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Odds on Oscars' best-actor race: Can Clooney upset?

February 18, 2008 | 10:36 am

Now that we're in the home stretch of the Oscar derby, here are Gold Derby's odds in the best-actor race.

Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood" — Even
George Clooney, "Michael Clayton" — 6/5
Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd" — 8/1
Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah" — 12/1
Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises" — 20/1

Sure, Day-Lewis is out front, but I don't think he's as far ahead as other pundits believe. Remember the last time he looked like an Oscar inevitability after sweeping the early kudos for portraying a different sinister role? In 2002, he got upset by Adrien Brody ("The Pianist"). Sure, things were different then. "Gangs of New York" even had more nominations (10) than "There Will Be Blood" does now (8), but it wasn't widely respected like "Blood" nor a viable contender to win best picture, as "Blood" is. But it does remind us Oscarwatchers not to make assumptions about a notoriously frisky derby where lead ponies sometimes trip up.

I think that there's another past best-actor race that may — perchance — have parallels to today. In 1986, "Mona Lisa" star Bob Hoskins swept every early major award, just as Day-Lewis has this year: New York and L.A. film critics, National Society of Film Critics, Golden Globe and BAFTA. Like Day-Lewis, Hoskins is a Brit who is going up against a hip, dashing American matinee star with a chiseled jaw, huge fan base and aura of Hollywood icon. Paul Newman ended up winning for "The Color of Money" largely because he was ridiculously overdue after six previous defeats. But Clooney may have something else going for him.

Never before has Clooney been nominated in the lead race. We don't know how strong his support may be. Apparently, it's huge enough to propel "Michael Clayton" to seven nominations, including best picture. The film itself is admired, but let's be honest: that's largely because of Clooney. It fills a huge gap. Clooney is such a superstar that you'd expect there would be many films like "Clayton" that feature him in the lead role, looking like Clooney, handsome and jaunty, acting all angst-beset, then suddenly finding his Inner Hero. But he's consistently chosen such quirky, artistically challenging parts that "Clayton" is the Clooney movie all Hollywood has been waiting for.

So many of my fellow Oscarologists are so aware of "Clayton's" popularity with voters that they warn us a best-pic upset is possible (a long shot, granted, but possible) and now they're suddenly hopping on the Tilda Swinton bandwagon this late in the derby, convinced that that's where voters will put their "Clayton" vote. But I ask you: If voters are really that keen on "Clayton," why would they put that vote anywhere but behind the man who makes them love it so?

Yes, it seems that Day-Lewis may be the likely winner, but I am much more leery of Clooney than they are and give him better odds than they do. Tomorrow is the deadline for us pundits at TheEnvelope to log our final predix. I am thisclose to ditching Day-Lewis for Clooney and may do so.


(Photos: Handmade Films/ Buena Vista/ Warner Bros./ Paramount Vantage)