It takes courage, wisdom, brains, voice, strength, and heart to create a winning character that captures the imagination of audiences everywhere, and each of those elements is embodied in the six nominees for Best Actor for this year's Critics' Choice Movie Awards.
All of these talented performers, be they fresh faces or old hats (in some cases very old and literally wearing hats), have had journalists stepping over themselves to heap praise on the films they have led to levels of profound recognition.
The Broadcast Film Critics Association will honor one of the following six nominees for Best Actor on Friday, and we'll let you know who has the edge in this year's gold derby.
Jeff Bridges, 'True Grit'
As aging, decrepit lawman Rooster Cogburn, Bridges further cemented his legend status and stepped out from under the shadow of John Wayne to put his own spin on the Western hero. His iteration of Cogburn is more Dude than Duke and, with the aid of old bowling buddies the Coen Brothers, he might have a shot at doubling his Oscar winnings and becoming the first since Robert De Niro ("Godfather: Part II") to win for a role someone played previously.
Robert Duvall, 'Get Low'
Playing an ornery old-codger may not be a stretch for Robert Duvall at this point, but he proved once again that nobody does it better and with more vitality than this Oscar winner (and five-time nominee). As a reclusive hermit holding a living funeral for himself, Duvall created another in a long, versatile line of indelible characters, and even if he doesn't take home the gold this year there's still plenty of life left in this 80-year-old.
Jesse Eisenberg, 'The Social Network'
Eisenberg's unique take on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is so electric you can hear his synapses hum. The rising star turned the billionaire supergenius into a character whose mental and verbal gymnastics far exceed his tact, and that's why we love him. You hear words like "iconoclastic" and "iconic" to describe this performance, but it's turned Eisenberg into just plain "icon." With a slew of wins and nominations he stands a better chance than anyone of beating the frontrunner…
Colin Firth, 'The King’s Speech'
This veteran British performer has managed to stammer his way into critics' hearts, and has long been considered the dead-on, take-it-home-to-mama LOCK for the Oscar. As the vocally-challenged King George VI whose transformation into the confident, authoritative speaker his country needed, Firth delivers a third act speech with a voice that has moved audiences beyond anything this year… well, except maybe Ted Williams. Colin, start waxing that trophy mantle.
James Franco, '127 Hours'
For his captivating, bravura portrayal of real-life climber Aron Ralston's harrowing ordeal pinned to a rock for six days straight, everyone's favorite polymath actor and "General Hospital" resident is soaking up nominations like a surgical sponge. Franco's most powerful, dramatic moment in the film, the infamous arm-cutting scene, may also have been enough of a turnoff to older voters. This "Castaway"-esque solo turn still deserves all the positive recognition it's getting.
Ryan Gosling, 'Blue Valentine'
Who would have thought this former Mouseketeer would turn into the Brando of our time, but there it all is onscreen: the same raw, sensitive spontaneity you'd find in "On The Waterfront" can be seen with Gosling's lovelorn husband in "Valentine." Playing opposite Michelle Williams in this indie gem, he worked closely with her and writer/director Derek Cianfrance to develop a multi-layered dissection of both the birth and freefall of a loving relationship.
Our Prediction: It's Firth for the win. Granted, Eisenberg has a lot of heat and a handful of critics' awards (including the National Board of Review), but Firth won nearly two dozen and counting. The man is going to need a storage locker for all the trophies he's nabbed, or he can hand them out instead of candy at Halloween.