In all the major categories at this year’s Academy Awards, there is only one with a sure-fire winner, and that is Jamie Foxx’s much-lauded performance in “Ray.” Following his powerhouse speech at last January’s Golden Globes, he is even more of lock, because after all, there is nothing like bad musical renditions and happy tears to entice Academy voters. What’s more, Foxx has swept nearly every major industry award, including the coveted Screen Actor’s Guild Award and has received the highest accolades from innumerable critic’s circles, which are always a welcome addition to any performer’s chances to take home the Oscar.

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Oscar … on my mind. (Courtesy of Universal)

Foxx’s overwhelming odds are especially impressive considering the competition. In a rare occurrence, the Best Actor race has risen above Best Actress as the strongest performer’s category of the year. For every nominee, an equally deserving actor went unrecognized. Most notoriously, Paul Giamatti’s universally acclaimed work in “Sideways” was ignored in his second straight omission from this category, following his snub for last year’s little-seen “American Splendor.”

Among the other nominees, Clint Eastwood, a man who has one Best Director award to his name, is running a distant second in the Best Actor category for his subtle, skillful work in “Million Dollar Baby.” His performance provides much-needed emotional stability in a heartbreaking film, but it is ultimately garnering more affection than awe from Academy voters, which is never a strong incentive for them to favor him come Oscar night.

Even less likely to take the award is Johnny Depp, who earns his second straight nomination in this category after his nod for last year’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” His turn as “Peter Pan” playwright J.M Barrie is possibly the most surprising addition to this year’s race, but it is likely intended as a rain check for a probable future win. The same goes for first-time nominee Don Cheadle, whose virtuoso performance in “Hotel Rwanda” will ultimately be overlooked because so few Academy voters have seen the film.

That leaves Leonardo DiCaprio and his portrayal of the late, haunted billionaire Howard Hughes, in a performance that has deservedly earned him widespread acclaim. Despite the buzz, though, DiCaprio has a penchant for Academy snubs, famously failing to earn nominations for three recent high-profile roles in “Catch Me If You Can,” “Gangs of New York” and, most notoriously, “Titanic.” In fact, his only previous nod was for 1994’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” made when he was just 19 years old (he’s now 30). Though his nomination is a show of faith, given this track record, his chances at actually taking the award are slim at best.

Despite the odds, it would not be the Academy Awards without an upset, and industry conspiracy theories that Foxx will not take the award have pervaded Hollywood. One prevailing idea is that because he is nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, votes for Foxx will be split down the middle in both categories. In that case, Eastwood would likely triumph over Foxx as a general reward for his multifaceted work on and in “Million Dollar Baby.” The theories that go beyond that are as far-fetched as they are implausible — but as past years have shown, anything is possible come Oscar night.

And while Foxx may be the frontrunner, he is probably not the most deserving contender. Granted, his performance is superb — one that not only silenced his critics but also astounded audiences worldwide. But there is another performance, one equally outstanding but far more understated, and that is Don Cheadle’s portrayal of one man’s unrealized heroism in “Hotel Rwanda.” It doesn’t hurt that he stars in a far superior film, but the underrated Cheadle finds a complex perfection in his role, while Foxx essentially strikes one note and holds it throughout all of “Ray.” It’s a hell of a note, yes, but Cheadle ultimately rises above the competition with his riveting work that is still yet to be discovered by a majority of moviegoers.

In the end, despite the doomsday scenarios, this race has a bottom line: It is Foxx’s year, and he will take the award. It’s going to be a bitch for him to top that Golden Globes speech, though, and you had better believe Academy voters and viewers alike will be watching with eager anticipation at what he has in store for them. Let’s just hope he hasn’t run out of grandmothers to thank.

 

And the nominees are…

Don Cheadle – “Hotel Rwanda”

Johnny Depp – “Finding Neverland”

Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Aviator”

Clint Eastwood – “Million Dollar Baby”

Jamie Foxx – “Ray”

 

We Predict…

Jamie Foxx will win

But…

Don Cheadle should win

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