Why Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt Are the Frontrunners in Oscar's Best Actor Race (Analysis)

Both A-listers -- who next star in "J. Edgar" and "Moneyball," respectively -- have been nominated in the past, but neither has ever won.

Of all the films that had their world premieres at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, the one that got the biggest awards boost, by far, is Bennett Miller's Moneyball, which stars Brad Pitt (pictured). The film experienced plenty of turbulence on its way to the big screen -- two years ago, its original director, Steven Soderbergh, left the production over creative differences just days before shooting was to commence, and Aaron Sorkin was brought on to re-work Steven Zaillian's adaptation of Michael Lewis' best-selling book about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane -- but it was well worth the wait. Critics and the public have cheered it as not just another "baseball movie," but one with a more universal appeal. Which brings us to the Academy...

As I see it, Oscar nominations are certainly possible for picture, director, adapted screenplay and even score, but the film's biggest threat to do some awards damage -- and indeed the heart and soul of the film itself -- is Pitt. I don't see how he doesn't get nominated (playing a real, likable, noble character very well checks off a lot of boxes), and, having now seen almost all the films with possible best actor candidates (with J. Edgar, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, being the one glaring exception), I truly believe that he could even win.

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After all, who else is there with a serious shot in the category? Yes, George Clooney is very good in The Descendants, but it's a downer of a movie, and besides, he has already won once before, just six years ago, so it's unlikely that he'll be awarded another (especially over DiCaprio or Pitt, who have yet to win their first). And, sure, it's possible that Frenchman Jean Dujardin could pull off a Roberto Benigni-like shocker for his first-rate work in the black-and-white silent film The Artist, but my guess is that a nomination, in and of itself, will be his award.

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That leaves Pitt, 47, and DiCaprio, 36, which could make for a very interesting race. Neither has ever won before. Both are popular people and respected craftsmen. Both rose to prominence in the early '90s -- Pitt through Thelma & Louise (1991), DiCaprio through What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) -- and have been working steadily, at high levels, ever since, in collaboration with tons of people who are now in the Academy. Thus far, Pitt has scored one supporting nod, for Twelve Monkeys (1995), and one lead nod, for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), for a grand total of two; DiCaprio, meanwhile, has scored one supporting nod, for What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), and two lead nods, for The Aviator (2004) and Blood Diamond (2006), for a grand total of three.

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It's silly to speculate too much about a Pitt v. DiCaprio race until we've actually seen DiCaprio's performance. That being said, I've heard from people who have already screened J. Edgar, but are not working on its behalf and have no vested interest in its success, that he will be very hard to beat. Still, I wouldn't discount the fact that the real-life inspiration for Pitt's character, unlike DiCaprio's, is (a) likable, and (b) still alive and able to endorse the performance. At the end of the day, especially in a close race, those two things could make all the difference.