Who will get Oscar noms for Best Actor? -- Leonardo DiCaprio may face off Forest Whitaker, Peter O'Toole, and possibly, Sacha Baron Cohen

By Dave Karger
Updated January 12, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Oh, Leonardo DiCaprio, why must you make everything so complicated? He delivered a pair of fine performances, as a scrappy undercover cop in The Departed and a scrappier jewel smuggler in Blood Diamond. The Golden Globes and Broadcast Critics each nominated him twice for Best Actor, but the Oscars don’t allow multiple nods in the same acting race. Making matters even more confusing: At the time of the SAG Awards’ submissions deadline, Warner Bros. was planning a lead campaign for Diamond and a supporting push for Departed, hence his supporting nod for The Departed from that group. But most Oscar voters will consider him as a lead for both, and since The Departed has the greater overall strength, it’ll likely be the film to give DiCaprio his third nomination.

But he’s got competition. Forest Whitaker embodied Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland with brutality and charm and has won the most critics’ prizes by far. Another sure thing is Venus‘ endearingly crusty Peter O’Toole, a seven-time past nominee (and zero-time winner) who’ll surely score a nod after receiving his honorary Oscar. And Will Smith’s reward for The Pursuit of Happyness‘ great box office, his tireless PR push, and his all-around good-guyness (oh, yeah, he’s also excellent in the film) will be his second nomination.

Strong turns that have been largely overlooked so far: Greg Kinnear was the glue holding the Hoover family together in Little Miss Sunshine, and his smart performance served the same function for the film. Edward Norton’s mannered British bacteriologist in The Painted Veil is one of his most delicate performances to date. Ken Watanabe anchored Letters From Iwo Jima with quiet strength but has gained no traction as of yet. Daniel Craig won praise for reinventing James Bond in Casino Royale, but the Academy doesn’t usually go for action. And Thank You for Smoking‘s devilish lobbyist Aaron Eckhart would have a better shot if the film weren’t 10 months old. The Academy’s weighted balloting system, which gives precedence to voters’ top choice, could help Borat‘s Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s sure to earn plenty of first-place votes. But we’re going with Half Nelson‘s Ryan Gosling, whose brilliant, measured work as a crack-addicted schoolteacher plays better on DVD in an empty living room than Borat anyway.

For Your Consideration

Cold. Emotionless. Monotone. Not the hallmarks of your typical Oscar-winning performance. Yet it’s precisely that stoicism that makes Matt Damon’s turn in The Good Shepherd so absorbing. Damon plays Edward Wilson, an American spy through whom we witness the birth of the CIA. Wilson proves to be fascinating but unknowable, even as the secrets of a nation — and a cryptic heart — flicker across his face.