“He reminded me of my dad,” one writer in the Academy told EW. Whether the obsessive, football-wagering pater familias in this comedic drama brings up father issues with other voters, we’ll never know. But De Niro’s return to form after quite a few years of silly comedies and paycheck-cashing genre roles has struck a nerve with many Academy members, giving him the lead in a very tight race.
The usually tight-lipped De Niro put aside his reticence and campaigned hard, showing a softer side we don’t always associate with the Taxi Driver and Goodfellas star. When he choked-up on Katie Couric’s talk show, talking about director David O. Russell’s bi-polar son, it caused as much buzz as his performance.
Runner-up: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained. The gunslinging bon vivant who rides through the deep south collecting bounties on outlaws claimed Waltz a BAFTA prize and a Golden Globe. The Austrian actor is a great charmer, which makes him an excellent campaigner. Is it too soon after his Inglourious Basterds win for another Oscar? Maybe, but the Academy adores him.
Surprise: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln. He might be the frontrunner if not for his surly personal style. That’s not supposed to count in the awards race, but anyone who says it doesn’t is kidding themselves. Few performances were as energetic or charismatic, however, and since he did win the SAG Award, there’s a good chance he might take this one, too.
NEXT: BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS