Are we underestimating Hugh Jackman’s Oscar potential in ‘Les Miserables’?

Our Oscar predictors have narrowed down this year’s crowded Best Actor field to a race between four men: Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln“), Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master“), Denzel Washington (“Flight“) and John Hawkes (“The Sessions“).

All of their films have either opened or screened for the press, but “Les Miserables” and its star Hugh Jackman are still unknown quantities. Universal Pictures has yet to screen the film to award gurus, so there’s still no way to know whether it will stage a last-minute Oscar ambush, or end up like “J. Edgar” or “War Horse” last year: highly anticipated films whose Oscar hopes were dashed when they were finally shown.

Nevertheless, our Oscarologists consider it a top contender for Best Picture, with eight currently predicting it to win. (See our latest predictions roundup here.) And 13 expect Anne Hathaway to win Best Supporting Actress. But none are predicting a Best Actor win for Jackman. We currently rank him fifth with 12 to 1 odds. Should our Oscarologists be taking him more seriously?

Our forum poster Snuggle4, recent winner of our Oscar predictions contest, indicated in early October that he may have seen the film (if so, he probably attended an unannounced test screening that was held at the Hollywood Arclight) and he considers it the frontrunner to win the top prize. He currently ranks Jackman second behind Hawkes in the Best Actor race. See his initial report on the film’s chances here.

Jackman, on paper, has several factors working in his favor. He is a major Hollywood star, popular within the industry and without; he hosted the 2008 Oscars, and was arguably the best emcee of the past 10 years. He has proven dramatic range, from big-screen action hero to on-stage song-and-dance man, for which he has already won Tony and Emmy Awards.

Jackman can even be considered overdue for Oscar recognition. He has worked with directors including James Mangold, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan, and Woody Allen, all of whom have directed Oscar-winning performances, but he’s never been on Oscar’s radar. Now headlining a major Best Picture contender, the timing could be right to honor him for the first time.

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Jackman plays Jean Valjean, who is jailed for stealing a loaf of bread in 19th century France. The role earned Colm Wilkinson a Tony bid for Best Actor in a Musical in 1987, which he lost to Robert Lindsay in “Me and My Girl.” In that race, Wilkinson was also up against his costar Terrence Mann, who played his adversary, Inspector Javert. But in the film version, Javert is played by Russell Crowe, who is expected to compete as a supporting actor, so Jackman will have the lead-actor race all to himself.

Jackman’s biggest challenge could be overcoming Oscar’s bias against male marquee idols. Beautiful ingenues often win acting awards, but male heartthrobs seldom do. However, he de-glamorizes for his “Les Mis” role much like fellow hunks George Clooney and Christian Bale, who transformed themselves physically to win Oscars for “Syriana” and “The Fighter,” respectively.

It will all be moot is “Les Miserables” disappoints, but if it proves equal to its early hype, Jackman could become a Best Actor frontrunner.

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