Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
The three sure-things — Ocean’s mates Clooney and Pitt, plus the suave comédien du jour, Dujardin — made the cut. Oldman, a Brit wild man back when he impersonated notorious nut cases (Sid Vicious in Sid & Nancy, Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK), may have been rewarded for his rigorous — indeed, nearly rigor mortisous — underplaying of that good gray spy George Smiley. Bichir was the big surprise for most early-morning viewers, but not for close awards watchers. His turn in A Better Life, as an undocumented landscape gardener caring for his rebellious son, had already earned him a Screen Actors Guild nomination.
Dujardin is a delight, no question, but The Artist should cop enough important awards to salve his pride. That leaves Pitt and Clooney, who both fronted multiple movies last year. Brad won his third Oscar nomination (second for Best Actor) not for The Tree of Life, which the Academy dislikes almost as much as critics loved it, but for his performance as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in Moneyball. It’s a demonstration of modern star quality at its flintiest and most engaging — a masculine radiance the Academy rarely awards. (Cary Grant never won a competitive Oscar.)
Clooney, who also directed and co-starred in The Ides of March, does a bit more than Pitt — namely, cry — as the privileged Hawaiian with a dying wife in The Descendants. He’s also immensely liked and admired inside and outside of Hollywood. Among Clooney’s several gifts is being a cogent handicapper of the Oscars; he correctly predicted four years ago that his film Michael Clayton, nominated for seven Oscars, would win only one (Tilda Swinton, Best Supporting Actress). This time around, he need consult no Magic 8-Ball to forecast the Best Actor winner; he can just look in the mirror.
Snubs: A game stab at summarizing 50 years of the FBI chief in J. Edgar did not land Leonardo DiCaprio his fourth Oscar nomination (still no wins). Michael Shannon, nominated three years ago as the special-needs truth teller in Revolutionary Road, deserved a nod for the family man with awful apocalyptic visions in Take Shelter. And what about hot new boy Michael Fassbender? He starred in four films last year, most notoriously playing the sex addict in Shame. No Academy nod this time, but he’ll be back.
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