Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
The case for the Oscar: A much-praised, Golden Globe–winning performance by a previous Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett's turn as Bob Dylan demonstrates the precise combination of technical mastery and creative spark that really registers with the Academy.
The case against the Oscar: Is the performance too gimmicky? And did Todd Haynes's obscurist biopic register with the voting body as a whole?
Odds: 3 to 1.
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
The case for the Oscar: She's more than a beloved actress; she's a cultural institution. And forget ever winning an Oscar; she's never even been nominated, despite her juicy roles in The Jackie Robinson Story, A Raisin in the Sun, and Do the Right Thing.
The case against the Oscar: Gangster was a disappointment on nomination morning; Dee's was one of only two nods the heralded movie earned. Support for the film just might not be there.
Odds: 6 to 1.
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
The case for the Oscar: She's the only acting nominee out of a Best Picture nominee's heralded acting ensemble. And playing the exact same role as a legend — Vanessa Redgrave — she more than holds her own, and drives the drama to boot.
The case against the Oscar: Though Briony Tallis becomes more sympathetic as the movie goes on, as played by Ronan she's a lying pill.
Odds: 8 to 1.
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
The case for the Oscar: In a film notable for its intense, accomplished acting, stage vet Ryan turns in the most lived-in performance of the lot as a mother whose child is kidnapped.
The case against the Oscar: Talk about unredeemable characters! Even at the film's close, when nearly everyone else gets a graceful exit, Ryan's mother-from-hell barely changes.
Odds: 3 to 1.
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
The case for the Oscar: A longtime art-house fave gets a juicy supporting role in a big studio movie and knocks it out of the park. And her nervous rehearsals before a smoothly delivered presentation give Swinton the best Oscar clip of anyone in this gang.
The case against the Oscar: Of the film's two nominated supporting performances, hers is the less showy. And Swinton digs so deeply into the character that she becomes, at times, truly monstrous.
Odds: 5 to 1.
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The case for the Oscar: Though he's a supporting-acting nominee, he's actually the lead in this film, and carries it with grace and ease — just as he did in Gone Baby Gone. Out of nowhere, he's become a rising star among serious actors.
The case against the Oscar: But, Cuba Gooding, Jr. aside, this category doesn't often reward youngsters at the very beginning of their careers.
Odds: 15 to 1.
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
The case for the Oscar: He's won every imaginable critics' award, and his performance is a masterpiece of spooky, psychotic originality. In a Best Picture front-runner, he's the actor you remember long after the movie's done.
The case against the Oscar: Some may view the performance as one-note. But what a note!
Odds: 2 to 1.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
The case for the Oscar: He stole Charlie Wilson's War right out from under the noses of the two biggest movie stars in the world, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
The case against the Oscar: Too bad he was the only thing the Academy liked about the film.
Odds: 10 to 1.
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
The case for the Oscar: Eighty-two years old and two Tonys, and this is Holbrook's first Oscar nomination ever? We could see him winning this one on reputation alone, though it also helps that his scenes in Into the Wild are the most affecting in the entire movie.
The case against the Oscar: Compared to the bug-eyed psychosis of Javier Bardem, Holbrook's work isn't all that showy.
Odds: 4 to 1.
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
The case for the Oscar: Wilkinson drives the drama in Michael Clayton with this meaty role as a lawyer gone off his meds. His character is a truth-teller, a sage, and a martyr — very Oscar-bait-y, in short.
The case against the Oscar: But does he overplay his mad scenes? Some viewers thought so.
Odds: 5 to 1.