In less than 24 hours, five actors will find themselves officially locked in on the road toward Oscar glory. The 2012 Academy Award nominations are set to be unleashed on Tuesday, and while there are certainly some expected front-runners who will be in the mix, there are always surprise nominees who make the cut.
In the Best Actor category, however, things seem a bit more predictable this year. A handful of performers have found their names repeatedly honored with nominations throughout the current awards season and the trend isn't likely to stop before Oscar night.
From bureaus to baseball, from silence to sex, here are our predictions for the Academy Awards' Best Actor nominees.
George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Already familiar with the taste of Oscar gold, Clooney is very likely on the cusp of another major win for his touching turn as "back-up parent" Matt King in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants." Clooney has been on an Academy-attracting hot streak in recent years, what with nominations for "Michael Clayton" and "Up in the Air." Under the right circumstances, he could have easily claimed victories for either of those roles. Will he find himself in the right crowd this time around?
Leonardo DiCaprio, "J. Edgar"
Critics were not kind to director Clint Eastwood's biopic about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's polarizing founder. But DiCaprio's performance as the titular J. Edgar Hoover is another story. The three-time Oscar nominee turned in a transformative performance as Hoover, both physically and spiritually, and is likely to be recognized with a fourth nomination, if not a win.
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
It's said that silence is acceptance. If that's the case, French actor Jean Dujardin could well be accepting a Best Actor award on Oscar night. As the star of director Michel Hazanavicius' silent film "The Artist," Dujardin proved the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words — in his case, moving pictures — as he stole the hearts of art-house moviegoers everywhere as George Valentin, a silent-movie actor facing the very real threat of falling from stardom to redundancy.
Michael Fassbender, "Shame"
Talk about baring it all! Fassbender truly shed every layer possible — and we do mean every layer — as sex addict Brandon Sullivan in director Steve McQueen's "Shame." It's not easy for the star of an NC-17 film to cross over to the awards-season elite, but Fassbender has done exactly that, most notably with his Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. While he's not likely to win — a true shame, if you ask us — his inclusion on Oscar night feels like the climax, if you will, of the Irish-German actor's truly inspired 2011.
Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"
After the shutdown of Steven Soderbegh's take on the material, a rewrite from Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and the surprise hiring of Jonah Hill in his first dramatic role, "Moneyball" surprised everybody by simply existing. Unsurprising is the fantastic performance from Pitt, one of our most gifted (and gorgeous) actors. Pitt has yet to bring an Oscar home, despite numerous nominations over the years. His Billy Beane might be the most understated of all the characters likely to enter the Best Actor field this year, but true to the Oakland A's general manager's philosophy, it's not always a grand slam that gets you the win.
See the complete list of Academy Awards Nominations.