Gold Standard writer Glenn Whipp is sweeping through all 24 Oscar categories this week, assessing the races, predicting the winners and helping you prevail in your Oscar pools.
Now, he turns his attention to the four acting contests.
And the winner is … Day-Lewis. But you knew that already, didn't you? Certainly, the other four nominees in this category aren't sweating their acceptance speeches. In fact, one of the great awards-season moments came last month when Phoenix accepted the best actor plaque from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and said, "I'm assuming that the L.A. Film Critics were banned from seeing 'Lincoln.' I'm not sure who the distributor is; it's a strange strategy." In all of 17 seconds, Phoenix summed up Day-Lewis' dominance without exactly calling it into question. And why should he? Day-Lewis' immersive, inside-out performance captures both the majesty and the mystery of one of history's most iconic figures, challenging preconceptions and exceeding expectations. He more than earned his third lead actor Oscar.
Unless … this planet we call Earth ceases to exist in the form we now know in the hours leading up to Meryl Streep opening up the envelope containing the name of this year's lead actor winner. (And, by the way: What a beautiful quirk of fate that Streep, our Greatest Actress, will be presenting this year's award to Day-Lewis, our Greatest Actor.)
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Quvenzhane Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
And the winner is … Lawrence. When nominations were announced, this was framed as a two-woman race between the "Silver Linings" star and Chastain. Now, in the wake of Riva's BAFTA win, it has become fashionable to predict the academy will go with the French actress, who will turn 86 on the day of the Oscar ceremony. All three women are deserving, but we believe Lawrence's early momentum, which included a SAG win, will be enough to get her to the podium.
Unless … Riva will be celebrating more than her birthday on Sunday.
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
And the winner is … De Niro. In a category sporting five Oscar winners delivering high-caliber work, the difference might come down to the narratives being spun around the nominees. The Weinstein Co.'s campaigners took a page from last year's successful Meryl-Streep-is-overdue crusade, making sure voters realized that it has been more than two decades since De Niro was last nominated and more than three decades since the academy gave him an Oscar. It's his time! It helps that his work in "Silver Linings" combines humor, fragility, warmth and a powderkeg volatility — all the things we love about De Niro — in one beautiful performance. Welcome back, Bobby D!
Unless … it's Jones or Waltz. There's the assumption that Jones (aka Mr. Grumpy Pants) took himself out of the race by not making the promotional rounds. There's also the school of thought that all that surly, silver-tongued oratory in "Lincoln" was just Tommy Lee being Tommy Lee. To which, we'd reply: Yeah, so? But we still smile every time someone does Jones' "warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse" spiel from "The Fugitive." So maybe we're not a reliable gauge here.
And speaking of silver-tongued devils, there's our Austrian friend Mr. Waltz, who makes such sweet music from Quentin Tarantino's dialogue. Does the academy love him enough to hand him another Oscar just three years after his "Inglourious Basterds" victory? It's quite possible.
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”
And the winner is … Hathaway. Can we pinpoint the moment she latched hold of the gold? Was it that first public "Les Miz" screening at New York's Lincoln Center on Nov. 23? Or the premiere of the movie's 98-second trailer, set entirely to Hathaway singing "I Dreamed a Dream," at the end of May? Or was it when Hathaway was just 7 and saw her mother play Fantine on stage in Philadelphia and started building her own castle on a cloud? We may never know, but we're pretty sure Hathaway will deliver a great speech that will last about as long as "I Dreamed a Dream" and leak roughly the same volume of tears.
Unless … the academy likes (and we mean really likes) Field with a depth of feeling that would result in an upset victory and another memorable speech from one of our favorite actresses.