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Best Actor – Will Smith, “Ali”

Film: Ali

Previous wins for role: None

Previous Oscar wins/nominations: None

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Character bio: Ali follows the life and times of Muhammad Ali (formerly known as Cassius Clay) one of America’s greatest sports icons of all time. At the height of his career in the 1960s, he took on not only his boxing opponents to win the heavyweight championship title, but also the entire nation when he converted to Islam, changed his name and refused to fight in the Vietnam War. His defiant actions and openly staunch beliefs eventually cost him his boxing career, but also put him on the forefront of African-American civil rights during a turbulent time in America’s history.

Oscar odds: Smith seemed more than ready to take on the challenge of portraying the larger-than- life athlete. He trained extensively as a boxer, put 35 pounds on his thin frame and tore up the screen as Ali. Despite his initial teenybopper appeal with the 1980s TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and his subsequent superstar status thanks to movies such as Independence Day and Men in Black, Smith really is a good actor. Anyone who saw him in Six Degrees of Separation knows that’s true. But Smith is still a newbie when it comes to the Academy Awards. This won’t be his year, but his time will come. —Kit Bowen

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