Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Credit: Capote: Attila Dory

Oscars 2006: Early word on the Best Actor race

Last year, this category’s five nominees included a record four men who were recognized for playing real people. That tally could be matched again this year: At this point the two actors closest to being locks are Philip Seymour Hoffman (pictured), who won across-the-board raves for Capote, and Joaquin Phoenix for his channeling of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line — plus, he one-ups Jamie Foxx by doing his own singing. Other possible true-life candidates include David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck; Russell Crowe as boxer Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man; Eric Bana as an Israeli secret-service agent (code-named Avner) in Munich; and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jarhead‘s Marine-turned-author Anthony Swofford. This year could also mark the first time more than one Best Actor nominee portrayed a gay man on screen: Besides Hoffman as Truman Capote, Heath Ledger has already received phenomenal critical praise for his performance as a conflicted cowboy in Brokeback Mountain, while Irish actor Cillian Murphy takes on the role of a cross-dresser in Breakfast on Pluto. Past nominees like Separate Lies‘ Tom Wilkinson and Broken Flowers‘ Bill Murray may be invited back for a second time, and Johnny Depp aims for three nods in a row with The Libertine. Two-time nominee Ralph Fiennes boasts a pair of notable performances this year, in The Constant Gardener and The White Countess, while Tommy Lee Jones could find himself in the lead race for The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Finally, a quintet of respected actors — Syriana‘s George Clooney, A History of Violence‘s Viggo Mortensen, Hustle & Flow‘s Terrence Howard, The Producers‘ Nathan Lane, and The Squid and the Whale‘s Jeff Daniels — may hear their names called for the first time.