Christian Bale


Role: Political operative/ veep Dick Cheney.

In his favor: At last, Bale's upper lip has found the role it was born for. Much has been made of his physical transformation, but this portrayal goes far beyond extra weight and prosthetics. The voice and posture are scarily spot-on. (G/S/B, Globes winner)

Then again: Gary Oldman just won for a latex-enhanced performance (as Winston Churchill) last year.

Bradley Cooper

"A Star Is Born"

Role: Jackson Maine, rocker on a downward trajectory.

In his favor: Cooper went all in on the debauchery; this is a performance utterly without conceit. The director (who happens to be Bradley Cooper) knew that the story hinges on Jackson's pitiable downfall, and Cooper the actor delivers. (G/S/B)

Then again: His role may indeed be vital, but who are we kidding? It's Lady Gaga's movie.

Willem Dafoe

"At Eternity's Gate"

Role: Artist Vincent Van Gogh, during his self-imposed exile in Arles.

In his favor: Dafoe's face is its own canvas, a self-portrait come to life. With his visceral physicality, he embodies the painter's famous lust for life and art. He even learned to paint credibly for the role, lending an authenticity that can't be faked. (G)

Then again: At 63, Dafoe is a generation too old to play the 30-something artist.

Rami Malek

"Bohemian Rhapsody"

Role: Iconic Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.

In his favor: Malek, as lithe and sinewy as the real deal, brings a touching sadness to the role of a consummate outsider. He rocks the bedazzled harlequin jumpsuits, and how he wrangles those choppers! They're practically their own character. (G/S/B, Globes winner)

Then again: "Rhapsody" is an oddly sanitized portrait of a gay icon.

Viggo Mortensen

"Green Book"

Role: "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, driver/protector for a black musician in the 1960s South.

In his favor: Mortensen is compelling as a Noo Yawk casino enforcer who finds his worldview shaken up. The 30 pounds he piled on speaks to his deep commitment. He also might have created a whole new way to eat pizza. (G/S/B)

Then again: The "Sopranos" act is just this side of cartoonish, and Tony's change of heart feels facile.

John David Washington


Role: Ron Stallworth, a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.

In his favor: The appealing Washington, football player turned actor, holds his own as a man who all but stumbles into a dangerous situation. You might almost forget his dad's name is Denzel. (G/S)

Then again: Put him down as "one to watch."