Day Lewis is great as Lincoln. It is a heartfelt, subtle performance that is commanding without demanding our attention. I don't know this for sure since I've never heard Lincoln or seen him except in photos; but I'm willing to bet he looks and sounds exactly like him. That's because I believe Day Lewis did the research and almost certainly got everything right.When I saw the movie the performance reminded me of his performance in The Age of Innocence; another subdued turn that was immensely affecting.
Can anyone beat him? For a while I thought maybe John Hawkes in The Sessions could do it. He hits all the academy's soft spots : biopic, disability, previous recent nominee. Plus he's giving a great performance in a really good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. He could have rested on the trappings of "suffering for his art"but he added lots of humor and pathos to the performance making it a wonder to behold. Alas while he's guaranteed a nomination that movie has not struck a major chord with audiences so he's not a real threat to Day Lewis.
I was hoping Hugh Jackman would pull such a wallop of an emotional punch as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables that he'd be the one to beat. I haven't seen the movie yet so can't tell but the reviews so far are only so so for the movie. Still the movie hasn't opened yet; if it becomes a blockbuster and Jackman is all what people are talking about in January we might have a race.
Denzel Washington in Flight and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook are the other two actors that made all the important precursors including SAG. These five seem to be now the most likely nominees. I liked Washington's performance but wasn't sold on the movie. Apart from the truly amazing crash scene I thought it was pretty mediocre. Cooper's approximation of crazy grew on me. First time I saw it I found it annoying but second time I enjoyed his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence and the manic energy he constantly brought to his character. He has a scene where he senses that he's slipping away into his head and brings it back in refusing to succumb - that sold me on the performance.
There are 3 performances in French movies this year that knocked off my socks. With Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone I finally understood what everybody's been talking about all these years when they mentioned Brando's performance in Streetcar. He has a ferocity and immediacy of emotion that is both sexy and dangerous and announces the birth of a major movie star.Jean Louis Trintignant in Amour is amazing as well although the emotion there is more reserved but not less strong. Somehow the two are overshadowed by their female co-stars, at least in the eyes of award voters.
The third great performance from a French film is Denis Levant in Holy Motors. While I recognized the artistry and mad storytelling skills that went into making the movie, it didn't really register with me. However there is no denying that Levant gives a virtuoso performance full of audacity and perverse humor. He also inhabits several characters with complete makeovers. None of the three will find traction with Oscar.
Other names in the conversation include Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch ( fantastic), Richard Gere in Arbitrage (haven't seen it) and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. At the beginning of the season Phoenix was a shoo-in and possibly the front runner; now he's on the periphery. He might still get in as the performance has its advocates. I for one hated it. It is is a big "LOOK AT ME I'M ACTING" performance. He contorts his body, throws himself around, stops and gestures before saying anything. Hey Joaquin are you competing in some thespian Olympics we don't know about? Give him all the gold medals now! The film itself is polarizing and was not embraced by audiences although most critics loved it. I was left very cold by it. There's stuff to admire - cinematography, music and production design are all top notch - but the sum doesn't add up.
Predicted Five : Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day Lewis, John Hawkes, Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington.