The Oscar races for lead actor and actress have, at the moment, clear front-runners and a certain sense of inevitability. From the moment it was announced that Daniel Day-Lewis had agreed to star in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," we all knew what was coming, right? And the fact that Day-Lewis' inside-out performance was more convincing than we'd even expected (and we expected a lot), simply sealed the deal.
The good news: The supporting categories this year promise to be a competitive free-for-all. Academy voters will be forced to decide between the calm charisma of Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master," Tommy Lee Jones' sharp-tongued abolitionist in "Lincoln" and Robert De Niro's loving, OCD father in "Silver Linings Playbook." Throw in Alan Arkin and John Goodman from "Argo," Javier Bardem's flamboyant Bond villain in "Skyfall" and the unseen promise of "Les Miz's" Russell Crowe and a devilish Leonardo DiCaprio in "Django Unchained" and you have the makings of one of the greatest Oscar races in years.
Our rankings, as of this moment:
1. Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
2. Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
4. Alan Arkin, “Argo”
5. Javier Bardem, “Skyfall”
Bubbling under: Matthew McConaughey, “Magic Mike”; Dwight Henry, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; John Goodman, “Argo”; Bill Murray, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Jude Law, “Anna Karenina”; William H. Macy, “The Sessions”; Ewan McGregor, “The Impossible”; Hal Holbrook, “Promised Land”
Not yet seen: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Django Unchained”; Russell Crowe, “Les Miserables”
For your consideration: Ezra Miller, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Miller made his mark last year as the supremely troubled teen in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” and he’s even better here in this altogether different take on adolescent alienation. It’s easily one of the season’s most dynamic performances.
Analysis: With all the Oscar winners and past nominees in play, why lead with De Niro? Our hunch: Older academy members will respond to both the role and the awards-season narrative of a rejuvenated, fully engaged De Niro delivering the goods in a way seen too infrequently over the past 20 years. It's always nice to reward an actor who's already picked up a lifetime achievement award or two. It gives us hope for our twilight years.