It’s that time of year again. The award season is upon us, and with it comes a long list of faces (old and new) being recognized for their cinematic contributions.
On the best actor front, we’ve got three veterans (two returning from last year) and two highly buzzed-about newcomers.

Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”)
Following his critically-acclaimed (and Oscar-nominated) performance in 2009’s “A Single Man,” Colin Firth’s performance in this stunning period-piece is nothing short of transcendent. Having recently taken home the Golden Globe, Firth is justifiably the Oscar front-runner for his turn in “The King’s Speech.”
Shifting his vocal qualities for the role of notorious-stutterer King George VI, Firth is such a magnetic on-screen presence it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking home the golden man this year.

James Franco (“127 Hours”)
It seems that Oscar co-host James Franco can add ‘Oscar-nominated actor’ to his already impressive resume, which includes being a best-selling author, soap opera star and graduate student. With his film credits already spanning from superhero epics (The “Spider-Man” Trilogy) to stoner comedies (“Pineapple Express”) to critically-acclaimed dramas (“Milk”), Franco has proven to be one of the most diverse actors working today. Yet it’s his physically-demanding role in “127 Hours” that’s taken his career to another level.
His presence in the media seems hard to escape — something that helps his odds of taking home the gold, but the fierce competition (namely, Firth and Eisenberg) and the lack of other award-season wins for “127 Hours,” certainly hinder his chances.

Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”)
Much like Firth, Eisenberg’s performance was transformative. Eisenberg didn’t just play Mark Zuckerberg, he became Mark Zuckerberg.
With his turn as the socially-inept billionaire, Eisenberg managed to shed his comedic image established in films such as “Zombieland,” and move past the Michael Cera-comparisons. The love “The Social Network” garnered at the Golden Globes (picking up ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Score’) helps his chances at taking home this year’s statue.

Javier Bardem (“Biutiful”)
His third Oscar nod, Javier Bardem’s performance in the Spanish film  “Biutiful” has been lauded by critics as one of the year’s finest. Yet from the outset, Bardem seems like the underdog in the competition. Compared to the acclaim of his competitor’s films (“127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit”), “Biutiful” has received mixed reviews and his performance hasn’t been met with the same recognition from other award outlets. While it’s not impossible for Bardem to secure the statue come Feb. 27th, it’s looking unlikely.

Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”)
Last year’s Oscar winner is welcomed back into the race this year, with his sixth Academy Award nomination for his work in “True Grit.” Can he take home the gold again this year? Well it’s not unheard of. After all, previous Oscar winners Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks have both taken home the award in consecutive years. If anything’s going to hinder Bridges’ chances of joining Tracy and Hanks with this achievement, it’s this year’s fierce competition. While Bridges’ performance as bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn was impressive, anyone competing against Colin Firth is facing an up-hill battle at this point.