Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
For actors, the choice is simple: play a fantasy hero in a summer blockbuster and get a huge paycheck, or play a real-life character in a "little" picture and get an Oscar nomination. With all due respect to the previous winners in this category Bridges, this time playing another wily coot, and Bardem as a dying businessman in Spain's shadow economy the action this year is in biopics. Franco gave an arm, if not a leg, for his one-man show as hiker Aron Ralston. On Oscar night, Franco can expect to be onstage only as the ceremony's co-host with Anne Hathaway which is, by far, the Academy's oddest casting and most surprising citation.
Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg is a crafty portrait (whether true or false) of a genius-jerk, but the young star will have to be content with helping the billionaire he played become TIME's Person of the Year 2010. Firth, who deserved the Best Actor award last year for his deft delineation of a gracefully depressed college teacher in A Single Man, will win it this time as the English prince with an ornery tongue and a noble heart.
Snubbed: Robert Duvall, 80, for his rustic eccentric in Get Low and Edgar Ramírez as the charismatic terrorist in Carlos ineligible because this five-hour epic was originally shown on French TV, not as a theatrical release.
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