Despite the Academy's changes, extending the acting categories to 10 nominees is unfortunately not one them. And as always there have been more than 5 standout male lead performances in 2009. Here are the ones getting the most buzz (*seen).
JEFF BRIDGES – CRAZY HEART
Until just two weeks ago, this film was slated for a 2010 release but with a bump to late 2009 Jeff Bridges is suddenly a favourite, playing a hard living country music singer in search of salvation.
GEORGE CLOONEY - UP IN THE AIR*
Clooney is considered a hot favourite for his role as the man without any emotional attachments and happy to stay that way. He launches a full-on charm offensive even if his character is a bit of a prick.
SHARLTO COPLEY – DISTRICT 9*
This film was one of the surprises of the year, as was Sharlto Copley's performance. He goes from nerdy government worker to renegade alien sympathiser with some action man heroics thrown in – and all of it believable.
MATT DAMON – THE INFORMANT!*
Hard to believe it is 12 years since Damon scored his first and only Oscar nom for Good Will Hunting. Here he displays his comic chops although his best moments occur in his stream-of-consciousness voice over.
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS – NINE*
Winning two years ago for There Will Be Blood may put him at a disadvantage but performing song and dance numbers in Rob Marshall's Nine may win him points for versatility.
ROBERT DUVALL – GET LOW
After it screened at Toronto, Get Low and Duvall had some heat. That has since quietened down but don't discount the appeal of the veteran. It's 11 years since Duvall was nominated and 26 since he won for Tender Mercies.
COLIN FIRTH – A SINGLE MAN*
Having already won the Best Actor prize at Venice, Colin Firth is one up on all his competitors. Rarely given the lead, his performance in Tom Ford's directorial debut is said to be a career best.
MORGAN FREEMAN – INVICTUS
Playing Nelson Mandela in a Clint Eastwood directed film sounds like an Oscar slam dunk. But the poster which has Freeman looking very Mandela-esque is offset by the trailer having him look, well, like Morgan Freeman!
HAL HOLBROOK – THAT EVENING SUN
Challenging Duvall for the veteran vote is Holbrook, who was nominated just two years ago for Into The Wild. The film has a wiff of Gran Torino and that didn't work so well for Eastwood.
VIGGO MORTENSEN – THE ROAD*
Surprising to some that Mortensen has just the one nomination (Eastern Promises, 2007). The Academy will certainly be impressed by the lengths he goes to here, but me, I wasn't moved and that's a shame.
JEREMY RENNER - THE HURT LOCKER*
With Best Picture and Director nods a real possibility for this film, Renner could also be in the running. You've probably seen him in small roles (S.W.A.T was one of them) but he's never had one like this: a bomb disposal expert with a death wish – and he owns it.
SAM ROCKWELL – MOON*
Perhaps wishful thinking but in a year of Oscar changes a vote for this fine actor would signal a revolution (of sorts). And not to spoil it for those who haven't seen Moon, but Nicholas Cage was nominated similarly for Adaptation.
MICHAEL STUHLBARG – A SERIOUS MAN*
Best known for his theatre work, Stuhlbarg, who looks a little like Joaquin Phoenix, makes the most of this gift from the Coen brothers. If the Academy embraces the film, they could bring Stuhlbarg along for the ride.