Oscar’s Best Actor race is over: Daniel Day-Lewis can’t lose

Move over, Meryl StreepJack Nicholson, Walter Brennan and Ingrid Bergman. Daniel Day-Lewis is about to join you in the pantheon of Oscar’s second-biggest winners.

After previous Academy Award victories for “My Left Foot” (1989) and “There Will Be Blood” (2007), Day-Lewis is now a shoo-in to win for “Lincoln.” He’ll soon be just one statuette shy of four-time champ Katharine Hepburn.

“Lincoln” was screened Thursday night in Los Angeles for various Oscar bloggers, who seemed to agree that this is no “War Horse” – Steven Spielberg‘s big Oscar disappointment of last year. His “Lincoln” rules the screen with authority. It seems like a cinch to be nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Sally Field) and Adapted Screenplay (Tony Kushner), in addition to Best Actor. There’s also an excellent chance that Tommy Lee Jones is nominated as firebrand abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and that Spielberg’s usual team of craftsman will probably score nods too: composer John Williams, film editor Michael Kahn and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. It also may reap bids for art direction and costumes.

But what about Spielberg? That’s uncertain given his quirky history with the academy. Even though “The Color Purple” (1985) and “War Horse” scored bids for Best Picture, he was snubbed in the directors’ category. However, he seems to command the respect of voters over all. He won Best Director twice: “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998). If he does make the list this year, his “Lincoln” could score 11 or more nominations. Thus, it could turn out to lead with the most bids and that, of course, is significant since the movie with the most noms usually wins Best Picture.

But can “Lincoln” win? It’s, well … possible. That can’t be ruled out, but, frankly, “Lincoln’s” biggest kudos hope is probably that it is poised to become the first film to deliver an acting Oscar to a Spielberg pic.

Personally, I was leery that Day-Lewis could pull off this role, which requires warmth, wit and subtly from an actor who usually slices through celluloid like Bill the Butcher (“Gangs of New York”). Recently, he ruined “Nine” by doing his usual big, brooding angst routine instead of laying on Guido’s impish charm. In “Lincoln,” however, he holds back. He’s still brooding, but only so far as to deliver Abe’s notorious melancholy, then adding the man’s heart, authority and devilish streak. He’s so damned good, it’s creepy — you really believe this is Abe. Honest.

Just last month, when “The Master” debuted, it looked like Joaquin Phoenix would finally catch up with his overdue Oscar. After all, he goes crackers on screen in a film helmed by the same man who directed Day-Lewis to his last Academy Award when he went bonkers in “There Will Be Blood”: Paul Thomas Anderson.

But now Day-Lewis has the clear edge because he portrays a real-life, heroic figure (Oscar voters, in general, prefer that) in a surprisingly convincing, magisterial performance in a big, epic film that is seriously in the running for Best Picture.

Sally Field gives such a big, bombastic turn as Mary Todd Lincoln that it will be hard for the academy to ignore an old darling. She’s won twice (“Norma Rae,” “Places in the Heart”) and never lost, but she may not be so lucky this time. Her Mary is more indignant and righteous than crazy. Oscar voters like crazy.

Tommy Lee Jones isn’t shy about showboating the wackiness of his character as he barks down foes on the floor of the House of Representatives. He’s seriously in the running for Oscar #2 following his previous win in the supporting slot for “The Fugitive” (1993). In fact, I just moved him up to first place.

Here are my latest, revised predictions now that I’ve seen “Lincoln.” Compare them to the predix of other pundits here. Note that Steve Pond (TheWrap) and Glenn Whipp (L.A. Times) — who attended the same screening last night — also have Day-Lewis in the lead. When our predix are combined, they are translated into these rankings and racetrack odds.

16 thoughts on “Oscar’s Best Actor race is over: Daniel Day-Lewis can’t lose

  1. I dunno, Tom. NO ONE has won Best Actor three times; only five have won three or more total acting Oscars (you forgot Meryl Streep joined the club last year). And the last time someone won a third Best Director Oscar was William Wyler for “Ben-Hur” over 50 years ago.

    The multiple below-the-line Oscars of Williams, Kahn & Kaminski won’t keep them from being nommed again; nor will Tommy Lee Jones’ one past Oscar. But even if “Lincoln” turns out to be the best film of the new millenium, its three double Oscar winners ABOVE the line–Spielberg, Day-Lewis & Field–remain its biggest obstacle to a Oscar sweep.

  2. Not only can lose but hope he does. Mean I know, but I’m rather tired of display over nuance and DDL has climbed over the top so often, his knees are permanently bruised. Then there is the matter of not all of the contenders having been seen. How about at least waiting for the big movies to premier if not in general circulation. Public rather tired of this jumping the gun. Speculation fine – Declaration by fiat aggravating.

  3. And though Tommy Lee Jones might have a good case for a nom, he only underlines the HUGE problem with this year’s Supporting Actor race–too many past Oscar winners. Only three men who are NOT past Oscar winners have greater than 100/1 odds of winning Supporting Actor right now; one of them plays a former stripper (Matthew McConaughey), and another is ineligible for the SAGs (Dwight Henry). IMO, Oscar history suggests it’s MUCH harder to get your second Oscar than your first one (except A-list leads seeking an Oscar upgrade from supporting, which doesn’t apply here). All this tells me Leo is in line to finally get his Oscar, even if “Django Unchained” is otherwise a dud.

  4. Jamie, I have to at least partially defend Tom on your “not seen” comment. I don’t go by seeing them myself (that only confuses me), but I do note when others (Academy voters, bloggers, etc.) HAVE seen them. You & I haven’t seen “Lincoln” or “Les Miz” yet, but they HAVE been seen by those in the know; they’re definitely IN the race, though from my understanding of Oscar history I know neither is likely to sweep the way their fans think. Tom has already said this year may go against all the “rules” of Oscar prognostication; the big question this year may be WHICH of those “rules” go out the window.

  5. DDL will not win a third with only his 5th nomination. AMPAS is quite stingy about handing out 3rd Oscars. You have to earn them with double digit nominations (just ask Jack and Meryl).

  6. Oh my god… tom o’neil, the man who only seven months ago said that Lincoln was “gonna bomb bigger than pearl harbor” and a staunch Lincoln afficionato has just said that he approves of DDL’s performance? Ok, that’s enough confirmation for me: spielberg’s done it again…

    But… Tom Hanks couldn’t get his 3rd Oscar for Cast Away. It will be very difficul for Lincoln, Spielberg and DDL to pull it off.

  7. I don’t know Neil.

    I don’t know what Oscar voters prefer, but I know speaking purely from the aspect of acting, Joaquin Phoenix was better in the Master than DDL in Blood.

  8. Just read an interview of the new song “Suddenly” from Les Mis that includes the comment about Jackman, “He deserves 50 Oscars for what he’s done already”. Hyperbole to be sure, but you aren’t getting me off that bandwagon with a crane until the movie appears. Way too early for this prediction.

  9. Only someone incredibly mipoic and Oscarcentric could call a fantastic movie like “War Horse”, which managed 6 Oscar nominations!!! (and a load of other awards and nominations) an Oscar dissapointment. Give me a frigging break. That movie “commanded the screen with authority” too and the fact that it WASN’T made specifically for awards is the probably why it didn’t win more.

  10. I disagree. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the best actors ever and I’m sure he has done a brilliant performance… but he is not due at all by the Academy. He has two Oscars (just like Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, Jack Lemmon, Peter Ustinov…), more than many actors with a lot of remarcable work (Crowe, Robbins, Depp, Freeman, Pacino, Foxx…). He doesn’t have the body of work that some of the actors with 2 Oscars have, and his performance in “Nine” is still remembered to be quiete bad. The Academy doesn’t guide the votes just by the performance, DDL is not due and I just can’t picture the Academy giving him a 3rd Oscar so soon, sorry.

  11. Technically speaking, Phoenix was flawless. He clearly deserves this Oscar. Besides, his two other nominations were winning material too. I hope the Academy finally recognizes his talent.

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