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Here are the nominees this year for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
The lowdown: This race comes dead on arrival. Day-Lewis has it, and no one seems to care much that this breaks one of Oscar’s longest-standing records. Only two men have ever won three acting Oscars (Walter Brennan in the 1930s, and then Jack Nicholson, including one Supporting Actor trophy). And only one performer (Katharine Hepburn, with a likely unbreakable record of four wins in the lead category) has ever won three statuettes for lead performance. So when Day-Lewis wins his third on Sunday night, why does it feel like such a predictable, unremarkable event? Why has no one lost their breath over such a coup?
Perhaps because there’s not a lot of running in this race. From Lincoln’s bow, audiences and critics generally bestowed the encomium upon the skilled actor. And it isn’t undeserved. His president was no imitation but an insightful and theatrically specific portrait of a leader using skill to appease many different factions in his quest to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. But for this aloof, picky actor to hold the all-time record is a victory that can’t help but feel a bit hollow. And there’s pretty much no one else posing much of a threat. Washington is fine in a so-so film. Cooper and Jackman got their nominations as a result of feverish campaigning that would put the Romney camp to shame. Neither offers a truly consistent, remarkable performance in their overhyped movies, and both have proven to be capable of far better work in past roles. Only Phoenix contributed a sensible, provocative performance in Master, and then he went and decided the whole awards process he was secretly courting at the same time.
No, the most interesting element in this race is what is absent from it: John Hawkes in The Sessions, who, along with Hunt, offered the best performances of the entire year on film. His omission shows that the voting body really does prefer to bestow honors on its favorite sons and daughters, and Hawkes remains a Hollywood outsider despite a previous nomination for Winter’s Bone.
Snubs: Hawkes. Also Jack Black, Bernie; Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo, August 31; Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
Should win: Hawkes (so in this race, Phoenix)
Will win: Duh! Day-Lewis