There's a lot of support for Geoffrey Rush's flamboyant role as wily voice coach to Britain's stammering King George VI in "The King's Speech," but voters may feel been-there-done-that due to his 1996 lead actor win for "Shine."
What's curious is that this race isn't overshadowed by the kind of villainous role that ruled this category, with fiendish terror, in recent years (Christoph Waltz, Javier Bardem, Heath Ledger). However, there are a lot of bad-boy roles, including Sam Rockwell as a hooligan wrongly imprisoned for murder in "Conviction," Jeremy Renner as a bully bank robber in "The Town," Mark Ruffalo ("The Kids Are All Right") as a lothario who tries to break up a happy lesbian liaison and Justin Timberlake ("The Social Network") as Napster's founding rascal.
Rockwell has an edge — he's got a lead role hiding in this supporting race (always a plus). Renner holds an Oscar IOU, having top-lined last year's best picture, "The Hurt Locker," losing the lead actor race to Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart").
But two other bad-boy roles are standouts for other, personal reasons. Christian Bale gives a knock-out performance as a street thug turned boxing trainer in "The Fighter," but his personal woes may be foremost on voters' minds. They may want to embrace him as he rebounds from recent tabloid scandals. Michael Douglas won lead actor of 1987 as a heartless corporate raider in "Wall Street," but now that he reprises the role in the sequel, academy members may be eager to comfort him as he battles Stage 4 cancer.
Vote also in our poll asking: Who will win for best supporting actress?
Photos: Christian Bale in "The Fighter" (Paramount), Geoffrey Rush in "The King's Speech" (Weinstein Co.)