2013 Oscars: Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Denzel Washington (Flight)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

This is an incredibly strong year in this Oscars category. In all honesty, I couldn’t argue with any of these performances taking home an Oscars gold and, in a weaker year, any one of them really could. These were five well developed, researched and nuanced performances, all of which lifted their respective films up to another level.

The problem for Jackman, Cooper, Washington and Phoenix is: they’re up against Daniel Day-Lewis. Anyone up against Daniel Day-Lewis is already two strikes behind in the count, but he also breathed life into one of the great American icons, and gave us a true idea of Lincoln the politician and Lincoln the father, as much as Lincoln the man. Much has been written about Day-Lewis’ method acting (Leonardo DiCaprio once famously stated that, after three years of production on Gangs of New York, he finally met Day-Lewis at the wrap party), and as crazy as it sounds, it certainly nets results. Watch any frame of Lincoln and see if you can spot Day-Lewis the man through the acting. I can’t.

All of that said, all the Oscars nominations deserve recognition and respect. Bradley Cooper’s Pat in SLP was the one that most surprised me. I’ve seen Cooper in a lot of films over the years (including Wedding Crashers and one of my favorites, The A-Team), but I wasn’t sure he was capable of such a detailed, intense and nuanced performance that he turned in in Silver Linings. He played crazy, but you felt that he really believed and experienced every inch of it.

Joaquin Phoenix finally made his return to film with a terrific role and performance in the horrible The Master. Phoenix, who famously “quit” acting to pretend to be a rapper for Casey Affleck’s performance art/fake docudrama “I’m Still Here”, seems to have improved with his time off. Phoenix dived deep into this role of an intensely damaged veteran from World War 2 who is incredibly smart but unable to keep shit together. It’s a powerhouse, but the film is so bad that it’s hard to separate the two.

Flight is an amazingly complex and deep film that isn’t what you think it’s about. Washington is, of course, at the film’s center, which focuses on his wresting with internal demons. It’s everything you’ve come to know and love about Washington, who is at the top of his game in the drama. He brings his intensity, but is also able to open up and offer more raw emotion than we’ve seen from him since he became the first African American man to win the lead actor award with his classic turn in Training Day.

Rounding out the category (last, but not least) is Hugh Jackman. Jackman doesn’t quite get the recondition he deserves; he’s an all-purpose entertainer who can sing, dance and act, and Jean Valjean allows him to really put on a show. Most musicals deliver great singing but relatively wooden acting. The live singing component to Les Mis allowed Jackman to actually act while delivering his music, and this really added a sense of realism and feeling to the film that might otherwise have been left out. He’s got a heck of a voice, too.

Really wish all five could tie or something, but only one will take home Oscars gold.

Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Who should win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln