By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 2, 2012 at 11:58AM
At the Academy Awards, Best Picture might be the big prize, but the ones that both the winners and the audience have the most emotional connection to tend to be the acting prizes. Seeing a beloved star, or a fresh-faced newcomer, finally pick up a statue more often than not ends up leading the mainstream media coverage; it's always more moving than some producer's acceptance speech.
This year, we saw Meryl Streep finally win her third, and Christopher Plummer win his first, becoming the oldest actor ever to pick up a statuette. Those might have been predicted a while off by many. Meanwhile, two relative unknowns, Jean Dujardin and Octavia Spencer, also became Oscar-winners. Anyone who claims that they predicted those twelve months ago is a liar. Once again, the awards season can be guessed at, but it also springs up all kinds of surprises.
After our picks for Best Picture yesterday, we're going to take our now-annual stab at picking the acting categories, starting with best actor and actress. Last year, we didn't do too badly, with four of the Best Actress nominees (if you count Viola Davis, who we'd pegged in Supporting), and three of the actors (albeit Brad Pitt for "Tree of Life," rather than "Moneyball"). But like anything this far out, it's educated guesses and luck rather than anything else.
The next twelve months promise has a number of meaty parts to choose from, with several previous winners coming back with roles that seem made for the category. Right now, Best Actress seems a little weaker, but that could all change by the time the awards season kicks off. So, with the usual caveats in place, below we've run down the major contenders for the two lead acting prizes, once more in descending order of likelihood.
The other big presidential biopic of the year, this sees Franklin Delano Roosevelt being portrayed by Bill Murray, in a relatively straight role. And given that Murray was widely deemed to have been robbed nine years ago when he failed to win for his sole nomination to date, "Lost In Translation," and given that biopics are normally a goldmine in this category (eleven of the last twenty winners of Best Actor and Actress played real people), Murray can probably go ahead and order his tux.
Daniel Day-Lewis - "Lincoln"
Given that the man has two Oscars already, and only missed out by the skin of his teeth for "Gangs of New York," any Daniel Day-Lewis performance is going to get awards attention. But when that role is the part of a lifetime, President Abraham Lincoln, and directed by Steven Spielberg, it's pretty much a lock. The question is, will the Academy feel that he's been been honored too recently ("There Will Be Blood" five years ago) to take the prize again, particularly with such strong competition?
The toast of Sundance this year, John Hawkes' performance as journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, confined to an iron-lung because of polio since childhood, who becomes determined to lose his virginity, has all the makings of the kind of performance that Oscar eats up with a spoon. A few years ago, it might have slipped by, but veteran character actor Hawkes arrived on Academy radars with a nomination for "Winter's Bone," though he missed out this year for "Martha Marcy May Marlene." The only hurdle would seem to be the subject matter: will the Academy embrace the combination of sex and disability?