The Oscars: The Best Actor and Actress Nominees, Decoded

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
The case for the Oscar: A big and beloved star gives the best performance of his career in a much-admired film. He'll be out there campaigning, and this could be where the Academy recognizes Michael Clayton's excellence. Too bad he's up against…

The case against the Oscar: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Odds: 15 to 1.

Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
The case for the Oscar: Day-Lewis gives a monumental performance of the type that few actors have the guts to pull off. The Oscar loves sound and fury, which Daniel Plainview delivers in spades. He's won most every critics award and precursor. He should drink the milkshakes of every other nominee.

The case against the Oscar: Well, he is a little bit hammy. But this is the Academy! That's basically an argument for his win!

Odds: 1 to 3.

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd
The case for the Oscar: He sings! He dances (a little)! He kills! Depp's glorious performance in Tim Burton's musical is brave, intense, and powerful. In fact, it'd be the performance of the year, if it wasn't for…

The case against the Oscar: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Odds: 10 to 1.

Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
The case for the Oscar: He's powerful in this otherwise-overlooked drama, just as he was powerful (if remarkably similar) in No Country for Old Men. But he may have to be grateful he even got this surprise nomination, considering he's up against…

The case against the Oscar: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Odds: 25 to 1.

Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
The case for the Oscar: He's a genuinely good guy, starring in a movie that many wish had done better in this morning's nominations. Extra points for the naked knife fight, which showed him to be about as brave as an actor can be. Especially brave is his willingness to face off against…

The case against the Oscar: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Odds: 20 to 1.

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The case for the Oscar: It's a showy role by a beloved, Oscar-winning actress. And if Judi Dench could win an Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth for eight minutes, why not Blanchett, who carries her movie?

The case against the Oscar: It's only her second-best performance this year; if she wins an Oscar, it'll be for her similarly astonishing transformation into Bob Dylan.

Odds: 10 to 1.

Julie Christie, Away From Her
The case for the Oscar: It's been 42 years since Julie Christie won an Oscar, and she gives a brilliant, critically acclaimed performance as a victim of dementia in Away From Her. A Best Screenplay nomination for writer-director Sarah Polley suggests support for the film is deeper than expected.

The case against the Oscar: Is the movie too small and too gloomy for voters to appreciate Christie's work? And in a category that loves ingénues, will her age work against her?

Odds: 3 to 1.

Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
The case for the Oscar: The Academy loves impersonations, and this one's a doozy: French bombshell Cotillard transformed herself into the spitting image of Edith Piaf.

The case against the Oscar: She doesn't sing! And the movie is not particularly well liked. And do you know anyone who saw it?

Odds: 5 to 1.

Laura Linney, The Savages
The case for the Oscar: This well-respected actress has been nominated twice before and never won, and this is some of her strongest, spikiest work yet. Could the third time be the charm?

The case against the Oscar: Though Linney brings all her ferocious intelligence and warmth to the role, Wendy Savage isn't the most sympathetic character she's ever played. And the Academy does love its heroines and saints.

Odds: 6 to 1.

Ellen Page, Juno
The case for the Oscar: In past years, the Best Actress Oscar has been given to a cavalcade of young actresses on the rise: Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon. This year Ellen Page most clearly fits the bill.

The case against the Oscar: But is she too young? Indeed, if she won the Oscar, she'd best Marlee Matlin as the youngest actress ever to win this award. And though her sparkling interviews have made the young Canadian star seem accessible and smart, they've also made some viewers wonder if she's a one-trick pony.

Odds: 6 to 1.