This year’s race for the Academy Award for Best Actor will have no shortage of worthy nominees; in fact I daresay they could nominate five worthy actors right now. However there are still many more performances to be unveiled, work that will end up in the category, work that will not, disappointing audiences, the Academy and critics. Already I think we have seen a preview of that, though Clay might disagree in Bill Murray’s highly touted work in Hyde Park on Hudson, which after seeing at TIFF I felt would slowly drop out of sight and out of contention. The film’s reception at Telluride was weak, and in Toronto the same thing happened, with a rather shocked audience filing out mumbling about the disappointment they were feeling. I have stated already, Murray is never bad, weak or anything remotely negative, just not strong enough to be an Academy Award nominee. It is merely a good performance and lined up alongside the ones I think have a chance so far, it looks oddly out of place, which of course means nothing.
At this writing, Daniel Day-Lewis, with only a few critics having seen his performance seems the frontrunner, though grumblings have began moving through critical circles about his voice. Are there recordings that exist of Lincoln’s voice?? If not, then how the hell does anyone know what the man sounded like?? How about allowing for some artistic interpretation? That is certainly being celebrated with Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant, but brash and bold turn in The Master as Quell, a troubled war veteran struggling to get himself back into society. With hands on the hips (backwards) his jaw sticking out, a sneer on his face displaying his contempt for most of humanity, his body curled in as though beaten down by his demons but still ready to lash out in rage whenever provoked it is an interesting performance that will be discussed for years to come. In the same film, Academy Award winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman is equally fine as Dodd, the master of the title, a calm man by appearance but equally angry underneath, boiling over when queried about his cause. I think it is a fair statement to say both actors will be nominated, though Hoffman may go in the supporting category. Bradley Cooper could land his first nomination in the critically acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, which exploded out of TIFF and is without a doubt a film to keep an eye on. Though Jennifer Lawrence owns the film, Cooper is terrific as a man released from a mental institution hoping to get back his life not realizing it is long gone. At this writing he is perhaps a long shot, but if any of the other unseen performances that should land in the category falter, he could get in. Tommy Lee Jones is in the same sort of position, a fine performance though in a film that has not done well with the critics. Jones and Meryl Streep got fine reviews, though Jones earned the lion’s share of raves for his performance as the husband who does not understand why his wife is putting them through marriage counseling. It is a fine lived in performance, full of sadness, and if anyone falters, and they go with age instead of Cooper, look for it to be Jones.
John Hawkes in The Sessions is a sure thing, perhaps the single most sure thing of the entire race. He may not win, but there is no question he will be nominated for his moving performance as Mike, a man left an invalid by polio, who spends most of his life in an iron lung, writes lovely poetry and decides at thirty eight he wishes to be intimate with a woman for the first time in his life. Hawkes uses his voice and distorts his body for the performance, but most of it is in his eyes and longing for his desires. He’s brilliant and deserves the nod coming to him for a performance that touches not just our hearts but our souls.
Less certain is Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables, though I think if the film is as good as it looks in trailers and previews, Jackman could be in the race. It’s a strong meaty role that will tax his dramatic and musical talents, and the Academy loves a fine musical performance. Is it fair to rule out Liam Neeson for The Grey, which was released way back at the beginning of the year but became a surprise hit, was well reviewed and Neeson gave a powerful physical performance? Could happen, likely will not, but it could.
Jamie Foxx could land in the race for the first time since he won Best Actor for Ray (2004), this time for his slave turned gunslinger in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, the much anticipated western from the indy wunderkind. In the right role Foxx can be a powerful actor, and this looks like it could be something very special for him. Absent from the race since his win in 2001, Denzel Washington could be back as well for his performance as a pilot in peril in Flight a new film from Robert Zemeckis, making a return to live action filmmaking after a long time in the business of motion capture films which included The Polar Express (2004) and A Christmas Carol (2010).
Matt Damon has not been nominated for Best Actor since 1997 when he made the cut for Good Will Hunting (1997), placing him in a category which included Robert Duvall,. Peter Fonda, Dustin Hoffman and the eventual winner Jack Nicholson. He could be nominated for Promised Land, though the film has not been seen by many just yet. Damon is a serious actor, the real deal, who gives his best each time out. I for one am excited about seeing this.
Four foreign language performances must be taken very seriously at this point in the year; the first is the stunning work from Jean-Louis Trintignant as the husband struggling to care for his elderly wife in the breathtaking Amour. Cannes Best Actor Mads Mikkelsen could be a genuine threat for his haunting performance as a man accused of molesting a child in his small community and stands by as his entire life falls apart. What makes it even more terrible is we know what the truth is with the lead character and his accuser. A modern day witch hunt, Mikkelson is heartbreaking as a man who does not understand why he is being attacked, or worse, why the accusation?
On a lighter note, therefore less likely, are the actors who as diverse characters forge a bond in the popular French film The Intouchables which has become something of a blockbuster in foreign language film circles. Both actors, the incredible Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet could earn nominations for Best Actor, in particular Sy who is charismatic and altogether brilliant as a caregiver with no experience who gives his patient his life back. Possibly but only if another of the American performances falter out of the gate.
Late to the race but no less a threat is Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock as the legendary director, beloved around the globe, and certainly in film circles by legions of fans. Hopkins managed to humanize former US President Richard Nixon in a mesmerizing Oscar nominated performance and should do the same here for the sexual predator Hitchcock was often accused of being. Certainly Fox Searchlight, which also has The Sessions, has great confidence in the film to throw it into the race rather than wait for a year.
Though The Ice Man made a strong impression at TIFF the question looms as to whether or not the film will get a release this year or next. either or, Michael Shannon will likely be a contender for Best Actor for his haunting and haunted performance as serial killer and mob hitman Richard Kuklinski. Granted the performance is much better than the film, but that has not stopped worthy nominees from being in the race.
Brad Pitt could land in the race for Killing Them Softly if enough support builds for his performance and the reviews are strong, along with Ben Affleck for Argo, though I suspect his Best Director nomination will be enough.
In the category I dub with great affection, “old coots” we could see nominations for Clint Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve, though I doubt it, or Al Pacino and Christopher Walken in Stand Up Guys, which feels to me oddly like Tough Guys (1986) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.
The final five will no doubt cause much debate on our site and the many others that focus on film and the Oscars. It’s a tough year, there will be some great performances left out, which is a shame, but has happened before and will happen again. Personally I am feeling very pumped about this year’s Oscars…could be the most fun they have been in a long time.