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Year of the Hunk: Can Clooney, Pitt save Oscars?

The Academy may be looking at best-looking field of best actors in history. And in a year with few real blockbuster pictures likely to be nominated, and one of the show's oldest hosts ever in Billy Crystal, will that help ratings?
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

At 84, Oscar may no longer be a stud, but he still hangs out with a pretty studly crew. At least that could be the case this year if, as the bloggerati are predicting, a particularly handsome lineup of leading men is nominated for best actor. And that, in turn, could help the Oscar broadcast's efforts to fend off further ratings decline.

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The contest is fluid -- nominations won't be announced until Jan. 24 -- but the consensus has George Clooney, for his beleaguered dad in "The Descendants," and Leonardo DiCaprio, for his embittered FBI director in "J. Edgar," at the top of the list. Brad Pitt is a strong contender for the casual ease with which he steps into the shoes of baseball GM Billy Beane in "Moneyball." And a couple of relative newcomers have become early favorites: Germany-born, London-based Michael Fassbender, who fearlessly lets it all hang out in the NC-17 "Shame," and French matinee idol Jean Dujardin, who pours on the charm as a fading star in the silent movie "The Artist."

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It's a lineup straight out of the GQ Men of the Year Awards by way of People's Sexiest Man Alive cover -- Clooney and Pitt are two-time titleholders. (There's even an outside chance fellow SMA Matt Damon could join them for "We Bought a Zoo.") It's not a typical Academy roundup if only because the Oscars tend to underrate the work of a lot of the best-looking leading men. Big-screen smoothies, they can make it look too easy; they often appear in action films or romantic comedies that aren't considered awards-worthy and steer clear of the showy transformations the Academy favors. That's one reason DiCaprio, who was ignored for his clean-cut earnestness in "Titanic," is now being applauded for donning all that aging makeup in "J. Edgar." It's all the more impressive that Clooney and Pitt are being taken seriously this year because neither adopts a thick accent or funny mustache to play his part.

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Now all of that would just be something for fan sites to gush over if it also didn't have ratings implications.

The Academy might have breathed a sigh of relief when Billy Crystal agreed to emcee the show in the wake of Eddie Murphy's departure. But Crystal, who hasn't hosted since 2004, is 63, making him the second-oldest solo host since a 74-year-old Bob Hope fronted the show in 1978. And that's not going to make the young girls swoon.

There's also a question of how widespread the appeal of the movies nominated for best picture will be when the show is broadcast Feb. 26. When noms were announced last awards season, there were two mega-grossers: "Toy Story 3" ($415 million domestic) and "Inception" ($293 million). But this year, with only five nominees guaranteed, it's an open question whether 2011's top-grossing movie, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2," will make the cut. The closest thing to a popular nominee right now is the all-girl "The Help," which has collected $168 million domestically.

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But if the best-picture nominees are short on crowd-pleasers, a posse of hot actors could provide ratings insurance. Certainly, it would help the surrounding media industry that feeds into the Oscars. "It's an exciting possibility that George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, the men from the 'Ocean's' movies, could all be on the red carpet together competing for best actor," says Entertainment Tonight executive producer Linda Bell Blue. "And they all play strong men with backbone, which is what female moviegoers are looking for."

GOLDEN BOYS: Dishy leading men have to wait to get the gold

  • Cary Grant: Two nominations before his Honorary Oscar in 1970
  • Paul Newman: 10 noms, a win for The Color of Money, an Honorary in 1986
  • Robert Redford: 1 acting nom, 1 directing win, then an Honorary in 2002
  • Warren Beatty: 4 acting noms, 1 directing win, then the Thalberg in 2000

This story originally appeared in the issue of .