For an actor, nothing beats an Oscar. Unless it's multiple Oscars.
Winning multiple acting Academy Awards has proved a rare-enough feat during the awards' 84-year history that Katharine Hepburn's four acting awards have been the gold standard for more than 30 years. Only four other people Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep have won three.
The latter category likely will change at tonight's Oscars, starting at 5:30 p.m. on Channel 10 (KXTV; coverage starts at 4 p.m.).
Nominees Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field ("Lincoln"), Denzel Washington ("Flight") and Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook") will vie for their third Academy Awards, with Day-Lewis, previously honored for "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood," almost certain to win.
Day-Lewis' presence in his category gives Washington, 58, winner of a supporting-actor Oscar for "Glory" and a lead-actor statuette for "Training Day," little chance of winning tonight for his lead performance as a pilot with crash-landing and drinking problems.
Field's supporting-actress category also looks like a lock for someone else. Her fierce performance as Mary Todd Lincoln has run second throughout the awards season to Anne Hathaway's heart-rending work as Fantine in "Les Misérables."
Yet Oscar history tells us not to count out Field. She won both times she previously was nominated for "Norma Rae" and "Places in the Heart" (the "You like me!" win).
De Niro, 69, winner of a supporting-actor Oscar for "The Godfather: Part II" and lead-actor Oscar for "Raging Bull," enters a tight supporting race with Tommy Lee Jones (nominated for his performance as congressman Thaddeus Stevens in "Lincoln") tonight. But De Niro is the sentimental favorite. After years of subpar films and performances, he delivers a complex, sympathetic performance as the football-obsessed dad in "Playbook."
If De Niro wins, his three awards will have come, like those of all current three-peaters, for lead and supporting roles. If Day-Lewis wins tonight, by contrast, he will be the only three-time winner with all lead-acting Oscars. (Hepburn's four Oscars all were for leads).
Day-Lewis, 55, easily could win another Oscar after tonight's because he seems to take only roles that are catnip to Oscar voters. There are no "Analyze Thats" or "Mamma Mias" or "Man on Fires" on his résumé. Another lead Oscar would match Hepburn's four-Oscar record. And if we want to get technical about it and let's do, since its Oscar day and we're discussing trivia a fourth lead- actor Oscar for Day-Lewis would actually best Hepburn's four lead Oscars, because she shared her Oscar for 1968's "The Lion in Winter" with Barbra Streisand ("Funny Girl").
If heavy favorite Steven Spielberg wins his third directing Oscar tonight for "Lincoln," he will join a group even more rarefied than the acting three-peat group.
A director with three Oscars enters a land of giants with just three other residents John Ford, who leads all directing winners with four Oscars, and William Wyler and Frank Capra, both three-time winners. The last time a director reached the three-Oscar benchmark was 1960, when Wyler won for "Ben-Hur."
Wyler's other directing Oscars were for "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "Mrs. Miniver." Ford won for "The Informer," "The Grapes of Wrath," "How Green Was My Valley" and "The Quiet Man," and Capra for "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "You Can't Take It With You."
Spielberg, 66, won his previous directing Oscars for "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan." That he might join the three-peat pantheon with "Lincoln," which does not rank among his best movies, makes you wish the Academy would go back in time to honor his direction of "Jaws" instead. (It's a film for which he wasn't even nominated.)
The quiet perennial
Amy Adams is assured and chilling as a cult leader's calculating wife in "The Master." More extra- ordinary, however, is that the performance earned Adams her fourth supporting-actress nod in seven years. The first three were for "Junebug," "Doubt" and "The Fighter." (She also deserved but did not receive a lead-actress nomination for "Enchanted.")
Adams has moved into 1980s Glenn Close territory (five Oscar nominations from 1983-89) with so many nods in such a short time and unless Adams pulls out a big upset over Hathaway tonight no wins. Adams also evokes Close in maintaining a low-key personal life and in not achieving movie stardom until her 30s.
Close, 65, picked up another nomination last year for "Albert Nobbs," but mostly does TV now and might not get more shots at winning an Oscar. But Adams keeps lining up possibilities.
She will appear as Lois Lane in this summer's "Man of Steel," a Superman movie unlikely to yield an Oscar nomination but likely to improve Adams' profile and choice of roles. Next comes "Her," the new movie from director Spike Jonze ("Being John Malkovich.") Her juiciest project, though, is a planned biography of Janis Joplin.
Nothing says "Oscar bait" more than a biopic of a charismatic, hugely talented, drug-addled and doomed rock star. Though Adams is not the first actress to spring to mind for the Joplin role, she can carry a tune (as she showed in "Enchanted"), she shares Joplin's coloring and, at a youthful 38, looks the right age to play a legend who died at a hard-lived 27.