All right, all right, all right. We should've known. As it turned out, Matthew McConaughey's still supple ass cheeks in Magic Mike were no match for AMPAS's preference for saggy old balls in this category. And not just old, but used balls. As was pointed out during this year's overproduced nominations press conference, all five nominees have already won Oscars. And so in the absence of a swimsuit competition, the narrative this go around shifts onto the question of which person do Academy members feel most deserves another trophy, and which of them is the most overdue?
On those terms, Christoph Waltz is probably the first contender voters will scratch off, Golden Globe win notwithstanding. Not only was his previous win the most recent, but his nod for Django Unchained hardly deviates from the template that won him the Oscar last time: an erudite Aryan calmly, methodically exacts great vengeance, if not quite furious anger, while doing battle with Quentin Tarantino's 101-proof dialogue. That his nomination also likely cost the as-yet unrewarded Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson one more shot in the ring only seals his status as an appendage here, even though the one thing Oscar loves more than anything else is the chance to reassert their own peculiar tastes.
Though they can't be as quickly discounted, Alan Arkin and Philip Seymour Hoffman have also both claimed their booty within the last decade. Hoffman's award was in endorsement of an entirely different style of overacting than he displays in The Master (i.e. try as one might, it's impossible to hear Truman Capote erupting with "Pig fuck!" at Harper Lee's public reading of To Kill a Mockingbird), but Arkin may still have an edge in that Argo's resurgence from the ashes of Ben Affleck's Best Director snub feels akin to Carrie sawing the senior prom in half after getting doused in pigs' blood. That said, Arkin won last time for being extra Arkiny, and one surmises the rest of the cast earned their ensemble SAG award in part for being able to remember not to call him "Mr. Arkin" during every take.
Only one person in the lineup has more than one previous win, but the amount of time that has elapsed since Robert De Niro's most recent award is now even longer than Meryl Streep's downtime leading into last year's Iron Lady coup. Harvey Weinstein, who has three old gray mares in this race, clearly recognizes De Niro as his best bet, as his suspiciously preemptive mea culpas for mishandling Django Unchained's Oscar campaign and not taking a firmer hand with Paul Thomas Anderson suggest. But if third Oscars are generally reserved for legends, shouldn't De Niro's come for a role with a little more heft?
In the end, Tommy Lee Jones would be in the sweet spot even if his performance as history's earliest, crotchiest advocate for jungle fever wasn't a major highlight in both Lincoln and Jones's own oeuvre. It's been two decades since his first win, and if he could land a surprise nomination for a movie like In the Valley of Elah, clearly AMPAS thinks he's an actor worthy of a second trip to the podium. Preferably not wearing McConaughey's assless chaps.
Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Could Win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln