Everybody gotta have a dream,” declares DJay “Hustle & Flow,” as played by the Oscar-nominated Terrence Howard. For many actors, that dream is winning the all-elusive Academy Award.

This year’s pack of nominees for the best actor award is remarkable: A majority of the performances are interpretations of controversial personalities who made marks in popular culture during the 1950s and 1960s. And thrown in for good measure, there’s a musically driven pimp and sexually repressed cowboy.

The clear frontrunner for the Oscar is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who loses himself completely as the emotionally tormented writer Truman Capote. Hoffman not only gets Capote’s high-pitched voice down pat, but nails the mannerisms – such as how he watches the subjects of “In Cold Blood” with intense interest and how he flicks the ash off a cigarette. Hoffman has an impressive body of work behind him, but this is his best performance to date.

In what became the breakthrough performance of the year, Howard struck a chord as the pimp, wannabe-crunk-star DJay. “Hustle & Flow” rests on Howard’s shoulders, and he commands the screen with confidence and charisma. DJay is not the nicest pimp on the block, but it’s a testament to Howard’s abilities in that he makes him a sympathetic protagonist who’s worth rooting for.

Also nominated is David Strathairn for his portrayal as esteemed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Strathairn is riveting as he captures Murrow’s integrity, mannerisms and moral character with the utmost seriousness. The captivating performance anchors the contemplative film brilliantly.

Another performer that got a lot of attention this year was Heath Ledger, specifically for his role as the anguished Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain.” Ledger is nothing short of phenomenal, and for anyone who is not familiar with the actor, you’d never know he’s Australian. Yet Ledger says more with his tense body language than with his words, and that’s what makes his acting in the movie so striking and emotionally affecting.

Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix who pulls a Jamie Foxx by eerily channeling a famed, late musician. In “Walk The Line,” Phoenix embodies the soul of Johnny Cash – with all the passion and demons the artist was known for. Phoenix, who even does his own singing, proves again that he’s one of our generation’s most versatile actors with this role.

Each actor is very deserving of the award, so it’s a shame there’s no way to split the statue five ways. But out of all the nominees, Hoffman’s performance is by far the most challenging and complex. Coupled with his reputation as one of the industry’s top character actors, Hoffman is the frontrunner to claim the prize. Hopefully when Hoffman takes the stage to claim his award, he’ll accept it with dignity. It would be a shame if he picked up any bad habits from his forthcoming “Mission: Impossible III” co-star, Tom Cruise.

Oscar Race 2006 Best Actor
Philip Seymour Hoffman capote
Terrence Howard hustle & flow
Heath Ledger brokeback mountain
Joaquin Phoenix walk the line
David Strathairn good night, and good Luck

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