Oscars outlook: Best actor

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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 DEAL He's deeply sympathetic as a Mexican father illegally working in America, but the film has little awards traction; the Golden Globes overlooked it entirely.

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THE ACTOR Gary Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

THE DEAL As taciturn British agent George Smiley, Oldman received his best reviews in years. Still, it's a reserved role in a cerebral film that doesn't seem to shout "Oscar."


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?

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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!

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THE ACTOR Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

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.

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