A few days ago, I wrote about the Best Actress race crystallizing around seven names. Sounds about right for Best Actor as well, give or take a name or two. One noticeable trend: Big, big, big names (excepting one major contender near the top of the list). Here are your serious candidates remaining, ordered by likelihood of getting a call on nomination morning:
1.) George Clooney, The Descendants
It's going to take a bold campaign (or an out-of-the-woodwork surprise nominee) to knock Clooney from this spot. He's far too charming, and the film is a major contender across the board. A home run contender, and your likely winner.
2.) Jean Dujardin, The Artist
The wild card. He hardly speaks English. Viewers and voters aren't very familiar with him. But by most accounts, his is one of the best performances of the year, and again, his film is a sure-fire candidate in many categories.
3.) Brad Pitt, Moneyball
He's got the same case as Clooney with two big exceptions. His film isn't as strong, and his performance isn't as acclaimed. Still, I'd be shocked if he's not a nominee.
4.) Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The overlooked veteran. Hard to believe he has never been nominated, but it's true. His film isn't a likely candidate for any other major awards, which could hurt him. But those below him on the chain have bigger obstacles to overcome.
5.) Michael Fassbender, Shame
He's managed to hang around the conversation since Venice. I think that's a major accomplishment, and probably a sign of things to come. Fassbender is on fire right now, and though his film is NC-17, he seems in pretty good shape.
6.) Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
He seemed like a lock sight unseen, but by most accounts, the film just doesn't come through. DiCaprio is hardly to blame, but he could still suffer when there are performances from much better films above him on this list.
7.) Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
My favorite male performance of the year is probably in too small a movie to land a nomination, though one can wish.
8.) Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Another great performance (by almost all accounts…haven't seen yet myself) in a movie likely too small to get its lead actor nominated. Like Shannon, though, he's got too much positive word-of-mouth to leave him off this list.