It's rare enough for a foreigner to earn an Oscar nomination for best actor. But two at once? It's a historical first, marked by Mexico's Demian Bichir and France's Jean Dujardin. Still, this high-profile category has always been dominated by Americans (and the occasional British Empire type), a pattern that probably isn't about to change.
THE ACTOR Demian Bichir, "A Better Life"
THE ACTOR Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
THE DEAL He plays a silent star in a silent film -- itself a front-runner for the best picture award. Dujardin's old-fashioned performance is wonderful, but can it earn a modern-day Academy Award?
THE ACTOR George Clooney, "The Descendants"
THE DEAL As a man grieving for a disloyal wife while caring for two difficult daughters, Clooney gets to run a gamut of emotions and admirably downplays his glamorous persona. Humility plus sensitivity -- sounds like Oscar time!
THE DEAL Critics noticed Pitt's performance as a hard-charging baseball manager, while Oscar voters may notice that he's never won the gold. There's an outside chance this could be Pitt's year.