Oscars 2013: Richard Corliss’ Picks – Best Actor

TIME critic Richard Corliss reveals his pick for Best Actor. Share your pick!

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David James / DreamWorks / 20th Century Fox / AP


Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Three words, two of them hyphenated, suffice for this entry: Daniel Day-Lewis. The rest is filler.

The other four contenders, mere ushers in Day-Lewis’s third Oscar wedding (after Best Actor wins for My Left Foot in 1990 and There Will Be Blood in 2008) all play variations on a favorite Academy character type: the ostentatiously afflicted. Some take advantage of their directors’ relentless closeups to spume in vocal or lyric oratory, like Phoenix, 38, the showboating crackpot to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Master, and Jackman, 44, as Jean Valjean, never too whiplashed by fate to stop singing. These two actors are included because the number of nominees is five, and the voters didn’t have the acumen or the cojones to cite Jean-Louis Trintignant for his superb work as Emmanuelle Riva’s obsessively devoted caretaker-husband in Amour.

(Read: Oscars 2013: Great Performances)

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Washington, 58, a six-time nominee who won Supporting for Glory and Best Actor for Training Day, gave a career-topping performance as the air-crash hero pilot who is also a pathetic junkie in denial, but somehow he’s not even in the conversation this year. Cooper, 38, doesn’t have Washington’s résumé, but he’s the big news in Silver Linings Playbook and the best, perhaps the only, reason to take this rom-com of two neurotics as a serious treatment of mental illness in all its rage and poignancy. He’d be a solid selection for this Oscar, if only…

…if only Day-Lewis had stuck to his carpentry and said ‘no’ to Steven Spielberg. The Anglo-Irish star has copped virtually every Best Actor prize of the past four months, and he’s tempered his reputation as That Crazed Method Dude by giving thoughtful, agreeable speeches at his myriad award appearances. Need another argument for his choice? Six of the past 10 Oscar winners for Best Actor have played real people: Adrian Brody in The Pianist, Jamie Foxx in Ray, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, Forrest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland, Sean Penn in Milk and Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. On Sunday, make that 7 of 11.