Looking at Oscar’s ‘Fifth Spot’

Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight

As the Academy sent out the ballots this past Monday, Oscar Predictions were updated, and pundits attempted to wrap their heads around the state of the race. The term “lock” is being thrown around like popcorn. The Lead Actor race, especially stacked with talent, has all but one assured nomination for Daniel Day-Lewis waiting in the wings.

As I mentioned on this week’s “Power Hour”, the race in this category reminds me of the 2005 season, when nine of the world’s finest actors were battling for five spots. Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, and Jamie Foxx would fill the Lead Actor lineup, with Paul Giamatti – a presumed lock in one of the Best Picture frontrunners, Sideways (2004) – being left off. Other notable omissions were Javier Bardem for The Sea Inside, Jim Carrey for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Liam Neeson for Kinsey, all worthy of citations. This season, there has been a lot of who will fill the infamous “fifth spot”, a term coined in the case of four locks in any respective group of the Academy Awards, with one spot being available to another worthy candidate. 

In the Lead Actor category, it’s widely assumed that, along with Day-Lewis, John Hawkes should easily find room in the final five for this role in The Sessions. Closely behind him, Bradley Cooper, after winning the National Board of Review award and being cited by Critics Choice, Golden Globes, and SAG, is the Weinstein Company’s top pony to represent them in the category for Silver Linings Playbook. Star of Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman, has been cited by all the top guilds as well and remains a formidable spoiler to Day-Lewis at the ceremony. With all the buzz for him and his film rising in these final weeks, Jackman should be able to garner his first Academy Award nomination.

With those four, it looks as though Denzel Washington for Flight and Joaquin Phoenix for The Master will be going head-to-head to nab the “fifth spot” in the category. What makes this even more interesting is that, just a few weeks ago, these two were coined “locks”, but after Phoenix missed SAG and Washington’s buzz  subsided, they are the most vulnerable to being left out.

This situation is similar to what happened in the 2005 awards season, when Clint Eastwood made the lineup over Giamatti. What made his inclusion more of a surprise factor was that no one really considered him a threat for a “fifth spot” over contenders Bardem, Neeson, and Carrey, especially since Eastwood missed both the Golden Globes and SAG. We could be in store for a scenario where both Phoenix and Washington make the lineup in place of someone like John Hawkes or – worse yet – Hugh Jackman.

The Supporting Actor category also has something similar occurring at the moment. Alan Arkin in ArgoRobert DeNiro in Silver Linings PlaybookPhilip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, and Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln are all assumed to be firmly placed in their respective categories. With the exception of DeNiro, three of them have been nominated by all the major guilds thus far, with DeNiro only missing out on the Golden Globes. I’m on an island, all alone with the notion that Arkin is more vulnerable than some believe, but for the sake of this piece, I digress.

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Enter the “fifth spot.”  Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz both managed Golden Globe nominations for their works in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, two roles that are being highly praised by critics. In a surprise inclusion, not once but twice, Javier Bardem was nominated for his turn in Sam Mendes’ Skyfall by both the Critics Choice and the Screen Actors Guild. It seems to be those three men fighting for the final spot in the category.

Referring back to the 2005 season, Alan Alda made a surprise appearance in the Oscar lineup for his brief standout in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator over contenders David Carradine in Kill Bill Vol. 2, Peter Sarsgaard in Kinsey, and Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland. This year, could our Alan Alda be in the position of a John Goodman in Flight, or a Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild?  Perhaps Eddie Redmayne has impressed enough voters with “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” one of the big emotional numbers in Hooper’s Les Miserables, to be considered for a spot.

The Lead Actress category doesn’t look as up-in-the-air as the male categories. The biggest surprise in 2005 – which was not even really considered surprising – was Catalina Sandino Moreno cracking the final five for Maria Full of Grace. Moreno beat out Uma Thurman in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Nicole Kidman in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. What’s sad about this season could be the ignoring of Emmanuelle Riva, winner of the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Actress, in place of a lazy performance like Helen Mirren’s in Hitchcock. Mirren has been nominated by the Globes and SAG thus far, with Riva’s only mention at the Critics Choice Movie Awards. [O1]

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook have their spots assured and are ready to battle for the win. Marion Cotillard is next in line in Jacques Audiard’s Rust & Bone, a performance cited by all the guilds and beloved by many. Naomi Watts plays her role down to her bare bones in The Impossible, and it should easily result in a nomination for her and Summit Entertainment. Mirren, Riva, and Quvenzhane Wallis, who’s been deemed ineligible for SAG but cited by Critics Choice, will fight it out for the last spot for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild. A case could be made for Rachel Weisz, who won the New York Film Critics Award and has been nominated by the Globes for Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea. It may be an easy choice for AMPAS to choose Mirren and, unfortunately, that will be at the expense of two other incredible performances of 2012.

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The Supporting Actress race is the epitome of the “fifth spot” scenario. In 2005, eventual Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett in The Aviator, Laura Linney in Kinsey, Virginia Madsen in Sideways, and Natalie Portman in Closer had their spots filled and ready to go. Oscar Queen Meryl Streep received a Golden Globe nomination for The Manchurian Candidate, while Sophie Okonedo in Hotel Rwanda and Cloris Leachman in Spanglish both received SAG nominations. In the end, Okonedo emerged victorious to accompany her co-star, Cheadle, to the ceremony.

This year, Amy Adams in The MasterSally Field in LincolnAnne Hathaway in Les Miserables, and Helen Hunt in The Sessions seem likely to received their nominations. Adams, who was omitted from SAG’s lineup, was replaced by Maggie Smith in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but many, including this pundit, believe she can still find herself happy on January 10.

The wildcard thrown into the works was Nicole Kidman, who delivers one of her best performances in the ill-advised atrocity known as Lee Daniels’s The Paperboy. Along with Kidman, character actress Ann Dowd is a standout in her film, Compliance, which received mixed-to-negative reviews. Alas, Dowd has found herself as the Supporting Actress winner from the National Board of Review earlier this season. Trying to ride the coattails of co-star Hathaway, Samantha Barks has popped up on critics’ lists for her role as Epinone in Les Miserables. The same can be said for Jacki Weaver and Kelly Reilly. In the end, it looks to be either Kidman or Smith rounding out the Supporting Actress lineup – give or take an Adams snub.

I’ll follow up later this week with a “fifth spot” look at the Directing and Screenplay categories.

Current Acting Predictions Are:

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
John Hawkes – The Sessions
Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard – Rust & Bone
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Naomi Watts – The Impossible

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin – Argo
Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
Robert DeNiro – Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Master
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Nicole Kidman – The Paperboy

Who do you see getting the final spots in the acting categories?

About Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of AwardsCircuit.com. Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He’s also an active member of New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.
  • GL

    Best Actor
    Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
    Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
    John Hawkes – The Sessions
    Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
    Denzel Washington – Flight

    Best Actress
    Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
    Marion Cotillard – Rust & Bone
    Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
    Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
    Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea

    Best Supporting Actor
    Alan Arkin – Argo
    Dwight Henry – Beasts of The Southern Wild
    Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
    Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
    Matthew McConaughey – Magic Mike

    Best Supporting Actress
    Amy Adams – The Master
    Sally Field – Lincoln
    Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
    Helen Hunt – The Sessions
    Nicole Kidman – The Paperboy

    • Solid. But do you really think DeNiro misses? That would be incredibly surprising.

      • GL

        It depends how much they like SLP. Remember when The Social Network came up and everyone thought Andrew Garfield was in for sure, or Mila Kunis for Black Swan. When it comes to supporting players it really depends how much they like the film. That’s why I also think DiCaprio misses. The film just got pushed back because of the Newtown shooting, plus split-vote with Waltz, it’s going to be hard for either of them to really gain the momentum they need.

  • Rob.

    Compliance was very well recieved by critics! I think you mean The Paperboy was negatively recieved.

  • Phill

    Wow Clayton, while disagreeing with how close some of these are, I actually agree with all of your nominations in the end. I don’t think Washington has a chance in best actor and I don’t think Wallis has a chance In best actress. Maybe Wallis might sneak into the fifth spot of the supporting actress (Stienfield for True Grit fell into it even though she should have been best actress.) Also, I do not think Bardem stands any chance for supporting actor. Skyfall isn’t strong enough a movie for it. Only disagreement I have is the possibility of Waltz claiming that spot from Arkin.

  • Genadijus

    No way for two foreign language actresses in the same category… Otherwise, Walis is out and Naomi in.

  • JamDenTel

    I think Hawkes or Washington could miss out on an Oscar nomination; Hawkes because…eh, I don’t know, I just think he could be the one to miss out. Washington has two Oscars, and while I could see the Academy being glad to have the chance to nominate him again, the fact that the film has garnered little attention outside of him (not without reason, as far as I’m concerned) sets him up as a potential miss. I think Phoenix is just too good to leave off the ballot.

    I’m not even going to get into Best Supporting Actor. Possibly the messiest acting category this year. No real consensus. If I had to guess, I’d pick Tommy Lee Jones, but Philip Seymour Hoffman is a definite contender–and, in my opinion, deserves the award outright. But there could be a big surprise here. (Side note: why is Alan Arkin still a fixture in this category? I like him a lot, but he has his Oscar, and there’s really not that much to the role. He has virtually no chance of winning this, but the fact that he’s a lock for a nomination is kind of strange.)

    For Best Actress, I really hope Rachel Weisz makes it to at least a nom. She was excellent, and the film was one of the best of the year (#3 for me). Winning would be nearly impossible, but is a nomination too much to ask? Naomi Watts could happen (I would even say it’s decently likely she’ll get on), but Helen Mirren…God, if she gets nominated, it might hit the fan. She has no chance of winning, though. As for Quvenzhane Wallis…eh. I don’t think she deserves a nomination, and at this rate, I think it’s not all that likely she’ll get one. I might need to rewatch the film and re-evaluate it, but Dwight Henry was the only performance there I would nominate.

    As for Supporting Actress, it seems like Hathaway pretty much has this in the bag. It’s a shame that Salma Hayek’s fine work in Savages will go unnoticed, but that film got too little attention as it was. The big question here seems to be whether Ann Dowd will be nominated or not. I couldn’t say for sure, but given that random one-shots most often happen in the supporting categories (remember Sophie Okonedo?), I think her chances are good.

  • Jeremy DC

    I hope you’re right about the best actor and best actrress categories. I don’t care what Joaquin Phoenix said, if he’s left off that’s going to be one of the biggest mistakes the Academy will have ever made in my eyes. I’m rooting for Watts, Cotillard, and Riva to join Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. I’m kind of getting the feeling DeNiro will miss for supporting as well and supporting actress looks like an easy one. I’ll say:
    Best Supporting Actor
    Tommy Lee Jones
    Leonardo DiCaprio
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman
    Alan Arkin
    Dwight Henry

    Best Supporting Actress
    Anne Hathaway
    Amy Adams
    Sally Field
    Helen Hunt
    Nicole Kidman

  • JohnGrekko

    These are just my “expert” opinions. So, please do not get bent out of shape.

    Best Picture Probables:

    Zero Dark Thirty (Winner)
    Argo (Runner-Up)
    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Life of Pi
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Les Miserables
    Django Unchained
    Moonrise Kingdom
    The Master


    The Sessions

    Possible but unlikely:
    The Impossible
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Promised Land

    Long Shots:

    Take This Waltz
    Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
    The Dark Knight Rises
    Killing Them Softly

    Best Director Probables:

    Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty (Winner)
    Ben Affleck for Argo (Runner-Up)
    Steven Speilberg for Lincoln
    Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
    David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook or Ang Lee for Life of Pi


    Tom Hooper for Les Miserables
    Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained

    Possible but unlikely:

    Ben Lewin for The Sessions
    Benh Zeitlen for Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom
    Sam Mendes for Skyfall

    Long Shots:

    Gus Van Sant for Promised Land
    Robert Zemeckis for Flight
    Andrew Dominik for Killing Them Softly
    J.A. Bayona for The Impossible
    Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight Rises

    Best Actor Probables:

    Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (Winner)
    John Hawkes for The Sessions (Runner-Up)
    Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
    Denzel Washington for Flight
    Joaquin Phoenix for The Master


    Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables (Very Possible)
    Bill Murray for Hyde Park On Hudson

    Possible but unlikely:

    Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock
    Denis Lavant for Holy Motors

    Long Shots:

    Matt Damon for Promised Land

    Best Actress Probables:

    Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty (Winner)
    Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (Runner-Up)
    Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone
    Helen Mirren for Hitchcock


    Emmaunelle Riva for Amour
    Naomie Watts for The Impossible
    Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild

    Possible but unlikely

    Kiera Knightenly for Anna Keranina
    Michelle Williams for Take This Waltz
    Laura Linney for Hyde Park On Hudson

    Long Shots: None

    Best Supporting Actor Probables:

    Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln (Winner)
    Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master (Runner-Up)
    Alan Arkin for Argo
    Javier Bardem for Skyfall
    Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook


    Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained
    Leonardo Dicaprio for Django Unchained
    Matthew McConaughey for Magic Mike

    Possible but unlikely:

    John Goodman for Argo
    Ezra Miller for Perks of Being a Wallflower

    Long Shots:

    Eddie Redmayne for Les Miserables
    Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Ewan McGregor for The Impossible

    Best Supporting Actress Probables:

    Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables (Winner)
    Helen Hunt for The Sessions (Runner-Up)
    Amy Adams for The Master
    Sally Field for Lincoln
    Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy


    Ann Dowd for Compliance
    Maggie Smith for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

    Possible but unlikely:

    Samantha Barks for Les Miserables
    Judi Dench for Skyfall
    Emma Watson for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    Long Shots:

    Rebel Wilson for Pitch Perfect
    Helen Florent for Cafe De Flore

    Best Original Screenplay Probables:

    Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom (Winner)
    Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty (Runner-Up)
    Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained
    Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master


    Michael Haneke for Amour
    Rian Johnson for Looper

    Possible but unlikely:

    Sarah Polley for Take This Waltz
    Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard for Cabin in the Woods
    Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths
    John Gatins for Flight

    Long Shots:

    Kim Ki Duk for Pieta
    Olivier Nakache for The Intouchables

    Best Adapted Screenplay Probables:

    David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook (Winner)
    Tony Kushner for Lincoln (Runner-Up)
    Chris Terrio for Argo
    David Magee for Life of Pi
    Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlen for Beasts of the Southern Wild


    Stephen Chbosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Ben Lewin for The Sessions

    Possible but unlikely:

    Anna Karenina

    Long Shots: None

  • T

    I really wish the Academy would recognize Kerry Washington. I haven’t seen Django yet, but she’s had so many great performances and the one in Django is being rcognized as a standout as well. I hope her day comes soon.

    • Kerry Washington is incredible in the film but I’m sure many won’t look that way.

  • missionstatement1224

    Best Actor:

    -Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
    -Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
    -Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
    -John Hawkes (The Sessions)
    -Denzel Washington (Flight)

    -I have a feeling that Academy is going to pass on Cooper. I agree that Denzel feels vulnerable, but is he really more vulnerable than Cooper or Hawkes? Washington got nominated from the Critics, Globes, and SAGs too…

    -I’m 100% with you on the Best Actress lineup.

    -Agree on Best Supporting Actor lineup too. I wish that Arkin was more vulnerable, but I can’t see AMPAS not nominating even him. I thought he was good, but nothing worthy of a nomination. I’d much rather see Michael Pena surprise here. I do think Bardem could land a spot here as well as Waltz. I’ve never been sold on De Niro’s buzz. Maybe it’s just because it’s been so long since he’s been nominated that it’s difficult to believe it will actually happen again.

    Best Supporting Actress:

    -Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
    -Amy Adams (The Master)
    -Sally Field (Lincoln)
    -Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
    -Judi Dench (Skyfall)/Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

    -I still can’t decide on that fifth spot. I don’t think Kidman will get the same love from AMPAS that she has gotten in the past week, so I think it’ll come down to the two dames, which I’m surprised you didn’t even mention Dench in the article. If I had to guess I would probably go with Smith.

  • Henry

    One of the readers above is right. Would they really honor two foreign language performances both in French? Highly unlikely. The Academy wants range – and if two foreign language performance would be nominated, it’s likely they want more international variety. Look at 1966.

    Bradley Cooper is a high threat – mark my words. As Jackson’s film is receiving backlash, Cooper is looking like a possible spoiler. And, the Academy might prefer Denzel Washington over John Hawkes – but who knows?

    And no, Arkin cannot be vulnerable. He’s the support for Argo – if anyone is vulnerable, its the Django Unchained actors. A backlash can occur if the violent subject material is a turn off to voters because of certain events.

  • Daniel B.

    Best Actress:
    Naomi Watts
    Jennifer Lawrence
    Emanuelle Riva
    Rachel Weisz
    Jessica Chastain

    I think that Cotillard will miss eventually in favor of the superior performance of Riva.

    Best Actor:
    Daniel Day-Lewis
    Hugh Jackman
    John Hawkes
    Denzel Washington (possibly replaced by Phoenix)
    Bradley Cooper (he is hip now so I think they are going to go for him)

    As for Supproting Actor, I really hope Arkin misses so that a more deserving actor is recognized – Ewan Mcgregor/Ezra Miller/Dwight Henry. It was a nice performance but in a year like this is almost unforgivable. I think that he is more vulnerable than what most think too. This category is really messy and I believe that few will predict the exact lineup
    I would go like this:
    Robert DeNiro
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman
    Ewan Mcgregor ( It seems that the film has a huge fan base within the acting branch)
    Tommy Lee Jones
    Dwight Henry

    Best Supporting Actress:
    Well, I see Dowd and Adams missing in the end. There seems to be some backlash with the performance of Adams ( I love her but is she ready to be a 4-time nominee? ).
    My predictions here are:
    Anne Hathaway
    Helen Hunt
    Sally Field
    Maggie Smith (who doesn’t love her – even in a typical role; Come on, she deserves an Oscar even for being in a drama series :))
    Nicole Kidman (possibly replaced by Dowd)

  • Genadijus

    Is so really obvious that duJardin will be kissing Jessica or Jennifer on the stage? Academy likes surprises, there is another strong contender in the line for sure (Riva, Watts)…

  • Daniel B.

    I still think that it will be Watts in the end. Jessica and Jennifer will both steal votes and will clear some space for the suffering Watts who goes through hell to reunite with her family.

  • arjecc

    Best Actor:

    Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
    Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
    Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
    Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
    Denzel Washington – Flight

    Best Actress:

    Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
    Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone
    Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
    Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
    Naomi Watts – The Impossible

    Best Supporting Actor:

    Alan Arkin – Argo
    Javier Bardem – Skyfall
    Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
    Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
    Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master

    Best Supporting Actress:

    Amy Adams – The Master
    Sally Field – Lincoln
    Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
    Helen Hunt – The Sessions
    Nicole Kidman – The Paperboy

  • Brian G.

    I think everyone is showing way too much love for ” the Master.” it was released too long ago and did poorly at the box office. I only think Hoffman has a strong chance for a nomination. Remember the controversy a few years back when everyone thought the nominations lacked diversity? For this reason, and considering his impeccable performance,I thin Washingtn is close to a sure thing. Dn’t count Wallis out for Best Actress for this reason as well. The film was popular with critics and audiences, though not being SAG-backed might hurt her chances. Sadly I think Mirren is a stronger possibility than Riva. I also think Arkin will be included for Supporting Actor – Argois very popular with critics and did good box office; theAcademy likely acknowledges this with heaps of nominations. I think in a mnth’s time Kidman will be a distant memory, and I expcone of the supporting players from Les Miz or JenniferEhle from Zero Dark Thirty to take the 5th slot. And Maggie Smith over Amy Adams as well.