Years from now when I think back on 2012 and what it had to offer, I’m sure the cinematic landscape that was presented will surely stick out as many directors and filmmakers pushed the thematic narrative with breathtaking visuals, stupendous performances, and uniquely driven story structures. One thing that will be near the top was the daunting task the Academy, pundits, and even myself, had in narrowing down the Lead Actor race to five simple slots.
There were debates going back and forth about who deserved a spot, who was miscategorized, and who was given the light of a day for consideration. The Academy did an admirable job and when push comes to shove, these five performances that are nominated are all worthy of citation and acceptable as a Best Actor winner.
The Nominees Are:
Read the breakdown of each nominee below:
Bradley Cooper as “Pat Solitano, Jr.” in Silver Linings Playbook
OSCAR TRACK RECORD: Never nominated.
As the mentally fragile yet strong-minded Pat, Bradley Cooper tapped into a part of himself I’m not sure he even knew he had. As the Weinsteins put their money behind their pony, Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper has become a formidable spoiler to presumed frontrunner Daniel Day-Lewis.
Hollywood first noticed Cooper as the douchebag boyfriend of Rachel McAdams in the hilarious comedy, Wedding Crashers (2005) but it wasn’t until he was jumped on by a naked Ken Jeong in Todd Phillips’ hit summer blockbuster, The Hangover (2009) that he started to take off. What looked to be a Hollywood movie-star, falling into easy paycheck roles like All About Steve (2009), The A-Team (2010), and Limitless (2011), Cooper ventured out to attempt “drama” in The Words (2012) with Zoe Saldana. While the film was panned by critics, his performance wasn’t universally hated. Playbook put Cooper on the map.
Encapsulating the essence of pure and naturalistic performer, Cooper envelops the mental illness and instability of a man we dare to like as he goes down a journey to redemption. Acting as a modern-day One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) of sorts, Russell’s film has tangible qualities that creates an uplifting spirit that mimics that Oscar-winning turn of Jack Nicholson. While Jennifer Lawrence reaped the lion’s share of awards of the season, Cooper will go down as the sole reason for the success of the film. Emerged as a star in front of our eyes, it was a glorious turn.
OSCAR SCENE: “Thank you, I Love you. I knew it in the minute I met you. I’m sorry it took so long for me to catch up. I just got stuck.”
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln
OSCAR TRACK RECORD: 5 Nominations
Being on the cover of TIME Magazine as the “Greatest Living Actor” set him off in the right direction this year. After delivering countless performances, many deemed worthy of Oscar wins, Daniel Day-Lewis has emerged as the Meryl Streep of the Best Actor category without the film volume. Believe it or not, the two-time Oscar winner has a snub or two under his belt to boot. I’ll scratch my head for nearly all-time how his ferocious performance as John Procter in Nicholas Hytner’s The Crucible (1996) went unnoticed by various critics groups and Oscar. His role in Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer (1997) managed a Golden Globe mention but failed on its road to the old Kodak Theater.
As Lincoln, Day-Lewis embodies in a way we haven’t seen before. It’s one of the rare instances for a Best Actor winner where we can’t imagine another actor playing that role. The famous line from Academy voters and Lincoln lovers is “Daniel Day-Lewis IS Lincoln.” The same way that Dustin Hoffman IS Rain Man and Tom Hanks IS Forrest Gump, Daniel Day-Lewis IS the sixteenth president of the United States.
Winning Golden Globe, BAFTA, Critics Choice, and Screen Actors Guild puts him in a prime time spot to take his third Oscar and becoming the most rewarded actor in the lead category.
OSCAR SCENE: “I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!”
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables
OSCAR TRACK RECORD: Never nominated
The opportunity has arose. After successfully hosting the Tony Awards and the Academy Awards, everything that makes Hugh Jackman a movie star was poured into his role of Jean Valjean in Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables. Tenderizing a role that is the single through line of the acclaimed musical in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible, Jackman knocks the role out of the park.
After box office smashes in the X-Men films and quirky comedies like Kate & Leopold (2001), where he was nominated for a Golden Globe, the dynamic and gifted actor showed his vocal chops, acting arsenal, and ability to stretch the boundaries for a role so beloved by many.
Since winning his Golden Globe Award in January, Jackman has remained a formidable contender. A little like Jean Dujardin last year winning for Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, this looks to be one of Oscar’s only opportunities to reward Hugh Jackman. With upcoming roles in Denis Villaneuve’s Prisoners later in 2013 and taking on the role of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman on Earth due out sometime in 2014, that theory could be proved wrong.
OSCAR SCENE: Valjean’s Soliloquy
Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell in The Master
OSCAR TRACK RECORD: 3 Nominations
It’s no secret what I felt about Joaquin Phoenix’s breathtaking performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. In one of the single best character constructions witnessed on film, Phoenix brick by brick, and beat by beat, puts Freddie together with little hesitation and complete dedication.
With a career that spans twenty years, Phoenix’s two nominated works in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) and James Mangold’s Walk the Line (2005) were both highly praised and worthy of its mentions in their respective years. In between and after all the Oscar love, Phoenix showed his talents in James Gray’s Two Lovers (2011), Terry George’s Reservation Road (2007), and Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000), all receiving praise for Phoenix’s commitment to the craft.
Prior to the SAG Nominations announcement, Phoenix was perceived as the top contender to unseat Daniel Day-Lewis at the Oscar ceremony. Though the reviews for The Master were a mixed bag, no one can deny the works of the three leading actors Phoenix, and the nominated Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. When Phoenix missed the SAG mention, along with co-star Adams, he immediately dropped from #1 contender to someone who many thought would miss on Oscar nomination morning. In the end, edging out the great John Hawkes for The Sessions, his brilliant turn went noticed.
His interview antics where he called the awards season “bullshit,” though commendable to some, rubbed many people the wrong way. A little exaggerated by the media outlets? I think so. Especially since past actors like Marlon Brando and George C. Scott went on similar rants about the Oscars and their feelings about them.
Scheduled to be seen in James Gray’s upcoming Low Life with Jeremy Renner and Spike Jonze’s Her, some goodwill could leak over to the next awards season if his performances are well-received. Unfortunately, Phoenix looks to be the bridesmaid at this year’s ceremony even though he should be winning it all.
OSCAR SCENE: “You got to shave one testicle, then all the crabs go over to the other testicle. You got to light the hair on fire on that one, and when they all go scurrying out, you take an icepick and you fucking stab every single last one of them.”
Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker in Flight
OSCAR TRACK RECORD: 6 nominations
That’s how my grandmother used to say his name when I was a child. Delivering a Oscar-winning performance in Edward Zwick’s Glory (1989), Denzel Washington is one of the most recognizable figures in Hollywood. After losing the Oscar for Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992), Washington emerged as an outstanding talent delivering time and time again in films like Philadelphia (1993), The Hurricane (1999), and his second Oscar-winning role in Training Day (2002).
In Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, Washington sinks himself into a character, layered with anguish and pride, before rising to the bubbling surface following a plane crash. This marks Washington’s sixth Academy Award nomination and his return in nearly twelve years. Keeping your nerves unhinged in the opening flight crash sequence, though the visuals are clearly your focal point, Washington’s commanding voice, presence, and aura beat through the sound mixers aurals and thematic audience screams.
One of our more consistent nominees in terms of the awards season, when Oscar and critics go for Washington, they don’t let up. Nominated for Critics Choices, Golden Globe, and SAG awards, Washington will always have his legion of followers that believe him in any role. They could find it fitting to give reward his illustrious career with a third acting Oscar when everything is said and done. His film also managed a surprise Original Screenplay nomination. Could mean something.
OSCAR SCENE: “Katrina did not drink the Vodka!….cause I drank the Vodka.”
Some may feel this category is not even worth talking about since Daniel Day-Lewis seems t have it all locked up but with an outstanding year, especially for male lead performers, Oscar can easily ignore us all, and choose whoever they want. That can be Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper, any of the five men could feasibly win. It’s a matter of unforeseen love that erupts on Oscar night.
WHO WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis
COULD WIN: Bradley Cooper
SHOULD WIN: Joaquin Phoenix
WHO MISSED OUT: Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Jean-Louis Tringnant (Amour), Richard Gere (Arbitrage), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone)