Neither Denzel Washington or Robert Zemeckis have really been awards forces in a decade, but their first team-up, a drama about a substance-abusing airline pilot who becomes a hero after landing a damaged plane safely, certainly seems like it could be either's best shot for a long time. But, the film doesn't currently have a 2012 release date, and it's likely studio types are waiting to see a cut before they determind if they have a horse in the race. But if they do, Denzel can't be counted out and it's certainly a much more substantial role than the action fare he's been doing of late.
Bradley Cooper - "The Silver Linings Playbook"
Cooper has been ruling the multiplex the last couple of years with "The Hangover" films and "Limitless," but 2012 sees him tackle serious fare. Sundance entry "The Words" and Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond The Pines" are both on the way, but it's his lead in David O. Russell's film as a high school teacher released after four years in a mental institution, that could see him head to the Oscars. The Weinsteins have given it a prime Thanksgiving slot shared in recent years by "The Artist" and "The King's Speech," but we feel like Cooper may need to earn his stripes a little more before he gets a nomination. He, and the film, could well end up surprising, though.
If anyone in 2012 seems likely to pick up George Clooney's polymath mantle, it's Ben Affleck: he's starring in the latest Terrence Malick film, while also directing and leading "Argo." Can either provide him with his first acting nomination? Perhaps. The risk is that they might cancel each other out (Clooney had two roles last year, but in different categories), and while "The Tree of Life" made it to nominations, none of them were for acting. Indeed, Malick's films have never won a single acting nomination. "Argo" may be his better bet, as the lead among a strong ensemble, but it doesn't strike us as the kind of part that gets a nomination.
Jamie Foxx - "Django Unchained"
Foxx has one Oscar already, but Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" provides by far the actor's best chance, post-"Ray," for another. Indeed, had Will Smith taken the role that QT wrote for him, he'd be in a very good position -- a major star, playing against type in a big way. But it's a less surprising move with Foxx, and we maintain that the film is a tough sell for Academy voters, given its powder-keg racial subject matter, and pulpy treatment.
Starring in a David Cronenberg film has never been the way to Oscar, but "A Dangerous Method" was certainly the director's most palatable film to date (some would argue too much so...), and things won't get too much freakier in his Don DeLillo adaptation. Indeed, the lead role, of a limo-bound billionaire, has the potential to be a real tour de force. But will Robert Pattinson be able to gain real respect by pulling it off? Word on "Bel Ami" from Berlin was fairly weak, but we're genuinely rooting for him to pull this one off. We suspect even if he does that this won't be a nomination year for him, but you never know.
Also In The Mix: Brad Pitt has another shot with Andrew Dominik's "Cogan's Trade," but it doesn't feel like Oscar material to us. Robert Redford could make a comeback with the impressively cast thriller "The Company You Keep," while Matthew McConaughey's been on the comeback trail. His ace performance in "Killer Joe" won't go anywhere, but could either "Mud" or "The Paperboy" earn him a nomination? Colin Firth's had good form in the category, but his best chance "The Railway Man," still hasn't started filming, so may well not end up making it to theaters in time.
Ryan Gosling and Tom Hardy both get new chances with "The Place Beyond The Pines" and "The Wettest County," respectively, and while it's an unknown quantity, Guy Pearce has the chance to pick up his first nomination for Drake Doremus' untitled next film. And finally, could Christian Bale get recognition for "The Dark Knight Rises"? Almost certainly not, but stranger things have happened.