running: five-time nominee Glenn Close plays a woman disguised as a man in Albert Nobbs, and 16-time nominee Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. So yeah, Close and Streep are surefire contenders in the category with two ballsy performances on display. Reception to both Albert Nobbs and The Iron Lady has been cool, but Close and Streep have picked up considerable heat for their performances. They’ve also got that whole “seniority” thing going for them, as the two are no stranger to the Academy Awards. Streep is the undisputed standout in The Iron Lady, but some are noting that Close gets overshadowed by actress Janet McTeer so she’s less of a sure thing.

iron-lady-movie-image-meryl-streep-02Tilda Swinton is also a safe bet for her work in the drama We Need to Talk About Kevin. While she’s a fantastic actress who’s been recognized time and again for her fantastic work, I think it’s unlikely that she actually wins, but she’s too good here to go unrecognized. Jason Reitman has just started screening the drama Young Adult, and early word is that Charlize Theron turns in one hell of a performance. The character is entirely unlikable, so the credit goes to Theron for crafting a performance that can simultaneously draw ire and sympathy. She’s an undeniably stellar actress and has been nominated twice before (with one win for Monster), so she’s got a good shot at a nomination.

Also getting recognition is Kirsten Dunst for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. She won the Best Actress award at Cannes though she’ll have to gain a good deal of steam to stay in the race for long.

Elizabeth Olsen is the year’s breakout actress and is poised to be this year’s token “young relative unknown” nominee. Her work in Martha Marcy May Marlene is great, but she’s got plenty of chances ahead of her to take the statue home so she’s not necessarily a lock. Michelle Williams also has a shot at a nomination with her turn as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. The film itself isn’t exactly grabbing enthusiastic attention, but the consensus seems to be that Williams has transformed herself for the role.

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-image-rooney-maraThen we’ve got a number of untested performances that everyone’s keeping a close eye on. Jason Reitman has just started screening the drama Young Adult, and early word is that Charlize Theron turns in one hell of a performance. The character is entirely unlikable, so the credit goes to Theron for crafting a performance that can simultaneously draw ire and sympathy. David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has yet to screen at all, but judging from the trailers actress Rooney Mara has gone above and beyond to play troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander. If Mara’s performance is as intense as it appears to be, expect to see her name shoot up the list once the film opens.

My Picks: At the moment I say Davis is a lock for a nomination and an extremely good chance at winning, with Streep, Theron, Swinton, and Mara filling out the category. The possible (and altogether likely) spoilers here are Close and Williams.

descendants-movie-image-george-clooney-shailene-woodley-02Best Actor

Frontrunners:

George Clooney – The Descendants

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Likely to be nominated:

Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar

Gary Oldman – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Other contenders:

Michael Fassbender – Shame

Woody Harrelson – Rampart

Brad Pitt – Moneyball

the-artist-movie-image-6This is one of the more crowded categories so far, with a number of fantastic performances to consider. The current heavyweights seem to be George Clooney in The Descendants and Jean Dujardin in The Artist. Clooney’s performance in Descendants is said to be the best of his career, and Dujardin brings the charm in spades with his silent film turn. Another way too good-looking contender in the mix is Leonardo DiCaprio for his decades-spanning turn as J. Edgar Hoover. He’s certainly one of the best actors working today, but his performance in J. Edgar has been a tad polarizing. Some find it to be an extraordinary transformation, while others feel the strange accent and distracting make-up result in a less-than-convincing turn. However, it’s worth noting that the pic connected with older critics and the Academy loves actors who commit 1000% to a biopic.

Also in the mix is Gary Oldman for the spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The film has picked up some enthusiastically positive reviews across the pond, and Oldman’s turn is gathering steam. The actor has been a fixture in the business for a long time and it’s downright criminal that he’s gone this long without a single nomination. Buzz on Oldman’s performance is great and he’s long overdue, so expect to see him nab his first nod. Woody Harrelson’s work as a corrupt cop out of control in Rampart is also generating some heat. It appears that Harrelson drives the film, and this could turn out to be a Training Day-esque scenario where pundits are mixed on the movie itself but single out Harrelson’s extraordinary work. He’s been nominated twice before and I think he has a chance of getting into the Best Actor race here if he continues to pick up steam.

One of the most prolific actors of the year (and for good reason) is Michael Fassbender. His work as a sex addict in Shame is turning lots of heads, and his outstanding performance coupled with an extreme likeability factor could result in his first Oscar nomination. Not to mention the fact that he’s turned in multiple great performances this year. Everybody respects his undeniable talent, so I’ve got a feeling his name will be announced come nomination time. Brad Pitt is also a contender for his stellar work in Moneyball which I thought was one of his best dramatic performances of his career. It’s an understated role and not particularly flashy, so it’s not exactly a sure thing, but his performance was singled out amongst the many positive reviews the film received in September. However, without an aggressive For Your Consideration campaign to keep him fresh in voters minds, it’s likely that he misses the cut.

My Picks: I think Clooney and Dujardin are all but guaranteed nominations, with Oldman, Fassbender, and DiCaprio filling out the rest of the slots. The Dark Horse candidate here is Pitt.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when we take a look at a crowded Best Animated Feature race and provide our quick picks for the technical categories (as well as screenplay).

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