The Best Actor race isn’t much of a competition this year, with Daniel Day-Lewis’ sure-fire win looming over the other nominees like a dark cloud in the shape of Abraham Lincoln. Still, the fine actors listed in the category this year, including Mr. Day-Lewis, have all deserved their well-earned nominations.

Here’s a breakdown:

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
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Nominated for… Playing the angst-ridden, bipolar-suffering Pat, a man struggling to come to terms with a failed marriage, a dysfunctional family and the Philadelphia Eagles — all while falling for his true soul mate.

Award-Worthy: This is Cooper’s first major award nomination of any kind, if you don’t count being nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance in The Hangover.

Interesting Fact: Mark Wahlberg was originally cast as Pat, after he and director David O. Russell got close working on The Fighter, but Russell ultimately decided to go with Cooper. Bradley has said he thinks co-star Robert De Niro may have had a hand in it, since Cooper auditioned to play De Niro’s son in Everybody’s Fine. Something must have stuck.

The Consensus: I’m sure he’d be the first one to tell you how surprised he is that he ended up on such an esteemed list. I don’t believe, however, this will be his last time on the Oscar scoreboard. Cooper has now proven he has the chops and should expect to be offered weightier roles from now on.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
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Nominated for… Taking on one of the most beloved figures in American history and basically becoming that person, body and soul. Lewis’ President Abraham Lincoln is truly an uncanny performance.

Award-Worthy: This is Daniel’s fifth Oscar nomination. He has won the Best Actor award twice, for his turn in My Left Foot in 1989 and then again in 2007 for his searing portrayal in There Will Be Blood. If Day-Lewis wins again, he will have set the record for winning the most Best Actor Oscars.

Interesting Fact: Once Day-Lewis decided on the voice he would use as Lincoln, he sent an audiotape of it to director Steven Spielberg in a box with a skull & crossbones on it so no one but Spielberg would hear it first.

The Consensus: I’ve made it pretty clear who is going to win in this category. The consummate Day-Lewis completely overshadows his competitors with his incredible technique. I have feeling the record Day-Lewis is going to set this year will simply continue to expand.
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
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Nominated for… Tackling the heart-wrenching role of Jean Valjean, a 19th-century French convict who breaks parole, is hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert but manages to care for a child left orphaned by a desperate woman Valjean unwittingly puts out on the streets. Cue the big music.

Award-Worthy: Jackman earns his first Academy Award nomination this year. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his turn in the 2001 Kate & Leopold (I’m not joking), along with a few Emmy nods for hosting the 81st Academy Awards and the 58th and 59th Tony Awards, respectively. Oh, he also has a bunch of MTV Movie Award noms for his role as Wolverine.

Interesting Fact: During his Golden Globes acceptance speech for Les Mis, Jackman said he nearly quit after one particularly grueling rehearsal. His wife convinced him to hang on and see it through. Good thing.

The Consensus: The fact he has to portray such an emotionally draining and thoughtful part while singing his freaking heart out LIVE, Jackman deserves the runner-up Best Actor, in my opinion.
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
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Nominated for… Portraying the unsettling WWII Navy vet Freddie Quell, who returns from war and wanders aimlessly – until he meets the charismatic leader Lancaster Dodd and falls into his “ministry.”

Award-Worthy: This is Phoenix’s third Oscar nomination. He received a Best Supporting Actor nod for his work in Gladiator and a Best Actor nom for his turn as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, a role that earned him a Golden Globe.

Interesting Fact: Jeremy Renner was originally going to play Freddie but when financing fell through, the project stalled and Renner moved on. Lucky for Phoenix he was available when the film was back on.

The Consensus: After I saw The Master last September, I tagged him for a Best Actor nod with absolute certainty. Then, as time passed, the film seemed to wan in any kind of popularity, so I rethought my initial proclamation and didn’t include him on my predictions list. I should have just trusted my gut because I knew Phoenix turned in an amazingly provocative and disturbing character study. Joaquin is an eccentric, but the guy can ACT.
Denzel Washington, Flight
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Nominated for… Playing airline pilot Whip Whitaker, whose abuse of drugs and alcohol has only proven to help him in times of crisis. Still, when his problems come into public focus, the onion layers are peeled back, one by one.

Award-Worthy: This marks Washington’s sixth nomination. He has won a Best Supporting Actor statuette for Glory and Best Actor Oscar for Training Day.

Interesting Fact: In order to get the film made with the studio’s modest take-it-or-leave-it $28 mil budget, Washington and director Robert Zemeckis accepted a reported tenth of their usual salaries.

The Consensus: As a true Oscar vet, Washington is one of those Academy Award constants. It’s been 10 years since he’s been on the Oscar list (since Training Day), but when Denzel decides to make an indie or a complex character drama, you can bet he’ll get nominated for it.
 

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards