The Best Actor race this year was at its most interesting and competitive before the nominations. The big question was which of the six leading men in the hunt would be left off the Academy's ballot. It was never a question of who would end up winning the whole thing, as that has been obvious for a couple of months now.
Easily the best thing about David O. Russell's screwball rom-com Silver Linings Playbook was Bradley Cooper's performance. He makes a likable hero out of a prickly character, sporadically but seamlessly transitioning between comedic and dramatic beats. But even in a less competitive year, I still don't think it's the sort of performance that could have won.
The frontrunner, of course, is Daniel Day-Lewis, whose gentle yet commanding interpretation of Abraham Lincoln humanizes the man behind the myth. Having won the vast majority of critics prizes, along with the Globe and the SAG, he's clearly poised to win his third Best Actor Oscar. He'll become the first man ever to do so. His only possible stumbling block may be that some voters remember him winning his second not that long ago.
Hugh Jackman successfully staved off the stigma against male leads in musicals by reaping a hard-earned nomination for Les Miserables. I'm really happy for him to have finally been given a role worthy of his musical talents, and to have so successfully pulled it off too. The Golden Globe victory was a nice bit of wind in his sails, but leading men in musicals rarely win Oscars. Last time was Rex Harrison in 1965!
The best of the field, in my opinion, is Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. I was worried that the SAG snub might have translated into an Oscar snub as well, but thankfully, the acting branch recognized it for the vital, courageous work that it is. However, it strikes me as too difficult and enigmatic a performance to win over the whole membership.
Rounding out the field is Denzel Washington for his outstanding portrait of addiction in Flight. The film itself hasn't had a huge presence on the awards circuit this season, but the semi-surprising nomination for John Gatins' script hints that perhaps enough people saw and liked the film. Still, Washington would probably have needed a Best Picture nod for the film in order to pose a serious challenge to Day-Lewis.
Will win: Daniel-Day Lewis for Lincoln
Runner-up: Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables
Should win: Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Should have been nominated: John Hawkes for The Sessions