February 19, 2013

OSCARS MINUS 5: The Sure Thing That Is, and The One That Isn’t


The voting has just closed for this year’s Academy Awards, and here at Oscar Central, we are ready to make the following call:

Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win the Best Actor Oscar for Lincoln.

I know, way out on a limb.  And sure, Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson, nothing is certain in this world and all that–but let’s be serious.  A loss by Day-Lewis for his unanimously praised work (which has swept the precursor prizes) would be one of the biggest upsets in awards history, let alone that of the Oscars.  Day-Lewis will become the most honored male performer in Academy history, the only actor with 3 wins in a leading role (Katherine Hepburn did the same as Best Actress; Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Ingrid Bergman and Walter Brennan have also won 3 awards, but at least 1 of them has been in a Supporting category, and the same would be true this year of Denzel Washington or Robert DeNiro if one or both of them happens to win).

No one will be able to say that Day-Lewis achieved this feat by facing lesser competition.  Remarkably, every one of the other Best Actor nominees this year–Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables, Denzel Washington in Flight, Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master–could have been a legitimate frontrunner in a different year, especially Jackman and Cooper, who delivered career-best work in very successful Best Picture nominees.

Even more remarkably, no one seems to begrudge Day-Lewis his win, despite the strongly mixed opinions about Lincoln as a winner in other categories.  (Even Harvey Weinstein, who never saw an Oscar category he didn’t think he could take, has barely put any of his Silver Linings resources into promoting Cooper.)  From the moment Day-Lewis’s casting was announced, the consensus seemed to be that this was a fitting combination:  one of history’s greatest men portrayed by one of our generation’s greatest actors.  Unless he somehow screwed it up (spoiler alert:  he didn’t), the Oscar belonged to him, and it still does.

The London bookmakers are perfectly mindful of this, and here (via Oddschecker) are the current odds:

Daniel Day-Lewis:  1:50

Hugh Jackman:  16:1

Joaquin Phoenix:  33:1

Denzel Washington:  40:1

Bradley Cooper:  50:1

One can quibble about whether Phoenix is a bit overrated in those odds and Cooper a bit underrated, but none of it is likely to matter in the end.

Best Actress is a different story.

Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook was anointed the frontrunner as soon as audiences saw her spectacular funny-sexy-crazy-smart performance at film festivals in the fall.  Lawrence appears, at just 22, to be Hollywood’s ideal:  a brilliant actress with endless range who’s also a big-time movie star.  Her 2012 releases have earned $540M in the US alone, the bulk of that naturally from The Hunger Games, the first blockbuster action-movie franchise in history to be headlined by a woman (no, Alien and Tomb Raider didn’t get there).  A win for Lawrence wouldn’t just be a celebration of her phenomenal talent, but a coronation of a new kind of female megastar.

But, hey, she’s just 22.  And increasingly, one heard variations of “she has plenty of time,” and “no need to rush, she’ll be back.”  In December, Jessica Chastain gave a very different kind of superb performance in Zero Dark Thirty, all coiled fury and relentless intelligence, and suddenly it was a 2-person race.  Chastain is, in a sense, as much a newcomer as Lawrence, since she was barely known until last year, but she paid her dues getting to this point–not to mention that it feels like she’s made an entire career’s worth of movies in about 18 months.  However, the bottom all too quickly dropped out of Zero Dark Thirty as a contender overall (a useful article in today’s LA Times illuminates some of the bad decisions and bad luck that led to this), and Chastain seems to have become, so to speak, collateral damage.  So–bad news for Chastain, but a clear field for Lawrence, right?

Not so fast.  In the last few weeks, the buzz is that Academy members have turned to what might be called the anti-Lawrence:  85-year old Emmanuelle Riva (she’ll turn 86 on Oscar Sunday) for her role in Michael Haneke’s Amour.  It’s a heartbreaking performance, and one that had to be played within very strict limitations because her character spends most of the film suffering the aftermath of severe strokes.  And, let’s face it, a story about aging, illness and death hits many Academy members exactly where they live (very much including rest homes).  “No need to rush, she’ll be back” isn’t likely to be heard in connection with Riva.  There is a certain irony in giving a lifetime achievement-ish Oscar to someone most Academy members couldn’t have picked out of a line-up 6 months ago–and you’d be hard-pressed even now to find many voters who could name another of her 77 films (with the possible exception of 1959’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour).  But Riva has won the BAFTA and several critics awards, Sony Pictures Classics has thrown most of its Amour campaign toward her run, and she appears to have the hot hand.

London has it thus:

Jennifer Lawrence:  4:7

Emmanuelle Riva:  3:1

Jessica Chastain:  4:1

Naomi Watts:  40:1

Quvenzhane Wallis:  66:1

That seems to give more credibility to Chastain than she currently has, but it accurately reflects a race that’s very much open.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."