[EDITOR'S NOTE: Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is watching every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. She has completed the category for Best Actor and now surveys the competition. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
The Best Actor category is more interesting, to my mind, for who didn't get a nomination than for who did, although I guess the actual nominations are interesting. "Baffling" counts as interesting, right?
Let's get to it.
Demián Bichir (A Better Life): The performance looked better than it was thanks to subpar acting by his castmates. A solid outing, no more.
George Clooney (The Descendants): The Cloon did his best under the circumstances, and I acknowledge that the performance proceeds from the script, but I hated the script and the performance is not very good in the second place. It's not Keanu, but it's not very good. The blocking is lazy; a lot of the scenes land like first rehearsals, or he's letting the ugly shirts craft the character beats. From a craft standpoint, I don't get this nom at all. From a "sometimes, the universe wants — nay, needs — to remind the Cloon that he is loved" standpoint, it makes more sense and I can mostly live with it. A win would kind of gross me out, though — and Vegas has him sitting at short odds…
Jean Dujardin (The Artist): …but SAG went for Gallic charisma, and that award is a pretty reliable indicator. Dujardin is very good, and while this isn't my favorite performance nominated, I won't mind if it wins, and it probably will.
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy): Initially, I had a "wait, seriously?" reaction to this nod, but much like the movie itself, the idea grew on me. But he's good here because he's so quiet in the role…and he might be too quiet. Should win for something one of these days; probably not for this.
Brad Pitt (Moneyball): Great, welcoming, confident performance by an actor who has finally grown all the way into his face. Born to play the role; hit all the notes in it. He'll likely have to content himself with a job well done, though.
Who shouldn't be here: Bichir and Clooney don't rate, given the talent that got passed over entirely.
Who should be here, but isn't: Hope you packed a lunch: Woody Harrelson in Rampart, Tom Hardy and/or Joel Edgerton in Warrior, Michael Fassbender in Shame, and Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus. You could make an argument for Paul Giamatti in Win Win; you could also argue that you've seen that work from him before.
Who should win: Pitt.
Who will win: Dujardin, I'd say, but Clooney isn't a waste of your money.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.