The winner of Best Actor seems to be pretty clear this year, but who deserves to win is less easy to pinpoint.
Colin Firth, in his precise and immersive performance as a stuttering, put-upon king in “The King’s Speech” is certainly poised to win the award. Firth has been the favorite throughout the awards season, so it is easy to overlook the other competitors in this category, a few of whom are especially strong. In the film “127 Hours,” James Franco performs nearly the entire film in one location (trapped in a cave, pinned by a rock), but keeps the audience attentive the whole time with his fearless, no-holds-barred performance. Jesse Eisenberg of “The Social Network,” on the other hand, leads a terrific ensemble cast. He really embodies Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in an interesting and unconventional way. He allows the audience to hate him and admire him at the same time, and delivers Aaron Sorkin’s razor-sharp dialogue impeccably. Jeff Bridges is solid and dependable as the lead in the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit,” but has a less flashy performance than the other frontrunners. And, thanks to an impassioned plea by Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem found his way to a very surprising nomination for his performance in “Biutiful.” His performance is notable because it’s the first performance done entirely in Spanish to receive a Best Actor nod.
Annette Bening and Natalie Portman are at the top of those running for the Best Actress award this year. They are from two very different films, but one is surely taking the lead over the other as the season concludes.
Until the release of “Black Swan,” Bening of “The Kids Are All Right” was a lock to the win with her interesting and brutally funny performance as a lesbian mother in crisis. But then Portman, giving this year’s most audacious and unflinching performance, quickly became the frontrunner for the award with her ballet tour-de-force in “Black Swan.” I still wouldn’t count out Bening, however. The Academy has snubbed her more than once and she might just get her due this year, although I wouldn’t count on it. Michelle Williams’ subtle and pained performance in “Blue Valentine” (paired with her grievously snubbed co-star, Ryan Gosling), gives the most heartbreaking performance in this category, but is overpowered by Portman and Bening. Nicole Kidman, in another powerful performance, plays a grieving mother well in “Rabbit Hole,” but doesn’t exhibit enough hysterics in the film to win. And Jennifer Lawrence, the impressive 17-year-old of “Winter’s Bone,” will have to be happy to just be nominated in her breakout role.