When the Academy Awards are presented on Feb. 24, it is possible that the number of people who have won three or more acting Oscars could increase from five to eight. This year’s group of nominees is loaded with veterans of the Oscar show. Of the 20 stars up for Oscars, only 4 are first-time nominees; the other 16 have a combined 54 nominations and 13 Oscars between them.
Four nominees — Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro and Sally Field — have a shot of joining the exclusive club of those with either three or four Oscars: Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Katharine Hepburn (with an unprecedented four), Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.
The Academy selected nine Best Picture nominees, one short of the maximum 10 allowed in this category. Per usual, most can be eliminated as serious contenders for the Oscar. “Amour,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables” and “Silver Linings Playbook” likely may pick up an Oscar or two, but the leaders of the pack appear to be “Life of Pi,” which probably will grab technical awards for its stunning visual accomplishments; “Lincoln,” a historical film loaded with top performances; “Zero Dark Thirty,” a well-received film but one that has been marred by controversy over its depictions of torture; and “Argo,” arguably the most widely praised movie that has emerged as a serious dark horse after its wins at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild presentations. “Argo” has nudged its way past “Les Miserables” as a film that could challenge for the top prize in a race that involves three movies centered around true historical events. In the end, “Lincoln” is going to be the favored movie, but a surprise could lurk here, especially in light of the Best Director nomination snubs on Ben Affleck for “Argo” and Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” as the Academy tries to make up for those oversights.
The momentum clearly has swung in favor of Daniel Day-Lewis winning his third Oscar for his mesmerizing performance as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” This president has been portrayed in so many movies and plays he has become legendary. Day-Lewis has managed to make even despicable people seem in some ways sympathetic, as he did with his previous Oscar-winning performance in “There Will Be Blood” and his nominated work in “Gangs of New York.” So it is no surprise he added some new layers to Lincoln that cut through the often mythical portrayals of the man. There had been vague references over the years to Lincoln having a bawdy sense of humor. In “Lincoln” we see it.
Bradley Cooper, known more for his appearances in action flicks and raunchy comedies, went serious in 2012 with “The Words” and his nominated work in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Cooper was able to weave together a performance of a man plagued by emotional and mental issues without going over the top, but he was helped greatly by a superb cast that includes three other nominated performances.
Hugh Jackman, another first-time nominee, has proven he can handle physical roles, but in “Les Miserables,” he got beaten down and dirty, but also sang passionately in the role. It was beautiful work but not likely to overcome Day-Lewis and “Lincoln.” Joaquin Phoenix, meanwhile, really sank into his role in “The Master,” but his Freddie Quell, a boozed up, emotionally immature man trying to cope in a post-World War II America, is a character that is simply annoying. As good as he is in the role, the character garners little sympathy. The same can be said for Denzel Washington, a six-time nominee, with his work as the alcoholic airline pilot so deeply into denial about his condition he is willing to risk his life and that of dozens of others each time he flies a jet. Unsavory characters do sometimes lead to Oscar-winning work, but not going up against a universally recognized real hero.
This is truly a tossup, with Jessica Chastain, as the tenacious CIA agent in pursuit of Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty,” and Jennifer Lawrence as the emotionally volatile yet firmly grounded young woman who falls for an unstable man in “Silver Linings Playbook” each winning awards in other venues for their roles. Lawrence’s win at the Screen Actors Guild festivities makes her a slight favorite here. The dark horse would be Emmanuelle Riva, a surprise nominee for the little-seen “Amour.” Young Quvenzhane Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and Naomi Watts, who endured brutally physical demands as a tsunami survivor in “The Impossible,” are probably lost in the shuffle.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Wow. Talk about a list of proven actors here. These five guys, ranging in ages from 45 to 78, have amassed 21 nominations between them and all have at least one Oscar. This category also is a tossup, as Christophe Waltz, as the dentist-turned-bounty-hunter in “Django Unchained,” and Tommy Lee Jones as the impassioned Thaddeus Stevens, instrumental in getting slavery abolished via a constitutional amendment, have already won awards for their work in these movies. Jones could collect his second Oscar if this turns out to be a “Lincoln” night, but Waltz, playing a unique German-born character in a Western, also could win just for the making an unlikely person so very real. Meanwhile, Robert DeNiro as the deluded father who believes sharing a fanaticism for the Philadelphia Eagles can mend a faltering relationship with his son in “Silver Linings Playbook,” and Alan Arkin, as the Hollywood-wise producer who pulls off a phony movie production to serve as cover for rescuing hostages in Iran in “Argo,” each had magic moments in their films. And do not count out Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” who really had almost as much screen time in the movie as Phoenix, playing a charismatic cult-like leader using what was in the 1950s controversial exercises to battle emotional issues, who develops a strange attachment to a drifting, drunken Navy veteran.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Field could make history. If she wins the Oscar here for her portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln in “Lincoln,” offering a deviation from the usual views of this First Lady as a frail, disturbed woman, she could be the first person ever to win three Oscars with just three nominations. She belongs to a select group of 2-for-2s in the Oscar fraternity: Helen Hayes, Luise Rainer, Kevin Spacey and Hilary Swank. Field presents Mary as a much stronger woman than the accepted depictions of Lincoln’s wife. It is a surprise, and a delight. However, it looks like Anne Hathaway may stand in the way of Field’s historical moment. Hathaway’s work as the tragic woman who has to resort to prostitution to support her child amid the unrest and squalor of 19th-century France has gained favor mostly because of her heart-rending singing of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Also, when an exceptionally attractive actor or actress is willing to get dirty and sacrifice beauty for a role, it can lead to honors later. Amy Adams as the real force behind The Cause in “The Master” and Jacki Weaver, sweet and loyal as the wife and mother trying to hold together a fragile family in “Silver Linings Playbook,” did incredible work in movies loaded with top performances. The gutsiest work in this category, however, belonged to Helen Hunt as the sex surrogate in “The Sessions” who despite her professional posturing finds herself loving the client she is serving, a man who needs an iron lung to survive but wishes to have just one sexual experience. Hunt had to bare all in this role and engage in very intimate physical contact. It had to be difficult.
Real intrigue here, with Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow falling short of nominations. At this point Steven Spielberg has to be the favorite for “Lincoln,” although David O. Russell could pull off an upset here for “Silver Linings Playbook.” The other nominees are Michael Haneke for “Amour,” Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and Ang Lee for “Life of Pi.”
SOME OSCAR TIDBITS
Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington, current Best Actor nominees and two-time Oscar winners, won their first statuettes in the same year. In 1990, Day-Lewis was named Best Actor for “My Left Foot,” while Washington that night took home the Best Supporting Actor award for “Glory.”
Alan Arkin, a four-time nominee who won his first Oscar in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine,” went 38 years between nominations. He was nominated in 1969 for Best Actor for “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” then not again until “Little Miss Sunshine.”
Robert DeNiro also had a nomination drought end. His “Silver Linings Playbook” nod is his seventh overall, but first since “Cape Fear” in 1992.
And Sally Field’s nomination is her first since “Places in the Heart” in 1985.
This is Tommy Lee Jones’ second nomination from a movie named after a president. He was nominated in 1992 for Best Supporting Actor for “JFK.”
Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who were nominated for their roles in “Doubt” in 2009, are now nominees for roles in “The Master.”