Like in the Best Actress 2012 Academy Award race, there are three shoo-ins for the Best Actor shortlist: George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, and Brad Pitt. Clooney will be in the running for Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Dujardin for Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, and Pitt for Bennett Miller's Moneyball.
Clooney has already won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his sleazy U.S. spy/weapons dealer in Stephen Gaghan's Syriana (2005). In the acting categories, he was also nominated as Best Actor for Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton (2007) and Jason Reitman's Up in the Air (2009). This year, Clooney's own Golden Globe-nominated political drama The Ides of March serves as further evidence of the actor-director's “worthiness.” (Clooney was a Best Director Oscar nominee for the 2005 black-and-white drama Good Night, and Good Luck, which also earned David Strathairn a Best Actor nod.)
Dujardin will be a first-time Oscar nominee and – if our quick research is accurate – only the fourth Frenchman to be shortlisted for an Academy Award in the acting categories. His predecessors were Maurice Chevalier for the Ernst Lubitsch musicals The Big Pond and The Love Parade (1929-30*); Charles Boyer for Clarence Brown's Conquest (1937), John Cromwell's Algiers (1938), George Cukor's Gaslight (1944), and Joshua Logan's Fanny (1961); and Gérard Depardieu for Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac (1990).
Brad Pitt has been nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (1995) and Best Actor for David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Also this year, he's a possibility in the Best Supporting Actor category for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.
* In the first three years of the Academy Awards, nominees could be shortlisted for more than one film. Janet Gaynor, for instance, was voted Best Actress for the period 1927-28 for three movies, Sunrise, 7th Heaven, and Street Angel; Emil Jannings won for two: The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command. Also, the Oscars' eligibility period initially went from early August to late July of the following year. That was changed in the early 1930s.
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The Descendants photo: Merie Wallace / Fox Searchlight