Looking back at the past decade, there hasn't been many surprises in the race to win the best actor Academy Award.  By the time the New Year came around, most pundits and Academy members pretty much knew who would win taking most of the fun out of this category. And, yes, that's even before the nominations were announced.  Sure, Mickey Rourke gave Sean Penn a good run at it in 2009, but the only real upset you can point to is Adrien Brody in 2003 for "The Pianist."  Will 2012 provide an old fashioned horse race that seems only to be left to the supporting categories these days? It's possible, but someone's going to have to step and be a true challenger for George Clooney acclaimed role in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."

Many, including this prognosticator, are calling Clooney's work in the touching dramedy the best of his career.  That's no easy feat considering his impressive turns in "Michael Clayton," "Up in the Air," "Syrianna" and the constantly underrated "Solaris."  

Before we look at the main contenders, however, check out this year's batch of potential candidates here.

At this point, there are really just six men within striking distance of knocking Clooney off his frontrunner pedestal: Gary Oldman ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), Michael Fassbender ("Shame"), Michael Shannon ("Take Shelter"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar"), Jean Dujardin ("The Artist") and Brad Pitt ("Moneyball").  Each have their issues as potential candidates.

Gary Oldman is fantastic in "Tinker Tailor" (and there will be hell to pay if he isn't nominated) but the role doesn't have as many flashy or emotional moments as Clooney has in "The Descendants."

Michael Fassbender arguably gives the best and most daring performance of any actor in years in the sexually charged "Shame," but the nomination may be the win with the still conservative Academy.

Michael Shannon's work in "Take Shelter" has been admired since Sundance last January, but he'd have to make a massive comeback via Academy screener after the movie has already fizzled in theaters.

Jean Dujardin probably can't pull off a Roberto Benigni (and let's be clear, Dujardin is light years better than the Italian actor in one of Oscar's most embarrassing wins), but it's hard to see SAG members not rallying behind his silent performance to at least land a nomination.

Clooney's buddy Brad Pitt has been touted for giving an "old movie star" turn in the surprising critic's favorite "Moneyball," but the nod may also be the win here.

Leonardo DiCaprio is due just as much as Oldman for his first Oscar, but the character he's playing is one tough sell.  If he can make J. Edgar Hoover honestly sympathetic, he might be Clooney's biggest rival.

Other potential players may arrive as films that have played the festival circuit finally hit Hollywood's screening rooms, but those are Clooney's biggest challengers at the moment. Does that mean we have a race?  

Hmmmmm.  

What do you think about this year's field?  Is it Clooney's to loose? Share your thoughts below.

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