2013 Oscar Preview: Best Actor and Best Actress

     November 22, 2012

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The 2013 awards race is in full swing, and what better way to spend the Thanksgiving holiday then to take a closer look at how the categories are shaping up thus far?  Over the next few days we’re providing a bit of an overview of what the state of the race looks like at this point in time.  Yesterday we ran down the contenders for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, and today we’ll be taking a look at the fiercely competitive categories for Best Actor and Best Actress.  Hit the jump to read on.

daniel-day-lewis-lincolnIf you missed our introductory piece that ran down the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, click here.

As a reminder, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained have yet to screen for critics, so at this time I’ve automatically disqualified them from the “Frontrunners” category.  Obviously we’ll see some major contenders emerge from each film, but for the purpose of this preview I’ve simply placed them in the “Likely to Be Nominated” or “Other Contenders” categories.

Best Actor

Frontrunners:

  • Daniel Day-LewisLincoln
  • joaquin-phoenix-the-masterJoaquin Phoenix The Master
  • John Hawkes The Sessions

Likely to Be Nominated: 

  • Bradley Cooper Silver Linings Playbook
  • Denzel Washington Flight

Other Contenders: 

  • Hugh Jackman Les Miserables
  • Anthony Hopkins Hitchcock
  • Christoph WaltzDjango Unchained
  • Jamie Foxx Django Unchained

For your consideration: 

  • Joseph Gordon-LevittLooper 

denzel-washington-flight-movieThis year’s Best Actor race is one of the most exciting in recent memory, as we have a bounty of incredible performances to mull over as 2012 comes to a close.  Daniel Day-Lewis is automatically in the Oscar conversation whenever he decides to grace us mortals with his onscreen presence, but his restrained and introspective work as President Abraham Lincoln is nothing short of brilliant.  Day-Lewis was given the impossible task of bringing a near-mythic legendary American figure to life, but he accomplished it with flying colors. You genuinely feel the immense pressure put on Lincoln’s shoulders as he’s faced with some difficult decisions at the close of the Civil War, but Day-Lewis’ layered performance also brings Lincoln to life as a human being.  Given his incredible work and the film’s status as a Best Picture frontrunner, Day-Lewis looks like the one to beat at the moment.

Hot on Day-Lewis’ heels is Joaquin Phoenix for his firecracker performance in The Master.  True to the film’s title, Phoenix brings an almost animal quality to the character of Freddie Quell as we’re reminded that the I’m Still Here star is one of the most talented actors working today.  The film’s polarizing reception and Phoenix’s negative comments about the awards race in general don’t exactly help his case, but the actor is nearly a lock for a nomination regardless.

john-hawkes-the-sessionsBelieve it or not, the Best Actor conversation actually began way back in January when John Hawkes blew audiences away at the Sundance Film Festival with his portrayal as a man with polio seeking out a sex surrogate in The Sessions.  Hawkes has been doing fantastic work as a character actor for years, and he was finally recognized by the Academy in 2010 with a pleasantly surprising nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Winter’s Bone.  He’s got some fierce competition this year in the Best Actor race, but his stellar work in one of this year’s smaller Oscar contenders is not likely to go unnoticed.

Sitting just outside the top three are a couple of other actors who could find themselves among the nominees in January: Bradley Cooper and Denzel Washington.  Cooper has had one of the more graceful rises to Oscar status in recent memory, as he went from “that guy who’s really good at playing a douche” in  Wedding Crashers to respected dramatic actor in just under a decade.  His performance as a man struggling with bipolar disorder in Silver Linings Playbook is the best of his career, and the fact that that film is considered the “crowdpleasing” candidate for Best Picture certainly plays into his favor.  Given the Best Actor category’s crowded nature this year Cooper is unlikely to pull off the win, but I suspect this won’t be the last time we see him in the Oscar conversation.

hugh-jackman-les-miserables-imageAlso joining in on the Best Actor fun is two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington for his role as an alcoholic pilot in Robert ZemeckisFlight.  The film is more Cast Away than Forrest Gump in terms of awards reception, but the compelling story is one of addiction and Washington does some fine work here in the fairly unlikeable leading role. I’m not convinced the performance has the goods to pull off a win, but Washington is certainly deserving of a nomination.

Should any one of the five aforementioned candidates not make the cut, there are plenty of actors waiting in the wings.  Hugh Jackman is probably the most likely to slip in for his performance in Les Miserables, but it’s tough to call him a lock without having first seen the film.  The Broadway veteran definitely has the pipes to pull off the song-heavy leading role of Jean Valjean, and I suspect he’ll turn in a great performance that will make him a major part of the already stacked Best Actor conversation.

Anthony Hopkins is also worthy of consideration for his fine work as legendary director Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock, though the film’s tepid critical reception may turn off voters.  Hitch isn’t exactly portrayed in the most flattering of ways, and the lack of evidence to back up the film’s story could have many overlooking Hopkins’ impressive transformation.  There’s also Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, but again the film has yet to screen so it’s tough to predict how much of a contender either will be.  Foxx and Waltz are both previous Oscar winners so that certainly makes them at least a minor part of the conversation, but they’ll really have to wow audiences in order to make the cut in this year’s incredibly tough category.

Though I’m convinced that nobody will give a better performance than Day-Lewis this year, I genuinely believe the prolific Joseph Gordon-Levitt deserves some recognition for his fantastic work in Rian Johnson’s sci-fi drama Looper.  Many brushed Gordon-Levitt’s performance off as simply a great impression of Bruce Willis, but the guy layered that complex character with enough nuance and emotion to really make you root for what’s essentially not a very good guy.  On top of crafting an engaging and dramatic character arc, Gordon-Levitt also had to make audiences believe that he and Willis’ characters were the same person.  It’s a wildly impressive performance that I feel has been sorely underrated.

Best Actress 

Frontrunners:

  • bradley-cooper-jennifer-lawrence-silver-linings-playbookJennifer LawrenceSilver Linings Playbook

Likely to Be Nominated:

  • Quvenzhane WallisBeasts of the Southern Wild
  • Marion Cotillard Rust and Bone
  • Jessica ChastainZero Dark Thirty
  • Helen MirrenHitchcock

Other Contenders:

  • Naomi Watts The Impossible
  • Emmanuelle RivaAmour
  • Keira KnightleyAnna Karenina

For Your Consideration:

  • Emily BluntLooper

Quvenzhane-Wallis-beasts-of-the-southern-wildThe Best Actress race has a very clear frontrunner at the moment, but I have a feeling we might see a big shakeup come mid-December.  Jennifer Lawrence gives a wonderful performance as a grieving widow/sex addict in Silver Linings Playbook, acting as a great foil to Bradley Cooper’s character.  The 22-year-old actress was nominated in this category just two years ago for her breakthrough role in Winter’s Bone, but she’s all but guaranteed a spot among the nominations this year for Silver Linings.  The character is sort of the antithesis to the mythic “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” and Lawrence brings an emotionally grounded quality to a role that could easily have veered into cliché.

Not to be outdone in the young actress department, Quvenzhane Wallis was just 5 years old when she landed the lead role in the emotional roller coaster that is Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Wallis is a force to be reckoned with as a young girl named Hushpuppy who is navigating life as her father’s guardian when a relentless storm approaches her Louisiana bayou community, just as her father falls ill.  It’s a powerful performance as Wallis commands much of the film’s screen time, and it has the goods for not only a nomination but possibly even a win depending on how the rest of the category shakes out.

zero-dark-thirty-jessica-chastainMarion Cotillard won the Best Actress trophy in 2007 and she’s back in the conversation this year for her work the French-Belgian film Rust and Bone.  She’s already racked up numerous awards for her performance as a killer whale trainer, but she faces much more stiff competition this year than she did for her previous win.  She’s definitely one to watch, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for Cotillard to come away the victor.

Though the three aforementioned actresses have been drawing considerable praise for their performances, many are predicting that the category’s frontrunner has yet to emerge.  We only recently became aware that Jessica Chastain plays the lead in Kathryn Bigelow’s drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, but a couple of quiet screenings ahead of the big critics screenings this weekend already have people talking.  Chastain plays a real-life CIA analyst who spearheaded the decade-long manhunt for bin Laden and whose obsession with the case eventually lead to the terrorist’s assassination.  Chastain broke out in a big way last year landing herself a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her work in The Help, so we certainly know she’s capable of big things.  As public screenings for the film begin, don’t be surprised if you see her name begin to move to the head of the pack.

hitchcock-helen-mirrenHelen Mirren could also find herself once again on the list of Best Actress nominees for her role as Alfred Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, in Hitchcock.  Mirren arguably gives the standout performance in the film, with many noting that the story would have been better focused on Reville rather than Hitch.  She’s undeniably great in the role, but again the lack of enthusiasm for the movie itself is unlikely to carry her to a win in this year’s competitive category.

Also part of the conversation is Naomi Watts for The Impossible.  The real-life drama that focuses on a family broken apart following the 2004 tsunami in southeast Asia is a bona fide tearjerker, and many have singled out Watts’ performance as the family’s matriarch for Oscar consideration.  We’ll have a better idea of her chances once the film opens wide, but it’d be unwise to count her out.

One of the most emotionally draining films of the year is Michael Haneke’s Palm d’Or winner Amour, and Emmanuelle Riva’s performance as a retired music teacher who suffers a stroke that paralyzes half of her body has earned raves.  The Austrian film may be a bit too heavy for voters in the other categories, but it looks like Riva’s work has the best shot at landing a nomination.  Keira Knightley is also worth mentioning for her work in director Joe Wright’s mesmerizing adaptation of Anna Karenina, but her chances of netting a nomination will likely hinge on the film’s reception once it hits wide release as early reviews have been mixed.

looper-movie-image-emily-bluntI know it’s a bit of a cop out for both of my For Your Consideration picks in the acting categories to come from the same film, but I can’t help myself; Emily Blunt was simply spectacular in Looper.  A large part of why the farm portion of Rian Johnson’s film works hinges on Blunt’s performance as Sara Rollins, and the actress absolutely nails it.  Forget the spot-on Missouri accent, Blunt’s performance as a conflicted mother is wonderfully nuanced with equal parts strength and fear, and it’s her work as Sara that makes the film’s climax so emotionally riveting.

That’s it for the acting categories.  Sound off below with your thoughts on the tight Best Actor and Best Actress races, and I’d love to hear your own “For Your Consideration” picks as well.

Check back tomorrow when we’ll take a look at the contenders in the Best Animated Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay categories, and I’ll run down some quick picks for the technical categories.

Click here if you missed my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress

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