There are few sure things in life. The sun will rise tomorrow, Katherine Heigl will make another terrible romantic comedy and Daniel Day-Lewis will win his third best actor Oscar tomorrow are the closest things we have.
If the latter event doesn't happen, it will likely be seen as the biggest upset since Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture in 1999.
But there’s always the possibility of an upset, and this year’s nominations—no Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow nods for best director—have already provided a few surprises.
Judging from the early awards and their performances onscreen, though, here are my picks for the male acting categories at the Academy Awards this Sunday.
1.) Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook - The first nomination for The Hangover (2009) star provides clear evidence that the underrated actor--not to mention 2011's Sexiest Man Alive, according to People Magazine-- has some great dramatic skills. Cooper offered a surprisingly sensitive and unique performance in Silver Linings Playbook and in another year, he would be seen as a strong contender. But Day-Lewis is his competition, making the odds against Cooper nearly insurmountable.
Chance of Winning: 8 percent
2.) Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln - Day-Lewis’ performance in Lincoln is a revelation. The actor—who previously won this award for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will be Blood (2007)—embodies the 16th president in a way that both audiences and critics have loved. He’s won nearly every acting award there is for the performance. and chances are incredibly likely he will win this award as well.
Chance of winning: 65 percent
3.) Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables - Like Cooper, this is Jackman’s first nomination, and he delivers performance that shows a side of the actor that few have seen before. We knew that Jackman was a musically-talented actor before but critics have been impressed that he was able to carry much of this movie. Again, he would be a force to be reckoned with if Day-Lewis wasn’t in the competition.
Chance of winning : 10 percent
3.) Joaquin Phoenix, The Master - Phoenix’s third nomination—his previous ones were for Gladiator (2000) and Walk the Line (2005)—is probably the best the actor could have hoped for after his nonsensical remarks criticizing the awards process. Many thought that Phoenix had talked himself out of the nomination but despite his faux pas, he secured the nod for a movie that was sadly under-seen by audiences everywhere.
Chance of winning: 10 percent
5.) Denzel Washington, Flight - Like Day-Lewis, this would be Washington’s third Oscar win if he wins on Sunday. The actor previously won for his supporting role in Glory (1989) and his leading role in Training Day (2001). His multi-faceted performance was the best thing about Flight, but it likely won’t be enough to bring him to the stage once again.
Chance of winning: 7 percent
Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Who Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Who Should’ve been Nominated: John Hawkes, The Sessions
And the nominees for best actor in a supporting role are…
1.) Alan Arkin, Argo - Arkin received his first nomination in 1966 for his performance in The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming. Since then, he has been nominated thrice and ultimately won an Oscar for his supporting turn in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). He only has a minor role in Argo so this nod was a bit surprising. It likely won’t net him the Oscar but it is further evidence of his long and illustrious career.
Chance of Winning: 3 percent
2.) Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook - For the first time since his performance in Cape Fear (1991), De Niro is once again an Oscar nominee. The two-time winner has spent much of the last 20 years making forgettable comedies and unworthy dramas. He changed that career trajectory with a sensitive turn in Silver Linings Playbook, where his strong performance was recognized for showing audiences what the actor is capable of. He’s been campaigning for the award and has a chance of netting his third Oscar but the competition from Tommy Lee Jones remains his greatest threat right now.
Chance of winning: 30 percent
3.) Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master - Hoffman won an Oscar for his leading role in Capote (2006). Since then, he has been nominated thrice: for his performances in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008) and The Master. In his latest role, he plays a manipulative cult leader who can cajole and fool others into trusting whatever he says. Hoffman should be recognized for his work, but the movie’s lack of momentum and its dismal box office receipts are preventing him from getting the support he deserves.
Chance of winning: 7 percent
4.) Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln - This is Jones’ fourth Oscar nomination. He won for his supporting performance in The Fugitive (1993) and was nominated for his work in JFK (1991) and In the Valley of Elah (2007). In 2012, he played three grumpy old men (Men in Black III, Hope Springs and Lincoln) so many often underestimate his acting abilities. He did, however, win the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Lincoln, which likely puts him on the path to his second Oscar this year.
Chance of winning: 40 percent
5.) Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained - In 2010, Waltz won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in a violent Quentin Tarantino film. This year, Waltz—who only has the one previous nomination— is again nominated for in the category for being in a violent Tarantino film. With his prior win only a few years old, though, it seems unlikely that Waltz will repeat here. He won the Golden Globe but in the ultra-competitive Oscar race, he will likely be denied a second Academy Award.
Chance of winning: 20 percent
Who Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Who Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Who Should’ve been Nominated: Tom Holland, The Impossible