Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Prediction: Sean Penn
Chance of winning: 75%
There’s no question that the race is between Penn and Rourke.
Penn just won five years ago (for Mystic River) and the bar is always higher for a second win, though he seems to be passing that hurdle. He’s won rave reviews, including a large collection of critics’ awards and the SAG trophy. He plays a real-life person. It’s a dramatic performance and a sympathetic, heroic character.
The well-liked Milk earned an impressive eight nominations, and this is the logical place to reward it.
The gay-rights subject matter makes the film and role feel important, especially in the wake of the recent California Proposition 8 hoopla.
So what could stop Penn? Rourke has also earned a good deal of critical acclaim in a meaty, knock-out performance. He’s defeated Penn at both the Golden Globe and BAFTA ceremonies. The comeback story seems awfully tempting to voters who might be more in the mood for a heartfelt speech by him than a political one by Penn.
Unfortunately, the gritty nature of The Wrestler and Rourke’s bad boy reputation (not to mention bizarre appearance) are probably too much of a turn-off for most Academy members. They simply won’t want to reward the film or him, no matter how good he is in it.
I wouldn’t call Penn a lock, but he has a clear advantage in this boxing ring.