Oscar Preview: Christian Bale Leads, Melissa Leo Battles

'The Fighter' stars poised for supporting actor and actress wins Sunday.

At one point during this latest awards season, there wouldn't have been much to preview in the best supporting actor and actress [url id=""]Oscar[/url] categories. Two co-stars from "The Fighter," Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, appeared to have assured themselves of easy victories on Hollywood's biggest night.

But Oscar momentum -- or, depending on how one views these things, industry conventional wisdom -- interrupted any early coronations and have injected some intrigue into the categories ahead of Sunday night's ceremony. Bale and Leo, for far different reasons, now face competition of varying degrees, though we have a feeling each will end up triumphant by evening's end.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

In a field crowded with former nominees and current breakout talents, Leo established herself as the frontrunner based on her turn as Alice Ward, the wild-eyed mother and boxing manager of her two sons. She rolled to victory at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Golden Globe Awards. All the while, Leo presented herself as decidedly above the fray.

At the Sundance Film Festival last month, just a day before the Oscar noms were to be announced, Leo told MTV News that she truly had no vested interest in awards-season mumbo-jumbo. Based on years of disconnecting from a role after an audition or the conclusion of a job, the 50-year-old actress said she'd already moved on from her work on "The Fighter."

Then a funny thing happened: Leo got the Oscar nom and took out a series of ads in the Hollywood trades featuring herself in a glamorous, glossy photo labeled simply, "Consider." To observers, the ad was, at best, bad manners and, at worst, grounds to suffer a humiliating Academy Awards defeat. Other, cooler-headed Oscar-watchers defended the actress, who'd been unable to book late-night talk-show interviews and magazine covers, as standing up for herself and her performance.

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Leo wants to win the Oscar -- bad. Will she? Hailee Steinfeld, the 14-year-old phenom many think should have landed in the leading actress category, went boot heel to boot heel with Jeff Bridges in "True Grit," and represents Leo's strongest competitor. Nor should we count out anything connected with "The King's Speech," which seems to be peaking at just the right time; Helena Bonham Carter has got to be considered a dark horse.

Come Oscar night, however, we have a feeling Leo's track record -- she was a leading actress nominee in 2008 for "Frozen River" -- will trump Steinfeld's precociousness and, by besting Bonham Carter, assure "King's Speech" won't dominate the show.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sorry, Jeremy Renner. Too bad, John Hawkes. Feel free to play again next year, Mark Ruffalo. All these gentleman -- especially Renner as an unhinged bank robber in "The Town," if you ask us -- turned in laudable performances, but those turns came during a year that Bale straight up committed. The 37-year-old Welshman shed pounds and dominated the screen as sallow-eyed ex-boxer and sometimes-crack-addict Dicky Eklund. Bale went on, early and often, to rule awards season.

We'd suggest there's simply no way Bale can loose on Oscar night, but let us at least propose some mitigating factors: "King's Speech" is riding one hell of a winning streak, and Geoffrey Rush nabbed the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award earlier this month. Plus, Rush is a four-time nominee and one-time winner (for "Shine" in 1996).

But those are all fairly thin arguments. How about some counter-facts? Oscar blogger Scott Feinberg points out that only once in history has an actor won best supporting actor at the Critics' Choice, Golden Globes and SAGs, yet failed to win the Oscar. Eddie Murphy in "Dreamgirls"? Ouch! What's more, leading actor and supporting actor rarely go to men in the same film: It's only happened once in the past 50 years (Sean Penn and Tim Robbins both won for "Mystic River" in 2003). So, if we accept that Colin Firth is a lock to win leading actor for "King's Speech," that means Rush is out of luck.

Let's just hope Bale's Oscar acceptance speech goes smoother than [article id="1656924"]his SAG one[/article], in which Eklund apparently crashed the stage, leaving a surprised Bale to exclaim, "Dicky! All right! This is the original quacker right here!"

Share your Oscar-night predictions in the comments section below!

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