Best Actor

Jackman

This year’s field of Best Actor nominees includes two newcomers to the ceremony and three other actors with a rich history at the show.  Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper have each been acting for quite a while, but with their performances this year, they have each properly earned their first Oscar nomination.  Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Denzel Washington are no strangers to the Academy Awards, having previously won a combined four Oscars on eleven nominations.  With the way this year’s group has rounded out, it is sure to be a dogfight to the end, and honestly, any of these actors would be worthy of the Academy’s highest acting honor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

In Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-con on the run from Javert, the determined and relentless French policeman.  Valjean eventually meets a factory worker and agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  In Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the infamous musical, Jackman leads a group of talented singers and actors, and even though the others provide us with some emotionally charged portrayals, Jackman stands alone as the film’s most valuable performer.  Not only is his singing on point, the dramatic and affecting dynamism he brings to the screen is nothing short of spectacular.  With strong performances from all of this year’s nominees, Jackman demonstrates why he alone gave moviegoers the best acting performance.  Jackman has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran with an alcohol dependency who struggles to make it in the post-war society.  He eventually comes across Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.”  He joins the faction, but his complicated presence among the members of The Cause begins to create issues for everyone, and he becomes dismantled by his own doing.  In Phoenix’s return to dramatic feature films, he prevails tremendously.  After his horribly peculiar fake retirement and subsequent pseudo-documentary I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix gives a tantalizing performance, which reminds us that he is very much still one of the heavy hitters in the realm of acting.  I wish I could give him the Oscar for this performance, but Jackman’s portrayal was far too strong.  Phoenix was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator (2000) and for Best Actor for his role in Walk the Line (2005).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of the 16th president of the United States.  I was never blown away whatsoever by Spielberg’s latest endeavor, but I did respect the amazing acting performances it includes, specifically Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the title character.  Even though he is one of my favorite actors and did a superb job in this film, I truly feel like all of the hype surrounding his performance was due to the makeup department making him look identical to Abraham Lincoln.  If he wins, they should share this award with him.  Also, being that video cameras or audio-recording devices were not around back then, we do not even know what Abraham Lincoln sounded like, so I find it amusing that critics praised his portrayal for his likeness to Lincoln’s voice.  Day-Lewis was previously nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering with a severe case of bipolar disease.  After leaving a mental health institution, he moves back in with his parents and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric woman with some serious mental issues of her own.  In the breakout performance of Cooper’s dramatic acting career, he succeeds in every way possible.  Most known for his roles in comedic films, Cooper provides an exhilarating portrayal of a man trying to survive mentally after a life-changing incident with his wife.  This was one of the top movies of the year, and the performance Cooper gives only adds to its triumph.  Cooper has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline captain.  Whitaker becomes an overnight celebrity after miraculously landing his plane after it malfunctions in the air and comes to a crashing halt.  Little does anyone know, the day he flew that plane, he was drunk and high.  Washington has a way of taking on the role of complicated characters that you as a viewer want to hate but can’t help but love, such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster; in Flight, he has once again provided us with this complex.  Washington is most definitely one of the most incredible actors in the film industry today, and he adds to his illustrious career with this performance.  Washington was previously nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory (1989) and for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Best Original Screenplay

Tarantino

The Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay that is not based upon any prior published work.  This year’s group of nominees features some established, acclaimed writers and a couple Academy Award newcomers.  Between the nominated writers, they have been nominated for four writing Oscars and have won two.  Although there are some great scripts up for the award this year, one writer has already been sweeping the award shows for his screenplay, winning the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award—this year, it just so happens that I am in full agreement with the major award shows on this category.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Tarantino, also the director of the film, has created one of the greater scripts in modern cinema.  It has created a significant amount of controversy, but it has also been met with rave reviews from the critics—Quentin would not want it any other way.  Even though he did not win the Oscar in this category for Inglourious Basterds, which is by far my favorite movie of all time, he still has penned another masterpiece in Django.  Tarantino has a knack for creating some of the most remembered characters in the history of film, such as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, and Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and in Django, he does not disappoint, creating unbelievably dynamic characters like Dr. King Schultz and Calvin Candie.  I will never know how the inner workings of Tarantino’s mind operate, but I am most unquestionably thankful for the written work he has given us.  Tarantino was previously nominated for two writing Academy Awards, both in the Best Original Screenplay category, and he won for Pulp Fiction (1994).

2. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

Wes Anderson, also the director of the film, and Roman Coppola have collaborated for their second screenplay together—their first was The Darjeeling Limited, a film they also co-wrote with Jason Schwartzman.  The end result of their most recent work together is an incredibly hilarious, wildly entertaining script.  This screenplay has the best shot among the other nominees to upset the heavyweight Tarantino, and if things fall correctly for Anderson and Coppola, they just may find themselves raising the Oscar statute.  This story is one of a kind.  It tells the story of young love from a unique perspective that only Anderson, one of the most distinctive writer-directors of our time, could do.  It is a refreshingly different film, and it has quickly become one of my favorites of all time.  Anderson was previously nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).  Coppola has not previously been nominated.

3. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

After Anderson and Coppola, Mark Boal has the next best chance to knock off Tarantino at the top in this category.  This is only Boal’s second screenplay, but just like his previous one for The Hurt Locker, it is action packed and beaming with award-winning quality.  Boal tells the story of the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the most dangerous man on earth.  The Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration may not be quite the masterpiece it was for The Hurt Locker, but it is most assuredly not far behind.  I was on the edge of my theater seat throughout the entire film, and a lot of this is due to the spellbinding script Boal has written.  Mark Boal was previously nominated and won for Best Original Screenplay for The Hurt Locker (2009).

4. Michael Haneke (Amour)

Michael Haneke, also the director of the film, has finally been nominated by the Academy for his superb writing abilities.  Haneke is one of the most unknown writer-directors to the general public in the United States, but I have been aware of his work for quite a few years now.  The biggest film festival in the entire world is the Cannes Film Festival, and the top award at this festival is the Palme d’Or, an award given to the top film of the festival.  Only seven filmmakers have won this award twice since 1939—Michael Haneke is one of those (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  Haneke’s French-language film is intriguing, matchless, and invigorating.  The words he penned for this film not only earned him an Oscar nomination, but it also resulted in lead actress Emmanuelle Riva being nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  Haneke has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. John Gatins (Flight)

Gatins is an established screenwriter, but to be completely honest, none of his scripts have been anything close to award worthy.  His screenwriting filmography includes Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Real Steel, but his big break finally came with the 2012 film Flight.  In this film, Gatins uses an incredibly entertaining story line to keep our attention, but it is the complexities he has created in regards to human morality that truly sets his script apart.  I am surprised that he received a nomination, but after seeing the film, it is definitely justified.  Gatins has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

Writers snubbed in this category: Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)