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.

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.

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?

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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 also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, 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, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.