Alan Arkin, Argo
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Like the all-star season of Dancing with the Stars, except these really are all stars, this category features five Academy Award winners. De Niro, 69, a two-time champ for The Godfather Part II (Best Supporting Actor) and Raging Bull (Best Actor), who is decades past his World’s Great Actor prime, when he was routinely robbed of Oscars — somehow he did not win for Taxi Driver or Cape Fear — has received his first nomination in 21 years for the mostly comic role of Bradley Cooper’s blustering dad. Arkin, 78, who won Best Supporting Actor seven years ago for his crazy-like-a-fox grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine, also has a comic part as one of the two Hollywood insiders who help hatch the Argo caper. It’s a mystery as to why Arkin was nominated while John Goodman, his partner in chicanery, was not even in the conversation. Waltz, 56, a Best Supporting Actor winner as the slick Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, is back as a bounty-hunting dentist in Tarantino’s Django Unchained — it’s really a leading role, or a co-starring one, but Waltz makes himself worthy in either category.
If the final dance were a pas de deux, the performers would be Hoffman, 45, a 2006 winner for Best Actor in Capote, and Jones, 66, who won Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for The Fugitive. Hoffman is the Master in The Master, an L. Ron Hubbard type who seems as jovial as he is menacing. Jones is all prickly intellect, all fuming righteousness, as Thaddeus Stevens, who pushed the 13th Amendment through Congress for President Lincoln. (Could he help Obama with immigration reform?) It’s a coin toss, but we say the Academy has a Jones for Tommy Lee.
Snubs: Matthew McConaughey, 43, has never been nominated for an Oscar. Even at the Teen Choice Awards, the erstwhile rom-com preener lost out in such categories as Sexiest Love Scene and Choice Movie Liplock. Going boldly indie for a half-dozen films, four of them released last year, he earned critic cred for Killer Joe (lead) and Bernie and Magic Mike (supporting). He may have another shot next year, when his AIDS-victim role in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he lost 25 lb., will be eligible for Oscar consideration. Javier Bardem, 43, snagged a statuette five years ago as the chilling killer Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men; his Skyfall turn, as the mad genius who tries to blow up the British spy service, geysers even higher into chilling comedic grandeur. But this time the Academy didn’t acknowledge his work. Waltz’s co-stars in Django — Oscar nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson — were also ignored. Or in a Tarantino twist on a Sergio Leone trope, the three actors engaged in a triangular shootout, and only the Austrian survived.