By Jenny Jeltes Daily Arts Writer

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Universal
He has come a long way since “Romper Stomper.”

The Best Actor nominees this year have one thing in common – all of them have taken on extremely difficult and challenging roles. From the famed Muhammed Ali to a psychologically screwed up street cop to a mentally handicapped man functioning at the level of a seven-year-old, all of the Oscar nominees must first be commended for tackling such unfamiliar territory.

Tom Wilkinson portrays an emotional father who must deal with the murder of his son. “In the Bedroom,” directed by Todd Field, explores the family tension and painful emotions that one is faced with after tragically losing a loved one. Wilkinson, as Matt Fowler, brilliantly captures the essence of rage and desire for revenge by speaking through his actions just as much, if not more than, his words. Although the most powerful scene is the explosive argument with his wife Ruth (Best Actress nominee Sissy Spacek), Wilkinson adds a mysterious element to his character that makes him darkly intriguing. It is as if the audience is just as afraid of Fowler’s decisions as he is. Wilkinson won’t win this year’s award for Best Actor, however, simply because the film’s slow-moving pace produces a low potential for increased popularity and recognition.

Russell Crowe clearly has no problem with recognition, especially after winning last year’s Oscar for his role in “Gladiator.” The line between the media hype and an honest assessment of his performance becomes blurry as the Oscars draw near, but it is safe to say that Crowe will win this year’s “Best Actor” award. This is because of his very realistic portrayal of a schizophrenic and the powerful depiction of a man struggling to keep both his passion and his sanity.

What is it about Crowe that has given the film so much success? Was it the curiosity of seeing last year’s action hero tackle something completely domestic and realistic? Or was it a genuine admiration of his acting talent? These are the important questions to ask, but regardless of their answers, Crowe will walk home with the Oscar.

There has been some controversy over Crowe’s behavior after his BAFTA acceptance speech, in which he allegedly assaulted the producer of the show, whom Crowe blamed for cutting off his speech. Some speculate that this could hurt Crowe’s chances for the Oscar since the Academy has looked poorly on thug-like behavior in the past, but Crowe’s subsequent apology and the caliber of his performance should undo the damage.

There’s something so seductively satisfying about seeing Denzel Washington take on such a sinister role. In “Training Day,” Washington plays Alonzo, an emotionally conflicted, violent, undercover street cop who attempts to manipulate his first-day trainee and cohort, Jake (Ethan Hawke). He eventually fails, however, but the intensity of his character may just blow you away. He is phenomenal. Washington’s acting performance should garner him the Oscar, but unfortunately,

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