Over the next twenty-four hours, two films will hit that will have a huge impact on the Best Actor race. The first is unknown. Opening up the AFI Fest, the surprise entry Hitchcock will hit the circuit, particularly Sir Anthony Hopkins as the legendary director. Also hitting this weekend is Flight, which has brought with it tons of post-NYFF buzz and stunning reviews for Denzel Washington's lead performance from America's top critics. If you throw in the likes of Bradley Cooper, Daniel-Day Lewis, Hugh Jackman, and others, it occurs to me that a certain pattern has emerged. The Academy over the last decade seems to either honor an actor who plays a tortured soul, struggling with his life or work. Or they tend to honor actors who inhabit historical figures. If you don't believe me take a look at the facts:
2011: Jean Dujardin "The Artist - Movie star struggling with the end of his career as films go from silent to sound.
2010: Colin Firth "The King's Speech" - Kind of both. An historical figure (the King of England), and a man struggling to overcome his speech disability.
2009: Jeff Bridges "Crazy Heart" - Tortured soul dealing with alcoholism and a dying career that is in need of a really great song...and rehab.
2008: Sean Penn "Milk" - American gay-rights hero.
2007: Daniel Day-Lewis "There Will Be Blood" - Evil, and tortured, and Daniel-Day Lewis. Period.
2006: Forest Whitaker "The Last King of Scotland" - Terrifying African dicatator.
2005: Philip Seymour Hoffman - Truman Capote, enough said.
2004: Jamie Foxx "Ray" - One of the greatest muscians of all time, and a tortured soul. Double Whammy
So you get the point. A pattern really has emerged. And in the 2012-13 race, once again the pattern seems to be emerging as well. The race could easily come down to historical figures such as Hitchcock and Lincoln, versus tortured souls struggling with the limitations of their life or their own mistakes like Whip Whitaker, Pat Solitano, Mark O'Brien, or Jean Valjean. We'll see tonight if Anthony Hopkins nails Hitchcock, and right now we already know that Day-Lewis, John Hawkes, and Washington are bona fide contenders, as is Bradley Cooper to a lesser extent. But if I had my money on the race at this moment I would bet that the race will come down to two actors fighting for a stunning third Oscar: Washington vs. Day-Lewis; tortured soul vs. historical figure. Which one will win?