Today, I will be breaking down both the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. For starters, I took an in-depth look at the reasoning behind Sandra Bullock's frontrunner status a few weeks ago, and my opinion hasn't changed much since then. Nothing has happened since the Globes and the SAGs to indicate that Bullock might be jumped by any of the other nominees.
For her performance in The Last Station, Helen Mirren has by far the least chance for an Oscar victory. She won the category just three years ago for The Queen, and there's no reason for the Academy to go out of their way to give her another Oscar for such a quiet film. Throughout this awards season, I have struggled to come across any strong, passionate support for The Last Station, but Mirren must know how to play the game well, and she should be more than content with another nomination. Period pieces have done her well.
Then there are the two relative newcomers. In her first screen performance, Gabourey Sidibe wowed critics and audiences alike for her work in Precious, and Carey Mulligan carried similar success for her impressive turn in An Education. For me, these two are the most qualified of the bunch, and I think they also have a good shot to give Bullock a scare on Oscar night, mostly because their films have a lot more support. Precious was even considered a likely Best Picture winner at one point, and An Education has pretty much had a nomination locked up since it's late fall release. These two films pack more emotional punch than any of the other ones in the category, and an Oscar upset from one of these two -- although highly unlikely -- remains possible.
Of course, there is also the 16-time nominee Meryl Streep, nominated for her performance as Julia Child in Julie & Julia. Most prognosticators have viewed Streep as Sandra Bullock's chief contender throughout the awards season, and there's a lot of truth to that. Perhaps the most respected actress in the industry today, Streep could very well score sympathy votes across the board, considering she hasn't taken home an Oscar since 1983 for Sophie's Choice. However, this still very much feels like Bullock's year -- although I am still not sure why -- and the fact that The Blind Side gobbled up a Best Picture nomination only reinforces that. I am predicting Sandra Bullock to take home the Best Actress Oscar, and if I had to pick one leading actress to put in the top five, it would be Penelope Cruz for Broken Embraces.
Now on to the Best Actor category, which has been sealed up for quite a while. Morgan Freeman, who was on the bubble for his performance in Invictus, doesn't have much of a shot here. He won recently for Million Dollar Baby, and even though that was in the supporting category, the love for Invictus has disappeared quite fast. It failed to become a Best Picture nominee, and I see Matt Damon's supporting nomination as a sign of respect for his performance in The Informant! more than anything else.
If I had a ballot in front of me, I would check the box next to Colin Firth's name, but that seems like wishful thinking. His terrific work in A Single Man has been overlooked all year, yet he's still managed to score nomination across the board. He's a well-liked actor from most (if not all) corners of the globe, and if Jeff Bridges didn't burst onto the scene in late 2009, it's possible that Firth would be in a much better position.
George Clooney is in a similar position to Firth, having been knocked out of contender status with the release of Crazy Heart. Clooney, although widely praised for his work in Up in the Air, is also hurt by his recent supporting win for Syriana. If he didn't win that Oscar in 2006, he would most likely be neck-and-neck with Bridges for the win.
That leaves the aforementioned Bridges, for his admirable and moving turn in Crazy Heart, and Jeremy Renner, for his high-octane performance in The Hurt Locker. Renner's growing status, as well as the widespread love for The Hurt Locker, make him a strong contender in the category, but there's just no way that Jeff Bridges won't walk away with an Oscar on March 7th. He's been greeted with several standing ovations throughout his awards tour, and he is sure to get another one come Oscar night. I for one can't wait to hear his speech. If I had to replace one of these nominees -- most likely Morgan Freeman -- I'd have to go with Viggo Mortensen for The Road, although if Shutter Island was released as planned back in October, Leonardo DiCaprio would most certainly have made my top five.