In a year where many of the Oscar races are still wide open, there’s one in the Top Six that’s definitively been decided. Daniel Day-Lewis has had a lock on his third Academy Award since the first image from Lincoln was released. Ok, so maybe a few voters waited to actually see his uncanny interpretation of our 16th president, but even they had to be won over before David Oyelowo finished reciting the Gettysburg Address.
No, all that’s left in the Best Actor race is to read the name pointlessly hidden in the envelope. But what if there was more? What if someone else could still win? I’m not about to put forth a theory suggesting any of the other four nominees could actually beat Day-Lewis. That’s not going to happen. Just imagine that DDL isn’t in the race. Maybe he was unjustly snubbed like Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow. Maybe Lincoln was pushed back a year so he didn’t qualify. Whatever you want the scenario to be, it involves a wide open Best Actor field from this point forward.
Let’s also assume the obvious—there’s an open slot in the Best Actor race, and we have to sub in whoever finished sixth. That had to John Hawkes from The Sessions. His snubbed was almost as shocking as Affleck’s on Oscar morning. So if DDL was out, Hawkes was in, and we were less than a week away from Oscar Sunday, then this would be…
The Tightest Best Actor Race in Years
The contenders, in alphabetical order:
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Now, we can eliminate a few of these so called contenders. Joaquin Phoenix is out. Despite receiving highest marks from critics, The Master never really caught on with the public, and thus struggled to woo Academy voters. If the film had any of the support it should, Phillip Seymour Hoffman would be a lock to win the mostly lackluster Supporting Actor field. Instead, he and Phoenix will have to accept the nomination as their trophy.
Denzel will have to do the same. As the presumptive last man in, Washington had an uphill battle in front of him. He, and the team behind Flight, chose not to even put up a fight. Whether they just thought he was too far out to stand a chance or they didn’t want to spend the money, Washington’s campaign never got started. To be honest, he didn’t have the horses anyway.
So that leaves three. Cooper, Hawkes, and Jackman all have something working in their favor. Cooper may have the most formidable advantage of them all—he’s got Harvey and Bob Weinstein backing him. With most undecided voters jumping on the Argo bandwagon, it doesn’t look like the brothers have enough momentum to get Silver Linings Playbook a Best Picture nod.
That doesn’t mean they’ve stopped working for the rest of the film’s potential awards. A win for Bradley Cooper would pair nicely with Jennifer Lawrence’s expected victory. Pair that with a surprise Best Director trophy for the film’s helmer David O. Russell and Silver Linings Playbook could still have a profitable night at the Dolby Theater.
Don’t count out John Hawkes, though. He, too, has a costar vying for a trophy… well, never mind. Helen Hunt doesn’t stand a chance against the evening’s only lock—Anne Hathaway will win for Les Miserables. There’s still hope for Hawkes, however. He doesn’t face quite the fight Hunt does, and his role is historically proven to be more friendly to Academy voters than his peers’ roles. His main challenge will be the lack of love for The Sessions, which was shut out of every other awards category.
Yet my gut is telling me it’s going to be Hugh Jackman. Not only was Les Miserables once considered a frontrunner for Best Picture, but Jackman has a lot of love from Academy members after years of hard work and an incredibly successful performance as host of the Oscars in 2009. He’s well liked, respected, and has proven himself capable of being a leading man.
Of course, it helps he turned in his best performance to date as Jean Valjean. Somehow he and Hathaway not only delivered realistic, commanding performances, but also managed to do so under the inhibiting, close-up happy direction of Tom Hooper. Jackman’s feat was particularly impressive because he was on screen for almost every screen, unlike Hathaway who was gone after her show stopping “I Dreamed a Dream”.
Though any one of the top three contenders could sneak off with the Oscar on Sunday, I’m sticking with Jackman. You can see the passion in his eyes in every one of his serious roles (and most others). Clearly, he has a deep connection to the medium. I think he wants to win more than the others, and an Oscar would mean the most to him. That has nothing to do with the race, but I’m going to go ahead and let my heart play tiebreaker if I’m betting on an imaginary race.
// Notes from the Road
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