It's going to be a pretty close contest among the men this year at the Academy Awards as Daniel Day- Lewis (Lincoln) will be challenged by Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables). Sudhish Kamath takes a closer look at the nominees for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, in the order of who's most likely to win.
Phoenix has been nominated twice before but has never won and this could be his best chance at the big prize, given all the rave reviews he has won for his near-manic performance in Paul Thomas Anderson's classic about a sex-crazed war veteran turning to the founder of an organisation called The Cause for help. Phoenix channels his animal instincts and looks every part the beast that needs taming and direction. It's the most complex of roles if you compare it with what the other actors in the fray have had to deal with, simply because there's so much to read between the lines. It's one of the most nuanced performances of the year and Phoenix's Freddie Quell deserves the golden statuette he most probably will win.
But for the fact that this is a rather inconsistent musical that suddenly breaks into spoken dialogue for no apparent reason while choosing to make its actors sing most of the lines the rest of the time, Jackman has a pretty good chance to win for his portrayal of Jean Valjean, a prisoner on the run leading a new life. But given that this is his first ever nomination, the Academy may just wait to reward him till a better film comes along. While your heart does go out to him for all the singing and physical effort that goes into a musical, you can't help but feel a little sorry for Wolverine. Very rarely does an actor in a superhero franchise transform himself so much physically for a role. It worked for Christian Bale, but Jackman may just go unsung.
Lewis is a favourite to win the Best Actor in the books of many critics simply because he plays America's most loved President in a Steven Spielberg movie. And it's Daniel Day-Lewis, who can make his characters work with sheer screen presence and his charismatic persona! All he needed was a little make-up for the resemblance and Day-Lewis makes the rest of it look so easy. He has pages of dialogue to deliver in long takes and it's no doubt a role that screams Oscar BUT... Lewis has won twice before and the Academy makes the actors work really hard for the third win. If he still goes ahead and wins, it's not because Daniel Day-Lewis deserved it most, it will be because they can't send their favourite President home without an Oscar.
Washington is given the unenviable task of playing Whip Whitaker, a character who is going to frustrate you with his behaviour as an alcoholic in denial. It's a significantly complex character and Washington plays it with great restraint and subtlety. Flight is a character study of a man fighting his demons, an intoxicated but instinctive pilot cursed with a plane that loses control killing six out of 102 passengers. He knows alcohol was not the reason the plane had to crash-land and Washington's face takes us through all the emotions of a man imprisoned by guilt. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington has won twice before. So if the Academy is in the mood to let an actor do a hat trick, they'll give it to Lewis.
Silver Linings Playbook
Though it's refreshing that an actor from a romantic comedy gets a nod, and it must be conceded that Cooper does come up with a pretty solid performance, a man refusing to let go of his past isn't the most difficult role to play. Simply called Pat, Cooper does prove he can be a pretty effective actor but it is very unlikely that he will win for his first ever Oscar nomination, that too for a romcom archetype. In fact, the young man is lucky to have got this far, beating worthy contenders in Ben Affleck (Argo), Joseph Gordon Levitt (Looper) and Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock).
Philip Seymour Hoffman
It's almost unfair to the others in the fray because while their roles are really supporting characters, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the titular Master. It's a full-fledged role and the fact that Phoenix is nominated for Best Actor and Hoffman for Supporting Actor is only a technicality. As Lancaster Dodd, the man who has founded a cult called The Cause, Hoffman turns in a compelling performance that has won him many rave reviews. Given that all actors in the fray have won once before, Hoffman is the man I would bet on.
Now this is an actor all of us will be rooting for. His King Schultz is a diametrically opposite of the diabolic Col. Hans Landa, a man so good that you wonder if a nicer man ever lived. The only thing that stands in his way, apart from Hoffman, is the fact that he just won the last time Tarantino directed him. As charming a performance it is, it's not the most difficult of roles to pull off for an actor of his calibre. But Waltz has already won a lot of acclaim and a Golden Globe and might just spring an upset win.
Tommy Lee Jones
Jones is fantastic as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln except that it's not a role as big or meaty as the one Hoffman or Waltz got to sink their teeth into. This is his fourth nomination (and he has won once before) and Jones has a small chance of winning given that this is the only role among the five in the fray that would bring a tear to your eye. That and the fact that this is the Academy's favourite film that he has been nominated for, it is indeed possible that Jones could beat Hoffman and Waltz, even if undeservingly so.
As Lester Seigel, Alan Arkin has less than half a dozen scenes in Argo. Like Tommy Lee Jones, this is Arkin's fourth nomination and he has won once before too but unlike Jones, Arkin gets a character that offers very little scope for histrionics. But for the fact that he plays the sporting producer game for a fake movie to save American lives in Ben Affleck's crowd-pleaser that everybody cheered and loved, there's no reason Arkin should have even got a nomination.
Silver Linings Playbook
Now, this seems like a nomination put in just because they couldn't find five decent Supporting Actors to pit against one another. So bring in the heavyweight, give him his seventh nomination just to give the rest in the fray further incentive to win. As the superstitious Pat Sr., DeNiro does bring in the laughs, but nobody is expecting him to win for a romantic comedy.