Twenty Performances, or Hero Riva, Mon Amour

With a bit of fortuitous timing (somewhat orchestrated, I will admit), we current sit between charts on the Sunday College Countdown feature, allowing for the accurate use of the above banner for my annual indulgence in Oscar ballot wishcasting. I’ve spent the past few weeks trickling out my choices for the best films of the year, but my compulsion for making lists doesn’t stop there. Instead, it melds with my helpless interest in the Oscars (no matter how much the Academy tries to thwart that with their baffling choice of a host for this year’s ceremony) and I arrive at what follows: my selections for the best acting of 2012 in Oscar’s four categories. If an Actors Branch ballot found its way into my hands during the nominating process, this is how I would have filled it out.

Last year, I was struck by how far apart it felt I was from the Academy in my selections. This year, all four of my category-topping picks are nominated and it’s entirely possible that all four could win tonight. Indeed a couple of them are considered locks. There’s still plenty of divergence, but I’m definitely in no position to complain about the Academy’s collective taste this year. It shouldn’t matter, but I can’t help but feeling a certain satisfaction about that, an anticipation that nothing too egregious will happen tonight, at least as far as dispersment of trophies is concerned. Anyway, my picks…

1. Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
2. Rosemarie DeWitt, My Sister’s Sister
3. Emily Blunt, My Sister’s Sister
4. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
5. Linda Cardellini, Return

With Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence seemingly both drawing significant support, there’s a chance they’ll split the vote and a dark horse could take the prize. I’d wager Riva is the likeliest candidate for the upset, but I also suspect I’m indulging in wishful thinking. It is her birthday today, though. Still, I think it’ll be Lawrence, becoming the third youngest Best Actress winner in Academy Awards history. She’s the best part of the problematic Silver Linings Playbook, and I would have cheered loudly had she won for Winter’s Bone a couple years back, so I won’t have a big problem with that choice. As for the others in my chosen quintet, I think DeWitt and Blunt are a marvelous tandem in Sister, Chastain effectively builds a character out of very thin material and Cardellini demonstrates in Return that she deserves to be getting far more significant roles in film.

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
2. Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
3. Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
4. Jack Black, Bernie
5. Dennis Levant, Holy Motors

The toughest category for me this year, the limit of five necessitating the omission of all sorts of performances that I really like, including John Hawkes in The Sessions and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper. Putting Day-Lewis at the top feels boring to me, but the performance is just that astonishing. It’s like that tonight he becomes just the sixth person with as many as three acting Oscars and only the second to accomplish it solely with wins in a leading category (Katharine won four Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscars). Remarkable and well-deserved. I maintain that Waltz belongs in lead, but he’d probably top my list if I shifted him to supporting. Glad as I am that Riva got an Oscar nomination, her co-star deserved for more awards season adulation than he got. Black is an entirely unexpected inclusion for me, but he really is wonderful in Bernie, and Levant simply does damn near everything imaginable in Holly Motors.

1. Anne Hathway, Les Misérables
2. Emily Blunt, Looper
3. Edith Scob, Holy Motors
4. Helen Hunt, The Sessions
5. Olivia Munn, Magic Mike

Much as I have an instinct to be churlish about Hathaway’s anointment as this year’s Best Supporting Actress winner, she absolutely nails her performance. If Tom Hooper had any sense, he would have made hers the only number that was shot in tight, unwavering close-up instead of undercutting that choice through repetition at every opportunity. As you can see, I though Blunt had a quite nice year. And, yes, I’m dead serious about the person at number five; she’s terrific in Magic Mike. That typed, this is, as it sadly often is, the weakest category. The attention given to Amy Adams and Jacki Weaver for adequate but utterly unremarkable performances is beyond me. I almost replaced Munn with the far more respectable choice of Sally Field, but, much as I admire her ferocity in the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: White House Variant scenes, I found about half her performance to be bogged down by unconvincing work with the more expository moments.

1. Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
2. Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
3. Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
4. Alan Arkin, Argo
5. Bill Murray, Moonrise Kingdom

It’s perhaps more a case of perfect casting than surprising, inventive acting, but that doesn’t mean Jones isn’t one of the most memorable parts of Lincoln. I expect he’ll win tonight too, but this is one of the categories that could land just about anywhere. It’s a real shame McConaughey wasn’t in the mix for Magic Mike. Now that was inventive acting. It’s very fun that Quvenzhané Wallis gets to be the Beasts of the Southern Wild representative at all these awards shows, but Henry, playing her character’s father, has been unfairly overlooked for a powerful performance. I very nearly included Michael Shannon for his self-spoofing turn in Premium Rush, but I needed to acknowledge the tang of adult pathos Murray brought to the lovelorn childhood innocence of Anderson’s wonderful film.

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