February 23, 2012 08:32 IST
Had Jean Dujardin not been around to spoil the fun, this year's most watched Oscar battle would have been George Clooney vs Brad Pitt. Be that as it may, it's exciting enough to have these two leading men competing for the Best Actor gong - George Clooney with his turn as a roadtripping dad in search of his comatose wife's lover in The Descendants, and Pitt as a team manager in underdog baseball movie Moneyball.
And it's rare. Regularly accused of snobbery, the Academy typically reserves it's favours for actors such as Sean Penn, Tom Hanks and Daniel Day-Lewis - actors who's abundance of talent has never been in danger of being overlaid by the glamour factor. It is a fact that Hollywood's biggest names find it challenging to get anyone to go further than skin-deep, often achieving this by taking roles that render them entirely unrecognizable - Tom Cruise as a portly, balding studio executive in Tropic Thunder springs to mind.
This holds largely true for Clooney and Pitt as well. Both graduated from heartthrob roles - Clooney as a dishy doctor in ER, Pitt as a roguish hitchhiker in Thelma And Louise. Both gravitated towards ensemble movies - most notably, together, the Ocean's Eleven trilogy . And both have, almost always, played furiously against type, choosing roles that showcase their talent rather than their matinee idol looks.
Consider Clooney. He has variously played: a bank robber battling vampires in From Dusk To Dawn; a fishing boat captain outrunning murderous weather in The Perfect Storm; an escaped convict traveling hilariously across Depression-era America in O Brother Where Art Thou; a CIA agent investigating petroleum politics in Syriana; an attorney with a gambling habit in Michael Clayton; a special military forces operative dabbling in psychic warfare in The Men Who Stare At Goats; and a corporate downsizer firing employees for large companies in Up In The Air.
Or take Brad Pitt who has been: a mental asylum inmate who may or may not have caused an apocalypse in Twelve Monkeys; a soap salesman with an existential crisis in Fight Club; a stranger in a strange land in Babel; a man who uniquely ages backwards in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button; an American soldier leading a band of Nazi hunters in World War II Germany in Inglorious Basterds; and a father struggling to make sense of a troubled relationship with his son in The Tree Of Life.
Neither actor is a stranger to the Oscars. Syriana won him the Best Supporting Actor in 2006, and has already been nominated twice for Best Actor, for Michael Clayton and Up In The Air. Pitt scooped a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Twelve Monkeys and a Best Actor nomination for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. If this awards season's trends are anything to go by, it seems unlikely that either Clooney or Pitt will wrest the Oscar from French actor Jean Dujardin's stellar turn as a fading silent movie star in The Artist. But it's become increasingly rare for the Academy to smile upon Hollywood's superstars, leave alone two of them in the same category, in the same year. And for just that, this year's Oscars will be worth watching.