Oscar mania grows stronger by the day, so after taking a stab at guessing the Best Picture and Best Actress categories, it's time to throw the bones and take a gamble at figuring out who might wind up vying for Best Actor. This is probably the most crowded of the big categories this year, because finally, in 2012, men got some attention in the movies.
The Singing Sensation: A couple of weeks ago I certainly wouldn't have predicted this, but now that Les Misérables has gotten such a positive reception at its couple of screenings, it seems like Hugh Jackman could very well be a contender for the big prize. It doesn't hurt that the Academy seems to like him, being that he hosted their little homecoming formal back in 2009 and all. This is also Jackman in his natural element — he's a bit of a ham, and probably would never get a nomination for a regular piece of straight-up, no-singing acting. But Jean Veljean? Bellowing out emotions about family and faith and duty and country and all that Les Mis-y stuff? Well, call him the captain, because that is his wheelhouse. And apparently he's actually pretty good! The clips we've seen are a bit messy and/or weird, but those are just clips. So, yes, it seems like Hugh Jackman will get a tip of the hat for this. Though, while Anne Hathaway is basically guaranteed to win a Supporting Actress Oscar for this damn thing, Jackman has a tougher climb to an actual victory. It's a pretty tall barricade, I'm afraid.
The No-Duh Frontrunner: What would Lincoln be without Daniel Day-Lewis? Well, it'd still be a stately and well-scripted prestige drama from America's biggest director. But! Daniel Day-Lewis' mannered but oddly unshowy performance gives the movie its real mark of distinction. Day-Lewis has won raves from just about every critic, with the New York Film Critics Circle giving him its Best Actor prize just yesterday. A two-time winner already, Day-Lewis is an obvious shoo-in for another nomination and has a pretty strong chance of going all the way and taking the trophy. He's got the momentum of an early critics win, he hasn't pissed anyone off as far as I can tell, and there's of course the extra oomph of playing a real American hero. That's likely all you really need to get a Daniel Day-Lewis bill passed. (That's a reference to the movie Lincoln, just ICYMI.)
The Goofy Guy Made Good: Calling perpetually jackassy actor Bradley Cooper "goofy" might not seem quite right, but think about all the goofy movies he's been in: The A-Team, Valentine's Day, All About Steve, He's Just Not That Into You, The Midnight Meat Train. This guy is definitely a goof. But what he did cleverly in Silver Linings Playbook this year was make that goofiness into something a bit more interesting — he's a galoompf and a jerk in the movie, sure, but he's really supposed to be. Like, clinically supposed to be. It's a successful performance that has won him far and away the best reviews of his career, and boy do Academy voters love a story like that. Silly guy does something not silly. Yup, send him to the Oscars. (Tell that to Man On the Moon-era Jim Carrey....) It's likely that SLP will become the Academy's go-to feel-good picture this year, so it's difficult to imagine its leading man wouldn't get his own recognition. Tough to to say if he's earned this one, but this isn't exactly a meritocracy, now is it?
The Reliable Standard: Things get trickier in these last two slots, as we've got a lot of guys in contention. Among them are Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock, John Hawkes for The Sessions, and Denzel Washington for Flight. Let's give this spot to Denzel, as his movie has gotten strong reviews and played really well commercially, and the Academy might want to apologize for letting Washington win for Training Day and not, say, Malcolm X. Plus, he basically carries this whole dang movie, navigating some intense stuff while always keeping his Washingtonian cool. There aren't strong odds of him actually winning in this busy acting year, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility. The Academy did give him the the trophy before for Training Day, after all, so who's to say that won't toss him another one for this reasonably better movie?
The Artiste: And then let's say that Joaquin Phoenix sneaks in here, even though his movie, The Master, has suffered from declining awards buzz basically since its opening. Phoenix was just so loud and big and expressive in the role that I'd have to imagine the Academy will remember him. Back in September it looked like this was his prize to lose, but now he's merely fighting for a nomination. I think he'll get it, because it makes a good story to welcome him so grandly back into the fold following his fake rap career shenanigans, but Hawkes could upset him here. Me, I'd prefer to see Hawkes get a nod for his lovely, sensitive, understated work; Phoenix went for too much with his muscly, sneering performance, like an acting class gotten out of control. But the Academy kinda loves that stuff, so let's give him the edge.