With festival season getting underway in only a few short days, we're about to see which actors will gain traction for the awards season ahead of us. But there's at least one major performance that we won't know about for a few months yet (or until we see a trailer), and it's one that's probably been the presumptive front-runner ever since the film was announced: Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," the director's biopic of Civil War-winning President Abraham Lincoln, focusing on the last few months of his life before his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.
After all, it's one of the most lauded actors of modern times, who last won in 2007 for "There Will Be Blood," in the kind of transformative historical figure role that always pays dividends with Academy voters, and working for the first time with America's most beloved filmmaker, a two-time Best Director winner. Once Day-Lewis came on board, many assumed that they might as well start carving his name on the statue. But will that really be the case? Looking at history a little more closely, it becomes clear not only that Spielberg's not necessarily the Oscar favorite that he's made out to be, but also that a win for Day-Lewis would be unprecedented on a number of levels. So before people decide that it's already sewn up based on a poster that debuted this week, let's look at the stats. It's certainly true that Spielberg's films have been frequent visitors to the Academy. Twelve of his movies have been nominated for four or more awards, and three got more than ten.
But when he picked up Best Director for the second time, for "Saving Private Ryan," the film lost Best Picture to "Shakespeare In Love." And perhaps even more importantly, no Spielberg film has won an Oscar since. "Munich" got five nominations, including Best Picture, Director and Screenplay, and "War Horse" got six, including Picture (but not director). But it's fifteen years since a film by the director actually picked up an Oscar. And perhaps more importantly, no actor or actress has ever won an Oscar for a performance in a Spielberg film.
There have been plenty of nominations: Melinda Dillon for "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"; Whoopi Goldberg, Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey for "The Color Purple"; Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes for "Schindler's List"; Anthony Hopkins for "Amistad"; Tom Hanks for "Saving Private Ryan" and Christopher Walken for "Catch Me If You Can." But none actually converted it for a win, and maybe it's because there were more deserving winners, or maybe it's because Academy voters have never quite shaken the view that Spielberg is a master technician first and foremost. But it's a fairly bleak precedent for Day-Lewis, as well as Sally Field, David Strathairn and Tommy Lee Jones, who are said to be the supporting players to keep an eye on, as Mary Todd Lincoln, William Seward and Thaddeus Grant respectively.
Furthermore, Day-Lewis also has another disadvantage. If he wins, he'd be the first performer in history to win three Best Actor Academy Awards. Jack Nicholson has two, plus a Best Supporting Actor prize for "Terms Of Endearment," and Walter Brennan has three Supporting Actor wins, for "Come And Get It," "Kentucky" and "The Westerner." If he wins for "Lincoln," he'd be essentially anointed as the greatest actor in Hollywood history. And given that it's only five years since his last victory (for a performance that would be the peak of most actors' careers), it may be that the Academy won't quite be ready to make that step, especially in a year that looks like it won't be lacking in strong competition — Joaquin Phoenix, John Hawkes, Bill Murray, Hugh Jackman, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington all have serious potential, at least this far out.
None of this is to say that the film, and central performance won't be a major player. It's a match of source material, director and performer that happens once in a blue moon, and should be firmly in the Academy's wheelhouse, even if the movie disappoints — certainly, when Spielberg has taken on subject matter like this, he's been rewarded in a big way. But if one is to look at the record books, it may have a trickier awards season fight on its hands than many have anticipated. We'll find out when the film opens on November 9th. But what do you think. Does DDL have the juice to take it all the way?
Let us know below and check out this week's Best Picture Chart on page two.
The Best Picture Chart
(last time's positions in brackets)
1. "Les Miserables" (2)
Even as it continues to be under the radar (and we can't imagine we'll see a full trailer before October, when Universal will open another musical movie, "Pitch Perfect"), given the pedigree, the material and the cast, this seems like a perfect storm. That said, we saw the trailer on the big screen recently, and Hooper's style looks more distracting than in "The King's Speech."
2. "Lincoln" (1)
See above. Plus, we'd long since seen a "War Horse" trailer by this time last year, a movie that opened six weeks later than "Lincoln" is in 2012. Is this a sign that Disney/DreamWorks aren't quite sure how to sell this one? A poster did at least appear this week, so let's see if it's followed by a trailer.
3. "Argo" (3)
We're continuing to hear very strong buzz about this one. Warner's decision to offer Ben Affleck "Justice League" seemed to demonstrate how confident they are in the film, and Affleck's decision to turn it down shows that he's serious about this whole filmmaking lark. Does it have a real chance at winning, though?
4. "Life Of Pi" (6)
Ang Lee's film is opening the New York Film Festival, the same slot that "Good Night, And Good Luck," "The Queen" and "The Social Network" all had in recent years, which bodes very well. Then again, that slot didn't much help "Carnage" last year, so don't assume that it's a home run just yet.
5. "The Master" (4)
The confirmation of the TIFF premiere make it clear that this is Harvey's great hope for the year. "There Will Be Blood" marked an awards breakthrough for Anderson, but let's not forget that beyond scattered acting and screenplay nods, his earlier films weren't necessarily Academy favorites, and this is apparently his most difficult yet.
6. "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" (5)
Still one of the best-reviewed films of the year, but it's also something of an underdog (young first-time director, unknown cast) in a year full of serious behemoths. Will it end up looking like a minnow against the previously-lauded likes of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hooper, Ang Lee and Kathryn Bigelow?
7. "The Impossible" (10)
On the one hand, this has pretty much the undivided attention of Lionsgate/Summit, while most studios have multiple films competing for campaign time. That said, while the companies have Best Picture winners in the recent past ("Crash," "Hurt Locker"), they've gone a few years without a nominee. But a trailer aimed expertly at awards audiences made it look like a real player, and one early review certainly seems to suggest it's got the goods.
8. "The Promised Land" (11)
With an official release date, going limited on December 28th, followed by a wider bow in January, this is definitely going to be a player, although it'll be a while before we find out if it will dliever. The source material sounds like it's right in the Oscar wheelhouse (word is Hal Holbrook in particular is one to watch, performance wise), but Gus Van Sant can be inconsistent with this sort of thing. And will hitting the season so late help or hinder it? The last Best Picture winner to follow a similar release pattern was "Million Dollar Baby" eight years ago, and it may be finished too late for many critics' awards or even Top 10 lists.
9. "Hyde Park On Hudson" (13)
We saw the trailer again recently, and it reminded us that the film looks like the kind of thing that the Academy eats up. It will be carried on the back of Bill Murray and his performance, but the star can be reclusive and secretive with the press. He's probably assured an acting nomination, but he might have to step up and campaign if the film is to follow with him.
10. "Moonrise Kingdom" (9)
Hitting DVD in October, gives it a perfectly-timed second wind just as festival season winds down. We can see this making it onto a lot of ballots, but how many crucial first-place votes will it get?
11. "Zero Dark Thirty" (7)
One of the more divisive films right now for prognosticators, our gut says this could be a big player, but will what seems to be a journalistic, ensemble approach without a clear lead, hurt it? Are there any acting nominations up for grabs in the film? And will controversy about the research process be a problem?
12. "Flight" (15)
A premiere on the closing night of the New York Film Festival certainly shows that Paramount have Oscar in mind for this, and given that "The Descendants" had the same slot last year, it might well pay off. Then again, Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" had it the year before, plus Zemeckis isn't an Academy golden goose. "Forrest Gump" aside, his other films haven't cracked the Best Picture line-up, even something like his last live-action film "Cast Away."
13. "The Sessions" (8)
The more we think about it, the more this might be a performance-only affair, and the multiple title changes show Fox Searchlight's nervousness about it. But it could start building buzz again by popping up at Telluride, and hopefully carrying its Sundance buzz through to Toronto.
14. "Anna Karenina" (18)
We know it's screened. We hear it's going to be very divisive. Reviews will start appearing just before TIFF, as the film opens in the UK on September 7th. Let's see how that turns out…
15. "Cloud Atlas" (13)
Some test screening reports got some exposure recently, some suggesting the film simply isn't Academy material. There's a slight sense that Warners aren't quite sure what to do with it, but the presence of Academy favorites like Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent can only help it if the film works.
16. "The Silver Linings Playbook" (14)
We spoke to someone who'd seen the film, and they suggested it was interesting enough, but likely too brash and vulgar to figure into the awards season. Describing it "like all the loud, noisy [family arguments] in 'The Fighter' stretched to feature length," they suggested that the film wouldn't play with the Academy. But they also said that Jennifer Lawrence and especially Robert De Niro could figure into the acting races, but then again, it's just one person's opinion, so who knows…
17. "Django Unchained" (19)
We keep being told we're undervaluing this, but it's always felt more "Kill Bill" than "Inglourious Basterds" to us. Then again, the period/Western setting might help, even if the slavery themes probably won't.
18. "To The Wonder" (17)
Between this and "Argo," Ben Affleck feels like he's about to have a Brad Pitt year — the star used the momentum of "Moneyball" to help "The Tree Of Life" get a nomination last year. But that film was a fairly unopposed critical favorite, while "The Master" and "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" could pip this to the post. We'll find out if this works in a little over a week.
19. "The Dark Knight Rises" (16)
Feels more like "Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2" than "Return Of The King" at this point, but then Warners are more concerned with the box office than awards campaigning this time around. It would help if the publicity-shy Christopher Nolan can be convinced to do the awards-centric press rounds later in the year.
20. "Song For Marion" (New)
We've been tipping this as a dark horse for about 18 months, but weren't sure if it was going to see the light of day in 2012. It's closing TIFF, which will give it a big boost, but that slot doesn't have a great history, with "The Young Victoria," "Last Night" and "Page Eight" playing in recent years. And do the Weinsteins have a place for it on their release calendar? If it plays well with critics, you bet they do.
Out: "Hitchcock" and "Out Of The Furnace" — sources confirmed to In Contention that Fox Searchlight and Relativity had been flirting with the idea of pushing these two films up for Oscar contention, but have ultimately decided against it.
"This Is 40," "The Hobbit," "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Trouble With The Curve," "Amour," "Killing Them Softly"