Likely Winner: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
There's a comely breadth to the roles in this category: an outlaw's pensive groupie (Casey Affleck), a decent old man (Hal Holbrook), a holy madman (Tom Wilkinson), even a CIA tough-talking comedian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). But Oscar will pick Bardem as the assassin of your most lurid nightmares. The voters know this isn't a stunt; they nominated Bardem for Best Actor seven years ago.
Corliss Pick: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
The Cloverfield creature be damned Bardem's Anton Chigurh is the great movie monster of our time. Resourceful and implacable, with the Devil's own warped sense of humor, Chigurh applies a West Texas justice as swift and final as his killer air-gun. Nice vocal touch: Bardem speaks as if his words were previously recorded and the turntable was slowed down.
Robbed: Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn
A well-liked actor, associated with quirky comic roles, goes seriously, persuasively dramatic and loses 40 pounds in the bargain. That used to spell Oscar nomination. It should have this time, with Zahn doing it all as an imprisoned G.I. during the Vietnam War.
Other nominees in this category include Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War), Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton).