With the exception of his performances in Enemy of the State and Ali, I’ve been fairly averse to Will Smith for years. He’s a calculating performer who always leans on his shtick and charm. Too smooth, too ready with a line and a smile. Some critics feel Smith has to pay for past sins (The Wild Wild West and chomping on that cigar and saying “now that’s what I call a close encounter!” in Independence Day ) and that he needs to just be still — just settle into himself and stop looking for love.

So when I began hearing about his being a presumed Best Actor nominee in Gabriele Muccino‘s The Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia, 12.15), I wasn’t buyin’ it. Then a week or two ago I watched the trailer and damn if he doesn’t win you right over, especially playing a father and a real-life figure with the older-guy makeup and the sideburns and all.
Now comes word from a guy who’s seen the film that Smith is restrained and focused all through it (the guy actually used the word “stoical”), and that the story — how businessman Chris Gardner went from homelessness and sleeping in bathrooms with his young son to great strength and wealth — holds back on the emotion until the final ten minutes. And at this point, the guy says, he succumbed. He choked up.
Smith is “a guaranteed lock for Best Actor,” the guy says. “It’s between him and Peter O’Toole.”
Between this guy and another guy, the two-man consensus is that Forrest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) peaked too early, Derek Luke (Catch a Fire) is good but may not deliver enough voltage to warrant a nomination, and that people are now snickering at Leonardo DiCaprio‘s South African accent in Blood Diamond so that one’s up in the air too. Fuck that, I said. It’s enough that DiCaprio kills in The Departed.