It's Heath Ledger's world, his fellow potential nominees just live in it.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Heath Ledger: The Dark Knight He was practically a shoo-in nominee even before the film opened to rave reviews on it's way to becoming the all-time No. 2 box-office champ. Not to take anything away from his eye-popping performance, but his untimely and completely unexpected death in January makes him perhaps the strongest sentimental favorite in Oscar history.
Josh Brolin: Milk Overlooked last time for his performance in the thankless role of No Country For Old Men's good guy, Josh (left) should have more luck as the baddie who offs Sean Penn's gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. Playing the 43rd president in director Oliver Stone's upcoming biopic W will boost both his profile and his chances.
Liev Schreiber: Defiance After years of quietly impressing under the radar, the film and stage actor is said to totally upstage James Bond (costar Daniel Craig) as one of three Jewish brothers who escape the Nazi's during World War II. Add to that the Academy's obsesssion with Holocaust-themed films and director Edward Zwick's remarkable track record with actors in supporting roles, and an Oscar-nominated star is born.
Michael Sheen: Frost/Nixon If the still-untested film is as great as it's expected to be, expect Oscar to make up for snubbing The Queen's Tony Blair two years ago.
Robert Downey Jr.: The Soloist It helps that director Joe Wright has gone two for two, nominations-wise, with his first and second films, Pride And Prejudice and Atonement, respectively. But Robert has more than promising odds on his side. Hotter than ever with a pair of 2008 hits, Iron Man and Tropic Thunder, and a just-announced role as the title character in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes, the actor could seal his comeback with his second nomination.
James Franco: Milk His performance as Sean Penn's gay lover is already being singled out, and if momentum builds, the Academy just might forget that he had anything to do with Pineapple Express.
Tobey Maguire: Brothers It's been forever since we've seen Tobey (left) out of his Spider-Man tights! With former supporting nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman along for the ride in this remake of a critically hailed Danish war drama (when Tobey goes missing in Afghanistan, his kid brother, Jake, bonds with his wife, Natalie, and kid), the star of previous Best Picture contenders The Cider House Rules and Seabiscuit could finally get some Oscar love of his own.