Honourable mentions: Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, Dane DeHaan in Chronicle, Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi!, Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Rosemary DeWitt in Your Sister's Sister.
Ben Whishaw in Cloud Atlas
For a film that had a lot of actors playing various characters, Ben Whishaw's portrayal of an optimistic, gay musician in the 1930s stands out the most. Whishaw can show vulnerability and cockiness in equal measure and delivers some of the most heartbreaking scenes of the movie.
Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained
The biggest problem for Waltz, in my eyes, was that he was competing against his own portrayal of Col. Hans Landa, which is such a perfect performance that Dr. King Schultz was bound to be a tad disappointing. Still, the way the man delivers lines is an absolute pleasure to watch and he has technically become the most rewarded actor in Tarantino's repertoire so that's definitely something.
Jean-Louis Trintigant in Amour
Amour is a film that is barely in my lists because I could not watch it with an objective perspective. However, Trintigant is so perfect and tragic and helpless and human in this film that he had to be mentioned.
Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect
No one this year has made me laugh as much as Wilson's Fat Amy did. A brilliant comic turn.
"I'm gonna finish him like a cheesecake!"
Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables
After having watched him as the tough and hardened Wolverine all these years, nothing is more surprising than seeing Jackman tackle a role like Jean Valijean. The Oscars he hosted proved that he could sing, but to show this much emotion and heartbreak and guilt, all while singing, was marvelous to watch. His is my most favourite Oscar nomination of the year.
Kareena Kapoor in Talaash
I do think that Kareena Kapoor is one of the very few high-profile Bollywood actresses today who can actually act and there are certain kinds of roles that she was made to shine in. She did it in Jab We Met and she does it again in Talaash. As the seductive and mysterious Rosy, Kapoor crackles on screen and entices us to fall for her charms.
Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook
De Niro's Pat is unlike all the characters I usually associate him with. He is a man who is trying to control everything around him- his book-keeping, his family, his life and though that isn't really possible, De Niro just brings so much heart and warmth and humour to the role. Save the dance, all my favourite scenes in the movie have De Niro shining in them- the heartfelt talk with his son played by Cooper, chasing the annoying neighbour kid down the street, his first meeting with Tiffany and of course, his words of wisdom at the end. Also, he is one of the most accurate onscreen depictions of a normal dad I have ever seen.
Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
When I had read the plot of the film, I thought it will be one of those downright weepers and Cotillard will have to play a stereotypical, super melodramatic role of an amputee. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a cold serenity about her but that just makes her entire arc that much more believable. She obviously suffers and feels, but the role is so much more than that. All my favourite moments of hers are when she does things that overcome her difficulties, like swim in an ocean or dance on her wheelchair or give strength to someone losing a fight or revisiting the whale who caused her injuries.
Ezra Miller in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Talk about making a role more than just its stereotype. Miller's Patrick is a gay teenager, yes, but he is also outrageous, funny, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, caring, broken, and just the greatest friend one can ask for. It is one of the loveliest and liveliest portrayals of a young person I have ever seen and Miller is just wonderful in this role.
Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
If one looks at Lawrence's Oscar-nominated performance in Winter's Bone and then the one in SLP, they can see how insanely talented an actress she is. Tiffany is loud, unpredictable, sexy, manic, sad, humorous- all at the same time. Lawrence has made her an unforgettable character and I am sincerely praying that she wins that Oscar.
Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Keeping my feelings towards his looks aside, Lerman has been a total revelation in this film. Charlie in the book was nice but I had my issues with him. But Lerman's Charlie is a character I connected with very closely. I honestly feel that if I had been in an American high school, I would be almost exactly like him. I really got him, and the way Lerman portrays his joys and sorrows and the final secret just made me love him so much more.
Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
Never in my life did I think that I would be this in love with Bradley Cooper's acting skills. I have always thought of him as an attractive douchebag, and though Pat Jr.'s honesty can sometimes be inappropriate and mean, it is also incredibly endearing and frankly, lovable. My favourite thing about Cooper's definitely Oscar-worthy performance is his reactions to the other actors. For a film that thrives on chemistry, Cooper shines the most.
Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe/Magic Mike
You know what I just said about being surprised by Cooper's talents. Just amplify that a 1000 times and you get my total astonishment at McConaughey's acting skills that he has shown this year. On one hand I was mesmerised by his charisma as Dallas in Magic Mike and on the other hand, totally creeped out, but in a good way, by his ruthless Joe in Killer Joe. Bravest performer of the year.
Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises/Les Misérables
What a year it has been for Hathaway. Her Selina Kyle paves a whole new path of her own, different from her predecessors. She is sexy and ruthless but not without a conscience. She brings levity in a very bleak film and is just a joy to watch in all her femme fatale-ness. Her Fantine is very much the opposite. The most tragic character of all in the film, her "I Dreamed A Dream" is one of the most bold and raw pieces of acting that I have seen. Truly deserving of that Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained
For all our "Poor Leo" sighs, it is still heartening to see that here is a man who keeps giving brilliant performances without ANY rewards in return. Calvin J. Candie is the kind role that I had been praying for Leo to tackle because he always plays such sad characters. Calvin is plain gleeful in all his malevolence. It's a joy to watch him be this horrible yet hilarious, "rambunctious" man. He has rewarded my curiosity with a total attention-grabbing behemoth of a role, and I am sure that one day his time, too, will come.
Denzel Washington in Flight
My knowledge of Washington is abysmally lacking. He just is one of those actors who you grow up knowing are great at what they do. Flight proved this belief. His Whip is a broken, addicted man who throughout the film, has to come to terms with his problems, but he keeps brushing them aside and thus delves further into them. It is only at the end does he do something so extreme and heartbreaking that we know and he knows how truly lost he is. It is a role that requires a lot of denial and desperation in Washington's part and he does so beautifully.
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
I had to debate a lot between who to put higher- him or Washington. But Freddie Quell is a performance of a lifetime. I believe the term 'animal magnetism' has never been symbolised better. There is an beast-like quality to Quell, the way he walks and fights and talks. At the same time, we are drawn to him and whatever it is that conflicts him or compels him to behave the way he does. Phoenix is just magnificent here and oh man, what a great fucking face!
Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea
Hester is lovely. Her confusion between choosing a stable, coma-inducing marriage and an unstable but passion-ravaged affair and what it does to her and what it makes her do is just a fascinating character study. As I read somewhere, she makes you fall in love with melancholy. And all this is because of Weisz's beautifully nuanced portrayal of Hester. She is gorgeous and conflicted and sad and silly and doomed, but she truly is lovely.
Denis Lavant in Holy Motors
I don't get this movie, but it is just alluring to watch and the biggest reason for this is Lavant's chameleonic performance. The way he moves from one persona to another, always believable and awe-inducing. My favourite bits of his performance are however whenever he is the "real" Oscar, whoever that is, in the car, on his own or talking to his chauffer. There is this sense of weariness and disappointment there- of what and caused by what, I don't know. But it just makes me feel so much for him.
Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
I don't know how much she acted or was taught or whatever. All I know is that at 5 years old, she auditioned for the role of Hushpuppy and the director Behn Zeitlin was so impressed by her, that he even changed the script to suit her personality. Her performance just blew me away. She is like a ball of pure energy in the film. Her narration is fantastic and so is her chemistry with her onscreen dad, Dwight Henry. From her outbursts to her poignant parts, she won me completely over. She made me cry, she made me marvel and boy, can she stare down a beast?! One of the strongest, most human and beautiful performances of the year and I am so glad that she has become the youngest Best Actress nominee ever. No one deserved it more.