Will Hollywood carve history or bury the hatchet next month when it doles out its premier statuettes at the Academy Awards?
On one end, Daniel Day-Lewis, much respected and liked in Hollywood, is a front runner for his third Academy Award in the Lead Actor Category for his work in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. No other male actor has been awarded three Lead Actor statuettes. (Katharine Hepburn holds 4.) One who painstakingly chooses his roles, Day-Lewis’ hermit-like ways is observed by the community as artistically admirable.
On the other hand, Day-Lewis’ main competition is The Master‘s Joaquin Phoenix whose artistry is undeniable but his artistic piousness fuels contempt and snorts of disdain. Phoenix’s volatile relationship with Hollywood perhaps is seen as a slap in the face of the success he has reaped in the town. Unlike Paul Newman’s legendary but quiet stance against the sullying of artistry with a competitive atmosphere, Phoenix created an uproar when he professed Oscar season to be “bullsh–.” Though he recanted his statement, his mea culpa couldn’t erase his infamous bearded appearance on Letterman and his guitar-infused protestations of retiring at 36. Here too, Phoenix issued retractions-he was working on a mockumentary–but the remnants of the antics have left lasting impressions.
Ideally the award is for the best performance though rarely is voting devoid of personal amicability. While Hollywood may be hesitant to declare Day-Lewis as the best actor in history, it also may be reluctant to award a performance in a movie not generally liked. While Phoenix willingly allows director Paul Thomas Anderson to cheese-grater his emotions into an almost unbearable rawness, the lack of a substantive film leaves the tour de force performance groundless. It’s as if Anderson is making a mockery of filmmaking itself with his story of a cult leader pitching past life transgression as The Cause for self-enlightenment. Like his titular character, Anderson sends Phoenix in death defying, bizarre, and ultimately pointless exercises of emotional excavation. Phoenix’s blind trust as an actor following his directors’ desires is akin to the film’s hoodwinked sheep ready to guzzle Kool-Aid at The Master’s bidding.
For its part, Lincoln is a well-made, engrossing historical drama. Devoid of the usual soap opera theatrics employed to make palatable history for the masses, the film fascinates in its portraiture of the struggles and political machinations toward the passage of the 13th Amendment. It’s an incredibly unique film that derives its power not from histrionics but the palpable friction of its players on the political battlefield. Spielberg is the master of filmic moments; here his restraint honors the 16th president, with Day-Lewis mesmerizing in the title role.
Hollywood has unpredictably aimed to shed its predictable nature though more surprises are in the omissions than the actual winners. Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, and Tommy Lee Jones are the ones with the best odds for February 24th to take home the statuette.
How do you think Academy members will vote for Lead Actor?