Eye on the Oscars: The Actor/Actress

CASEY AFFLECK, “THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD”
Why he’ll win: Affleck holds more than his own sharing the screen with one of the world’s biggest stars in Brad Pitt. The character of Robert Ford is also more of a co-lead, giving Affleck considerably more screen time than his fellow nominees.
Maybe not: At 160 minutes, “Jesse James” is the longest of the films nominated in the category (in any major category, for that matter). The actors and cinematographers made it through, but did the Academy as a whole?
Critical quote: “Affleck makes an indelible impression as the insecure, physically unprepossessing weakling who endures no end of humiliation, and eventually embodies the sort of nobody who has bloodied American history from time to time to ensure his own immortality,” says Variety’s Todd McCarthy.

JAVIER BARDEM, “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”
Why he’ll win: This is the kind of performance that might have even dominated in the lead actor category (see Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs”). Bardem’s psychotic Anton Chigurh drives the action of “No Country” and has entered the pantheon of respected screen villainy.
Maybe not: Chigurh is also a hard pill to swallow, for obvious reasons. Voters turned off by the perceived cynicism of the film might find themselves rooting elsewhere.
Critical quote: “Chigurh is so fully realized psychologically and physically that his every gesture bristles with creepy fascination, whether he’s baiting an unsuspecting gas-station attendant into a life-or-death coin toss or merely sidestepping the encroaching puddle of blood he’s created on a hotel-room floor,” says Scott Foundas of the Village Voice.

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”
Why he’ll win: Clearly an industry favorite, Hoffman managed a nomination here despite a surprising snub by the Screen Actors Guild. The wired and witty Gust Avrakotos might be the best part of “Charlie,” and certainly Hoffman gets the best lines from Aaron Sorkin’s punchy screenplay.
Maybe not: Hoffman finds himself the sole nominee from “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a designation shared by none of his co-nominees in this category. He also just took home an Oscar two years ago (for Bennett Miller’s “Capote”), so voters might feel like they’d be going back to the well too soon.
Critical quote: “Capping a pretty impressive movie year, Philip Seymour Hoffman (see him in ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,’ see him in ‘The Savages’) chews the scenery, the screenplay and then some as Gust Avrakotos, the CIA’s Afghan desk guy,” says Stephen Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

HAL HOLBROOK, “INTO THE WILD”
Why he’ll win: At 83 years old, Holbrook is the oldest actor ever to be nominated for an Oscar — and this is his first trip to the dance. Voters could tap into their sentimental sides, especially if they want to spread the wealth.
Maybe not: “Into the Wild” was clearly not an Academy favorite, managing only two noms despite an impressive showing with the various industry guilds. That ambivalence might play itself out in the voting for this category as well.
Critical quote: “Those who resist vision quests as a rule will no doubt seize on the more straightforward emotional engagement offered by Hal Holbrook, who is wonderful as a widower living near California’s Salton Sea area,” says Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune.

TOM WILKINSON, “MICHAEL CLAYTON”
Why he’ll win: “Michael Clayton” was obviously a thesp favorite, landing three nominations in the acting categories. Wilkinson gets some of the most actor-friendly material to work with in Tony Gilroy’s biting screenplay.
Maybe not: Wilkinson has become one of those brilliant character actors always recognized but rarely awarded, and this year the category is again extremely competitive.
Critical quote: “Wilkinson … is an exceptional actor who does some of his best work here, playing a man who goes in and out of sanity in a way that leaves it unnervingly uncertain just when he is rational and when he is ranting,” says Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.

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