Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
5. Jacki Weaver - Okay, I'll concede that it's a very good performance, despite the fact that you hardly notice it. She's the worried mom always in the background trying to keep everyone calm and happy and protect her children from sad things in life. In other words, she's a mom. But with such little dialogue and being constantly upstaged by her castmates... yeah, she didn't deserve this nomination and everyone knows it.
4. Anne Hathaway - I know she's going to win. That's fine, whatever. She absolutely nailed "I Dreamed a Dream," you'll get no argument from me there, and if that was her only scene in the whole movie, maybe she'd get my vote. But it wasn't, and she was really bad in all her other scenes. She was an over the top, scenery chewing, begging for awards, crying, coughing, dying mess. It was pouty, it was silly, and worst of all it was false.
3. Amy Adams - This was kind of a thankless, subtle role overshadowed by two powerhouse male ego-driven performances from Hoffman and Phoenix, but Adams had an intensity that was simultaneously comforting and terrifying. I haven't seen the film a 2nd time, but I suspect that her performance will resonate more and more with repeat viewings.
2. Helen Hunt - She broke my heart. Simple as that, I felt her sadness so deeply, but I understood her code so completely, and the tension between them was devastating. This was a remarkable piece of acting. Hunt is probably really a tie for my pick with...
1. Sally Field - I know some people found her annoying or unnecessary, but I think she walked a tightrope between grief, insanity, and saavy First Lady that would have thrown almost any other actress off balance. She was funny and crazy and smart and sad and noble, and she did it all in just about 15 minutes. People don't realize that Field had less screen time than anyone, not Weaver or Hathaway. But people only remember Hathaway's 3 minute song, and Field she gave a meatier performance so I think people just assume she was there more.
Will win: Anne Hathaway
Should win: Field or Hunt
Should have been nominated: Kerry Washington, Django Unchained
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
This is one of the most unpredictable races this year. They're all good performances, they're all previous Oscar winners, 3 of them have the Harvey Weinstein "I don't care if it's really the best as long as it wins" campaign powerhouse behind of them. I'll make a list based solely on the quality of the performance, but personally I would ignore Hoffman and Waltz when voting because they're really lead performances and don't belong in this category over other deserving supporting performances.
5. Alan Arkin - He just had a bunch of good one-liners and brought some personality to the role, but he wasn't more deserving of a nomination than his castmates John Goodman or Bryan Cranston. This is a dull filler nomination that got swept in on the movie's coattails.
4. Robert De Niro - This is actually a very good performance. There's a lot of restraint, and it's actually very funny (which people often forget De Niro is... he's very funny.) But there's an intense anger below the surface as well, a quirky physicality to the character, and the range of emotion on display is impressive. My gut is getting this weird feeling that De Niro will pull an upset here, and I wouldn't totally mind that.
3. Christoph Waltz - This performance definitely feels a bit familiar given Waltz's last win for Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, but while we've heart that bouncy, articulate cadence with Tarantino's dialogue from Hans Landa, we haven't seen this character. Where Landa had an ice-cold heart devoted only to his own sense of control over his surroundings, Dr. Schultz is indifferent towards criminals' - he's out for his bounty, after all - but has a softness deep down, a gentle confusion over slavery and brutality over innocents for brutality's sake. Landa would have never flinched so uncomfortably at the sight of dogs ripping apart a Jew - this is definitely a different performance, and very nearly as good.
2. Tommy Lee Jones - Brilliant delivery of Kushner's words, and a strong sense of who his character is, what kind of power and influence he has, and deep down in his eyes you can see that he always knows his motivation as well - it's more clear during a 2nd viewing. It's a wonderful performance and I hope Jones wins.
1. Philip Seymour Hoffman - Based solely performance quality, Hoffman is best here. He is a perfect foil for Phoenix, who I believe was forced to up his game due to the heavyweight class of his contender. While he has less screen time than Phoenix, his presence is just as felt, just as memorable, and in many ways I believe his character is more complex. That said, I think this is a co-lead performance, so while I think it's the best acting in this category, I'm not sure I can get behind it for a win.
Will win: My brain says Waltz, but my gut says De Niro. In this category, I'm going with my head and predicting Waltz.
Should win: Jones
Should have been nominated: Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained; Tom Holland, The Impossible; Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild - instead of Arkin, Waltz, and Hoffman. And I'm torn on whether or not DiCaprio in Django should replace De Niro. Maybe. Time will tell which performance is best remembered... I suspect DiCaprio and Django will be remembered and studied and viewed for much longer than Silver Linings Playbook.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
5. Naomi Watts - This is a great performance. The only problem is that about halfway through the movie her character gets on a hospital bed and pretty much lies around and groans the rest of the movie - in many ways this is practically a supporting role. So it's hard for me to pick it over more "lead" performances. That said, it's a great movie and amazing acting, so find it and watch it.
4. Jessica Chastain - Again, this is great acting. I'm not crazy in love with the movie, but I get that Chastain did something special in bringing Maya to life... most of the time. Other times I felt she had no personality, no history, really no character. Maybe that's intentional, and she's supposed to be a kind of a 2-dimensional figure who's main trait is her drive and her obsession. In that case, the performance works. Unfortunately in that case, it's also a boring performance. Did Chastain really do anything that a dozen or so other actress couldn't do just as well? I'm not convinced.
3. Jennifer Lawrence - I love her so much, I want to be best friends, I think she's going to keep on doing amazing things and making amazing movies. But as great as she was most of the time in Silver Linings Playbook, there were just a handful of moments when I thought she lost the character. In interviews she's admitted that when she first started with the role she couldn't figure who Tiffany really was, and I think that shows every now and then. She won't be an undeserving winner, but she won't be remembered as the most deserving either.
2. Emmanuelle Riva - She shows a lot of control and subtlety in her aging/sickness/dying. (Hathaway could have learned a thing or two.) I think the movie is alright and all, but she really makes it work. The early scene with her first stroke, there really is just nothing going on in her head, you can't see a single sign of life or mind in her eyes, they're just completely blank. It's remarkable actually, the more I think back on it.
1. Quvenzhane Wallis - I know she's young, and maybe she wasn't "acting" so much as just reading lines in a fierce kind of way, but you know what? Haters gonna hate. I completely bought her as Hushpuppy, she had a childish attitude but behind it was a very adult understanding of life and loss. She just made me feel for her - I never thought about what I was watching, like I did with Chastain, Lawrence and even Riva to a lesser extent. I just felt.
Will win: Lawrence. Some are predicting a Riva upset, which would be cool, but I think Weinstein and the massive campaign for SLP doesn't let it slip away from Lawrence.
Should win: Wallis
Should have been nominated: I haven't seen the films yet, but I'm sure Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone and Rachel Weisz in Deep Blue Sea were remarkable per usual.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
5. Jackman - Honestly, no business being here. He was incredibly uneven and he never seemed very sure of his character. His eyes were constantly searching around like he was thinking, "Hmm, how should I sing this line here?" And actually, oddly, I felt that a lot of his care for Cosette was out of obligation more than actual love. He just went through the motions.
4. Cooper - Cooper's a really good actor, and I'm glad people are noticing it. But this isn't an award for "Best performance proving to us that you're actually worth something," it's for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Cooper doesn't belong here.
3. Washington - One of Denzel's best in years. A extremely careful character exploration, he's weak-willed and strong-willed at the same time, he's dependent and independent in the same moment. Really great acting that probably could win in almost any other year.
2. Phoenix - He built a character from the ground up, and actually fooled me into thinking that Freddie Quell was a complex character. But when I realized that he really isn't a complicated human being after all, I couldn't really say he deserves to win here. Freddie is obsessed with sex. And that's really about it. It's not more complicated than that, he just wants to get drunk and stick his dick in things. And props to Phoenix (and Anderson) for making that into a fascinating character, but I'm convinced there's not a whole lot more than that going on here. That doesn't mean it's some of the most brilliant acting we're likely to ever see, though.
1. Day-Lewis - Because really, he's the best this year. He navigates through Lincoln's personal grief, his moral obligations, and his professional duties with strong emotion, logic, and control. But he also gives us just the slightest hint that at any moment he might lose his grip on any of those. He's just amazing, and although many will argue for Phoenix deserving the upset, I don't think there was a finer performance this year than this one.
Will win: Day-Lewis
Should win: Day-Lewis
Should have been nominated: John Hawkes, The Sessions, and Denis Lavant for Holy Motors. Seriously. Denis Lavant. Check that movie out, it's astounding. And you know what? I'd even nominated Tom Hanks for Cloud Atlas. Deal with it.