Best actor is a crowded race in which 10 slots hardly allow for all
the meaty male performances of 2012. Historical figures dominate the
field: Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, John Hawkes as the disabled
poet-journalist Mark O'Brien, Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, and
Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But, by year's end, we could
be singing Hugh Jackman's tune from "Les Misérables."
Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln"):
Still pursuing the greatest-actor-of-his-generation crown, Day-Lewis
makes Lincoln come alive as a man, a politician, and an American hero in
Steven Spielberg's production. The Oscar winner is currently the
front-runner in the race, and the one to beat.
Photo: Fox Searchlight
John Hawkes ("The Sessions"):
The indie actor best known as the threatening meth-maker in "Winter's
Bone" and the ominous cult leader in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" breathes
life and humor into the erotic adventures of the extremely disabled
California writer Mark O'Brien. The crowd pleaser"The Sessions" hasn't
killed at the box office, but it's universally agreed that Hawkes's
brave performance drives a film that had potential to be maudlin.
Denzel Washington ("Flight"):
Robert Zemeckis's return to live action puts the entire movie on the
very wide shoulders of Washington, playing a commercial pilot who
accomplishes a miraculous crash landing only to find himself embroiled
in a huge scandal. It's a career-topping performance that allows the
actor to scrape layers and layers of his humanity and pain.
Photo: Universal Pictures
Hugh Jackman ("Les Misérables"):
We may love Jackman as Wolverine, but the Aussie is at his most
stupendous as a musical star. And now, he has his chance to sing out as
Jean Valjean, the paroled convict in that gloriously miserable literary
adaptation "Les Misérables."
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Joaquin Phoenix ("The Master"): Phoenix
does loutish so very well in Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," a
sweeping tale of an L. Ron Hubbard-like swami (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
and his alcohol-dependent disciple. Two problems might keep Phoenix from
getting the nod: First, the movie was overhyped when it premiered on
the fall festival circuit, and second, Phoenix keeps shooting himself in
the foot by saying he doesn't believe in awards only to later reverse
Photo: Columbia Pictures
Daniel Craig ("Skyfall"):
With Bond turning 50, the secret agent is finally getting some respect.
Craig should ride the wave of big box office and terrific reviews as
the actor who found the spy's soulful side without sacrificing his
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"):
Waltz won Actor in a Supporting Role for his smooth-talking Nazi sadist
in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." Now he's back and
begging for more, newly pushed from the supporting category to lead, as a
fast-talking, faster-shooting bounty hunter in the Old South of
Tarantino's twisted imagination. If his performance is even better than
it already appears in the trailer, then he moves up to sure thing.
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook"): "Playbook" is a major
contender for best picture and best actress, but it feels a little
weaker when it comes to Cooper. Love the scene where he maniacally reads
Ernest Hemingway until 4 a.m., then tosses the book through the window
in frustration with the ending. He also dances maniacally, but is that
enough? He suffers from the pretty-boy curse that also plagued Brad
Pitt's Oscar run.
Photo: Fox Searchlight
Anthony Hopkins ("Hitchcock"):
It's no mystery that whenever Hopkins takes the screen, he's a serious
thespian. Here, he not only impersonates the famous director of "Psycho"
fame, Alfred Hitchcock, he actually gives a strong sense of the
insecurities and passions that drove the director to make some of the
greatest English-language films ever.
Photo: Focus Feature
Bill Murray ("Hyde Park on Hudson"): It
would be a shame if Daniel Day-Lewis got a nomination for playing
President Lincoln but Murray didn't get one for his wise, wily, and
sexually manipulative portrait of another major American president.
Murray seduces as FDR, a disabled man, a flawed husband, and a great
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