The best actor award has essentially been a forgone conclusion since critics first got a peek at “The Last King of Scotland” last September. Rash, domineering and explosive, Forest Whitaker’s turn as infamous Uganadan dictator Idi Amin is perhaps the most appropriately forceful performance in a decade. Whitaker has long been well-liked in Hollywood, and should he take the award on Sunday, he’ll be the second “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” alum to do so.

Sarah Royce
Forest Whitaker should bring home the Best Actor honor. (Courtesy of Chapter 1 Records)

Whitaker, to be sure, has a wide field of deserving nominees behind him. Leonardo DiCaprio gave a flawless turn as a diamond smuggler in “Blood Diamond,” a performance Oscar-worthy where his nominated turn in 2005’s “The Aviator” was not.

The other longshots of the category include the versatile Will Smith for his most complete emotional performance yet as a struggling single dad in “Pursuit of Happyness,” and Ryan Gosling, the indie performer of the year and “Half Nelson’s” crack-addict inner-city teacher. But the real dark horse in this race, nominated for his eighth time, is aging icon Peter O’Toole for his charming role in “Venus” as, well, an aging actor.

In a night that may see another perpetual bridesmaid (Martin Scorsese) finally rewarded, it would be truly special – and not totally unsurprising – if O’Toole won as well.

Despite his embarrassing meltdown after winning a Golden Globe last month (including an incoherent acceptance speech), the sheer gravity of Whitaker’s chilling role will – and should – be impossible for voters to forget.

Imran Syed

VERDICT

NOMINEES
Will Smith, “Pursuit of Happyness”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blood Diamond”
Peter O’Toole, “Venus”
Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson”
Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

Will win: Forest Whitaker
Should win: Forest Whitaker

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