Academy likely to dismiss this first-rate acting

Hollywood’s bread-and-butter genres bring in the ticket buyers but not the Oscar noms. Every year, a lot of first-rate acting goes unrecognized because it shows up in a film that’s perceived as somehow less than serious or award-worthy. Here’s some of the superior work that might be brushed aside in the 2007 derby.

ACTION THRILLER

MATT DAMON as Jason Bourne in “The Bourne Ultimatum”

This kind of acting isn’t easy. Every day Damon had to show up on set and look variously alarmed, determined, alert and ferocious while traversing three continents and beating the crap out of countless bad guys — and he could never be sure whether the right amount of variety and interest would be present when it was all put together. Movie stars know how to do that. “Good Will Hunting” established his name, and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” proved he could act. But the three Bournes made him an authentic movie star, and just as the Academy waited until Film No. 3 to shower “The Lord of the Rings” with kudos, so Damon deserves a nod for kick-ass work in the third installment of a kick-ass series.

CHICK FLICK

LAURA LINNEY as Mrs. X in “The Nanny Diaries”

The strength of Linney’s implacable performance as the principal obstacle to the job satisfaction of Nanny Annie (Scarlett Johansson) can be seen in three reactions: freezing as hubby (Paul Giamatti) phones her to bow out of their anniversary celebration; catching him making a pass at the nanny; and viewing Annie’s “J’accuse” tape in the presence of the other moms. No one seems to have told her this is a light comedy. Bringing naked truth to these silent moments, she takes the movie to a higher level. Oscar fave Linney is likely to gain attention this year for “The Savages,” but that’s squarely in her wheelhouse. Pulling off this assignment was the real triumph.

HORROR

JOHN CUSACK as Mike Enslin in “1408″

Most chiller perfs come from the uh-oh-eek school of overacting, but Cusack takes us on a nuanced journey in that haunted hotel room from skeptic to questioner to believer, and finally to anguished victim. Years of investing little films with effortless reality — like “Grace Is Gone,” the sweet, muted indie on which his Oscar hopes are pegged this year — have well prepped the thesp for breathing life into this sprawling pic. If there were any justice, “1408″ would be seen as much the greater risk — and greater achievement.

MUSICAL

ELIJAH KELLEY as Seaweed in “Hairspray”

Even those lukewarm to the campy appeal of this Broadway adaptation sat up and took notice when the lanky, charismatic Kelley took centerstage in the “Run and Tell That” number. Maybe the emergence of genuine musical performers is what finally will force the musical back from the dead. Someone needs to run and tell the Academy about this burgeoning young star, though his recognition will probably have to wait until he incarnates (as has been mooted) as Sammy Davis Jr. in a biopic.

GROSS-OUT COMEDY

CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE as McLovin in “Superbad”

“I am McLovin!” “I have a boner!” Even the squeaky-voiced delivery of memorable lines isn’t what makes adenoidal creepazoids of every age respond to this lovable misfit. It’s the way the whole weird, wacky, Judd Apatow world is seen through his bespectacled, glassy wide eyes. From his astonished glee at bringing down a perp or riding parking lot “donuts” in a cop car, to the thrill of firing his first peacemaker (into the cop car itself), he epitomizes every boy’s hoped-for journey from youth into really, really, really bad adult behavior. McLovin was McNificent.

ROMANTIC COMEDY

BIANCA as herself in “Lars and the Real Girl”

Not to blow her up out of proportion, but Bianca’s was one of the most supple, flexible, plastic acting turns of the year. Whenever she’s onscreen, just try looking at any of the other actors; one’s eye always floats to her. Support for her anatomically correct work, by those who don’t want their hopes deflated, seems to be ballooning. This non-living doll should not be folded up and put away this awards season.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more