127 Hours

127 Hours Credit: James Franco in "127 Hours"

A king, a cowboy, a criminal, a mountain climber and a ladder climber - those are the five roles that earned this year's best actor Oscar nominees their honors. Among the many factors that will decide the winner (politics, campaigning, the complicated balloting system), one might be sheer likability. Audiences often conflate stars with their roles, and this year it seems that the more likable the character, the better the actor's chances of taking home the award.

THE ACTOR James Franco, "127 Hours"

THE DEAL As real-life outdoorsman Aron Ralston, who was forced to cut off his own arm to survive, Franco is charming and funny. But voters may not be able to remember much beyond the gruesome amputation scene that reportedly sent moviegoers fleeing from theaters.

THE ACTOR Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"

THE DEAL Eisenberg found the role of a lifetime in Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Unfortunately, the backstabbing, overly ambitious character is almost more villain than hero.

THE ACTOR Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"

THE DEAL Having won this award for 2009's country-music drama, "Crazy Heart," Bridges is riding a wave of goodwill. In the Coen brothers' Western, he plays U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, the same role that earned John Wayne his award for the 1969 original. Still, two Oscar years in a row is a rare feat.

THE ACTOR Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"

THE DEAL He plays a father who also happens to be a small-time crime lord in the Spanish-language drama. Don't expect his surprise nomination to become a win.

THE ACTOR Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"

THE DEAL The shoo-in for best actor has been playing attractive charmers for years ("Bridget Jones's Diary," "Love Actually") and came close to winning this award for the 2009 drama "A Single Man." As the stammering King George VI, Firth has drawn raves for his sensitive, empathetic performance. The role, and perhaps the actor, could be characterized as an underdog who comes out on top. What's not to like?

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