(2 of 5)
WHY SHE GOT THIS FAR: From desperate housewife to desperate transsexual--it's about as big a reach as any actress attempted in 2005. While it's almost an Oscar cliché to have pretty people shed their glamour and get down, dirty and real, her woman-playing-a-man-who's-trying-to-be-a-woman is a new twist.
WHY SHE MIGHT NOT WIN: It's a wee little road movie, and the story--Huffman plays a man in the last stages of becoming a woman who has to deal with an abandoned son he never knew he had--goes rather improbably sentimental and conventional as it develops. Huffman is a strong, hardworking actress, but she doesn't quite transcend the impression that she's performing a stunt instead of playing a part.
WHAT THE BUZZ IS SAYING: Terrific performance in a picture that has not found an audience. Its transgressiveness doesn't even set it apart in the year of Brokeback Mountain and Capote.
WHAT HUFFMAN IS SAYING: "Nobody has ever been this interested in me before and probably never will be again," she told a British newspaper. "People ask me what my favorite red-carpet moment is, but they might as well ask about my favorite root-canal moment. As a matter of fact, my favorite moment comes at the end of the red carpet, when I take off my $500 shoes and put on the little plastic sandals I keep in my bag."
Who Will Win: Witherspoon Who Should Win: Witherspoon
HEATH LEDGER Brokeback Mountain
WHY HE GOT THIS FAR: Ennis Del Mar, the taciturn ranch hand with a love he dare not speak, is one of the most implosive and internalized figures ever put onscreen, and Ledger's work is artfully, painfully true to a man who never learns to express, perhaps even to understand, his feelings. As Ledger says, Ennis "was so beautifully complex, and there was so much to tell and so little words to help me tell his story." That's a mountain of a challenge and one that this young Aussie (just 25 years old when he shot the film) heroically scaled.
WHY HE MIGHT NOT WIN: The beauty of the role and of his performance is in their complexities and contradictions. Ennis loves his man and betrays his wife. He confounds an audience's sympathies. Even sophisticated Oscar voters might not care to reward such a confused and confusing figure.
WHAT THE BUZZ IS SAYING: At the Toronto Film Festival, where both Capote and Brokeback Mountain were launched, Ledger's performance was the one that earned the awe. But Academy members want a little showmanship in the roles they recognize (that's why Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard is another viable contender), and it's Hoffman who is a one-man show.
WHAT LEDGER IS SAYING: "I think that flattery is just as dangerous or destructive as criticism. I think it's all one thing." He's got the flattery, but will he get the Oscar?
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN Capote