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.

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