Clint Eastwood - "Trouble With The Curve"
When you realize that Clint Eastwood has never won an acting Oscar, you'll realize why we've pegged him this high for a film that's mostly under the radar at this point. He's been nominated twice -- for "Unforgiven," and "Million Dollar Baby," but never picked one up, and given that he was already thought to have retired from on-screen appearances once before, this could well be the Academy's last chance to honor one of the movies' greatest stars? Does the film -- a "Blind Side"-ish tale about a baseball scout losing his sight -- sound particularly enticing? No. Will that matter? No.
Another relatively recent winner (for "Capote" in 2006), Hoffman has reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson, for what could be the role of a lifetime: a charismatic intellectual in 1950s America who founds a Scientology-like religion. But will this film grab voters in the same way that Day-Lewis did as Daniel Plainview? Religion is a hot-button issue, even if the Scientology parallels have been dialed down since early drafts, and the film might well be less accessible, particularly given how strong the subject matter is. He's still a formidable threat though.
Hugh Jackman - "Les Miserables"
Of all the roles in musical theater, Jean Valjean, the escaped convict turned wealthy factory owner caught up in revolution around whom everything revolves, is one of the real doozies. And Tom Hooper's film version provides the first cinematic musical role for Hugh Jackman, who's had great success as a stage song and dance man over the years, so this certainly provides the Australian star, and former Oscar host, his best chance at a nomination. Indeed, in a weaker year, he might be the frontrunner. But musicals are so execution dependent, and Jackman might end up going the way of Daniel Day-Lewis in "Nine" if the film doesn't work.
Arguably this year's Gary Oldman, Stamp has been nominated once before, but it was fifty years ago, for his screen debut in "Billy Budd." Few would deny that the British actor is due, and we've been saying since we read the script that Paul Andrew Williams' "Song For Marion" provides the perfect vehicle for the actor. But we didn't know then how fiercely competitive the year would turn out to be, and if the film fails to please crowds as "The King's Speech" did, Stamp's nomination could fall by the wayside. Then again, he has the best narrative of any of the contenders, and sometimes that's the most important thing.
Leonardo DiCaprio - "The Great Gatsby"
Always the bridesmaid at the Oscars, Leonardo DiCaprio has often found himself missing out for his mega-hits ("Titanic," "The Departed," "Inception"), and beaten out by others when he is nominated. He's perfectly suited for the title role in Baz Luhrmann's F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, but is this Leo's year? He was shut out for "J. Edgar" because of strong competition and the film in general being poorly-received. If Luhrmann's film doesn't work, Leo's chances will go with it.