Oscar voters wrestle with best actor choice

Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:03am EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After 15 years in the movie wilderness, Mickey Rourke could crown his comeback with a coveted best actor Oscar on Sunday.

But the star of "The Wrestler" will first have to knock out Sean Penn, seen as Rourke's main rival for Academy Award glory thanks to his performance as slain San Francisco gay rights activist Harvey Milk in the movie "Milk."

"It's a real heavyweight bout between the wrestler and the gay rights slugger. It's been a back-and-forth slugfest," said Tom O'Neil, columnist for awards website www.TheEnvelope.com.

Frank Langella, nominated for playing disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon," is seen having an outside chance.

The two other nominees are Brad Pitt for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and Richard Jenkins for the little-seen movie "The Visitor." Both are considered long shots.

Rourke, 56, and Penn, 48, split the early movie awards with Rourke taking a Golden Globe and BAFTA and Penn winning the Screen Actors Guild trophy and a slew of critics prizes.

Movie pundits say Penn may have the edge because he is respected -- if not loved -- in the industry. He already won one best actor Oscar for playing a grieving father in the 2003 movie "Mystic River."

"Milk" also has a best picture and best director Oscar nomination, reflecting widespread support among Academy Award voters for the movie at a time when the battle over same-sex marriage is a hot topic in California.   Continued...

<p>Mickey Rourke arrives for the 2009 BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House, in London February 8, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor</p>