Both of the lead acting categories have, as always, two or three strong contenders and two or three nominees whose nomination is the award. Best Actor may seem deeper than Actress, as it usually is these days, but don't discount some of the fine female performances this year. Two of which should be duking it out for the statue.
This two-horse race involves two vastly different performances. First up is Jennifer Lawrence, who charmed her way through Silver Linings Playbook in one of the best performances of her early career. She will most likely be in stiff competition with Jessica Chastain as Maya, the military brain behind the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty. These are the frontrunners right now and I don't see much changing over the next month or so.
The rest of the field is wide open. Marion Cotillard looks to be a safe bet for her role as a killer whale trainer in Rust and Bone, and I would suspect Emmanuelle Riva will get her nomination for Amour. This leaves one spot and any number of possibilities, as usual. There is Naomi Watts as the injured tourist in The Impossible, a film that seems to divide critics. Kiera Knightley in her annual period-piece drama is also a possibility for Anna Karenina. But the Academy also tends to fall in love with the standout youth performance from time to time. That is why I see Quvenzhane Wallis nabbing this final slot for her role as the precocious youngster in Beasts of The Southern Wild.
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard - Rust and Bone
Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts of The Southern Wild
Familiar faces and welcome new additions will make up this year's Best Actor race, one which I see as much more wide open than some. Of course, there is Daniel Day-Lewis, who will vie for his record-setting third Best Actor statue playing Abraham Lincoln in the Spielberg drama. But we mustn't ignore the momentum of certain other performances. For my money, Denzel Washington deserves another Oscar for his portrayal of Whip Whitaker, a courageous alcoholic pilot in Robert Zemeckis' Flight. And there is Jaoquin Phoenix and his hypnotizing turn as Freddie Quell in PTA's The Master. He has more than an outside shot here.
The last two slots seem to be locked up more than in any other category. John Hawkes will get the nomination for his role as a paraplegic in The Sessions, and Bradley Cooper will get his first, and much deserved, nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. He deserves the nomination just as much as Lawrence, although he doesn't have as strong a chance to win. That speaks more to the thin nature of the actress pool than it does Cooper's performance.
Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
Denzel Washington - Flight
Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
John Hawkes - The Sessions
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook