Oscar 2005: Best ActorsA Year of New Faces

This is the first of a series of articles about the Oscars' top categories: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, and Adapted Screenplay.

About half of the nominees in the 2005 Best Actors category could be fresh faces and newcomers who have never been nominated before. But would it be Viggo Mortensen, Eric Bana, George Clooney, Nathan Lane, or Terrence Howard

According to the Academy's By-Laws, unlike directors, actors cannot be nominated for two roles in the same category, though they could be nominated for two different roles in the lead and supporting leagues.

This year, several actors are doing double duty: George Clooney is in “Syriana,” as well as in “Good Night, And, Good Luck.” Heath Ledger stars in “The Brothers Grimm” and “Brokeback Mountain.” And 2005 may prove to be a breakthrough year for Jake Gyllenhaal, who co-stars with Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain,” and as Gwyneth Paltrow's boyfriend in “Proof,” based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play.

Having paid his dues in over 30 pictures, Terrence Howard may turn out to be the next Denzel Washington. This hear, he's shining in no less than three films: as the lead in “Hustle & Flow,” and in supporting turns in the well-received indie “Crash” and in John Singleton's upcoming revenge crimer, “Four Brothers.”

Matt Damon is a known quantity, but he too graces two major films: Terry Gilliam's “Brothers Grimm” and “Syriana.”

20 Male Performances to Watch (alphabetically enlisted)

  • Eric Bana, “Munich”
  • Matthew Broderick, “The Producers”
  • Adrien Brody, “King Kong”
  • George Clooney, “Good Night, And, Good Luck,” “Syriana”
  • Russell Crowe, “Cinederella Man”
  • Matt Damon, “Syriana”
  • Jeff Daniels, “The Squid and the Whale”
  • Robert Downey, Jr. “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”
  • Colin Farrell, “The New World”
  • Jamie Foxx, “Jarhead”
  • Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”
  • Nathan Lane, “The Producers”
  • Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”
  • Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”
  • Viggo Mortensen, “A History of Violence”
  • Bill Murray, “Broken Flowers”
  • Sean Penn, “All the King's Men”
  • Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”

Eric Bana

Never nominated.

Bana excelled in a supporting role in last year's epic “Troy,” but may still suffer from the commercial failure of “The Hulk.” However, he's guaranteed critical attention and can only benefit from being the lead in Spielberg's high-profile Munich Olympics drama, now titled “Munich.”

Adrien Brody

Won in 2002 for his first and only nomination, “The Pianist.”

Brody's chances of garnering a nod depend on the critical response to Peter Jackson's horror-adventure “King Kong,” a genre that's usually not taken seriously by the Academy. Neither the 1933 nor the 1976 versions of “King Kong” got major nominations, but, hey, this is Jackson's spectacle.

George Clooney

Never nominated.

Clooney proved his star status and box-office clout in a number of commercial hits, “Ocean's Eleven” among them. The political topicality of his film “Good Night, And, Good Luck,” about journalist Edward R. Murrow and hateful anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, is definitely a plus. Role in “Syriana” would elevate visibility in the industry, especially if both are successful.

Russell Crowe

Oscar-winner for “Gladiator” and multiple nominee for “The Insider” and “A Beautiful Mind.”

“Cinderella Man” was well liked by critics but under-whelmed at the box-office (only $60 million domestically), some say a result of bad timing release. Even so, Russell got good reviews for a feel-good Depression era saga, a middlebrow film the Academy usually embraces.

Matt Damon

Oscar-winner for Original screenplay (co-written with Ben Affleck) for “Good Will Hunting,” for which he also received Actor nomination.

It's more likely that Damon will be nominated for the socially relevant Middle-East terrorist saga “Syriana,” than for Gilliam's tribute to fairy tales,”The Brothers Grimm.”

Robert Downey Jr.

Nominee for biopic “Chaplin” in 1992.

In “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Downey gives a bravura performance, dominating every frame he is in, but it's the kind of film, a private eye spoof that seldom gets recognition from the Academy.

Colin Farrell

Never nominated.

“The New World,” Terrence Malick's historical cross-cultural romance, is an eagerly- waited event, but it's unclear whether Farrell qualifies for lead or supporting considerations. The film's co-star Christian Bale, of “Batman Begins” fame, may benefit too.

Jamie Foxx

Won the Actor Oscar for “Ray” and Supporting nomination for “Collateral” in the same year.

As good as Foxx may be in Sam Mendes' war drama “Jarhead,” with the notable exception of Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks, it's tough to win two Oscars in a row, though many actors have earned consecutive nominations.

Terrence Howard

Never nominated.

As Djay, the pimp in need of redemption, Terence Howard carries “Hustle & Flow” on his formidable shoulders. His star-making performance is the best thing about the otherwise flawed crowd-pleaser.

Nathan Lane

Never nominated.

Musicals don't do much for their performers, and “The Producers” may also suffer from having two co-leads (the other being Matthew Broderick). Will Lane and Broderick cancel each other out

Heath Ledger

Never nominated.

Like “The Producers,” “Brokeback Mountain” is a two-handler, though after screenings in Venice (where the movie won top prize) and Toronto, critical consensus holds that the film belongs to Ledger, who gives a stronger performance than Gyellnhaal's. This is a breakhtough year for Ledger, who also co-stars in “The Brothers Grimm,” (with Matt Damon) and toplines “Casanova.”
“GRimm was a grim failue on any level, but “Casnaova” may hold a surprise, and Ledger may find himself in a conflicted position.

Tommy Lee Jones

Oscar winner for “The Fugitive,” and nominee for “JFK.”

“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” is very much Tommy Lee Jones' show, having produced, directed and starring in the contempo Western. Jones won the acting award in Cannes, and his film garnered the festival's screenplay prize. Would the Academy change its perception of Jones as a reliable supporting actor and promote him to the lead category

Viggo Mortensen

Never nominated.

Mortenssen, who played the nominal lead in “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, nvere got credit for his contribution to Peter Jackson's epics; the only actor to be nominated was Ian McKellen for the first segment. Well-cast in Cronenberg's morality tale “A History of Violence,” Mortensen gives a subtly haunting performance as a man torn by dual identity and tormented by his violent past.

Bill Murray

Nominated before for “Lost in Translation.”

In “Broken Flowers,” Murray exhibits the same minimalist approach that he did in the 2003 serio comedy, but he seems to be enjoying a major comeback due to the desire of hot indie directors, such as Wes Anderson, Sofia Copppola, and Jim Jarmusch, to work with him.

Sean Penn

Won Best Actor in 2003 for “Mystic River,” and nominated three times before, for “Dead Man Walking,” “Sweet and Downlow,” and “I Am Sam.”

In “All the King's Men,” Penn recreates the real-life Senator Huey Long, for which Broderick Crawford had won an Oscar in 1949. Few remakes have been nominated for Best Picture, and this political drama is a remake of a Best Picture winner. But it's directed by Steve Zaillian, who received an Oscar for scripting “Schindler's List.”

Joaquin Phoenix

Nominated for Supporting Oscar for “Gladiator.”

Biopictures are favored by the Academy, and showbiz bios even more so. Playing legendary musician Johnny Cash opposite star Reese Whitherspoon might earn Phoenix his first Actor nomination, just as “Ray” did for Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles.