Christian Bale, The Fighter (WINNER)
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
This quickly became a two-man race. Hawkes, Renner and Ruffalo have hardly been heard from or talked about on the pre-Oscar meet-and-greet circuit. That leaves Rush the only one of the five candidates to have been previously nominated (three times, including a Best Actor win for Shine in 1997) to challenge the front runner, Christian Bale. As the crack-addled but crafty Dicky Eklund, Bale virtually swept this category in critics' voting and nabbed the Screen Actors Guild award as well. He plays the kind of manic character that's easy to get noticed with but hard to get right. Bale did both.
The only thing that could trip him up: the long morning-coat tails of The King's Speech. Will the Academy members' love for this true-life inspirational weepie persuade them to give it scads of Oscars? If so, Rush could be one of the first beneficiaries. As Lionel Logue, speech therapist to Colin Firth's stammering monarch, Rush is more co-ruler than liege; for all its glittering supporting players, this movie is essentially a two-hander, a conversation between a decent, troubled man and his serenely self-possessed teacher. The Weinstein Co., the film's distributor, has smartly presented Firth and Rush as a team at various awards ceremonies, in a TIME photo spread and in a celebratory segment on 60 Minutes this week thus boosting Rush's gilt by association with the presumptive Best Actor winner.
Bale is still worth your office-pool vote. Keep in mind, though, that Supporting Actor is often one of the earliest awards presented on Oscar night. If Rush wins, gird yourself for a King's Speech sweep.