Category Preview: Where Do We Stand on Best Actor?

All season, it's been a one-man show in Best Actor. Daniel Day-Lewis, as he often does, is mowing down the competition. There's sometimes a danger to being a frontrunner for so long, especially in an extended campaign season. Will the voters get bored and talk themselves into someone else? Here's where we stand at the moment.

Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"

Oscar History: It only seems like DDL takes home the Oscar every time he's nominated. He's won twice, yes, for "My Left Foot" in 1989 and "There Will Be Blood" in 2007, but he's also lost twice — in 1993, for "In the Name of the Father," and in 2002 for "Gangs of New York."

What's the Story if He Wins? Kind of the same as the story right now: He's the greatest actor of his generation. It's not like he needs the validation. He's not breaking any records (yet). The fact that nobody is scrambling to find alternatives to Day-Lewis's steamroll is arguably the biggest testament to how well he's regarded.

Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: Steven Spielberg, Sally Field, Tony Kushner, his makeup artist, his wife, Abraham Lincoln, his cast of thousands.

What Are the Odds? As good as anything going on Oscar night.

Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Oscar History: None. Cruelly snubbed for "Wedding Crashers" in 2005. That smear campaign from the William Hurt people really did a number on him.

What's the Story if He Wins? The power of Weinstein. People got bored with Daniel Day-Lewis's dominance. All of Cooper's 600 projects next year will get to sell their Oscar-winning star.

Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, assorted other co-stars hopefully including Julia Stiles, the city of Philadelphia, the choreographer, JJ Abrams, Jennifer Garner, Victor Garber, Lena Olin, Merrin Dungey.

What Are the Odds? Better than some, but still not great. He's the lottery ticket worth having, at any rate.

Les MiserablesHugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"

Oscar History: First nomination, strangely enough. He's ensconced enough in Oscar's good graces after hosting the 2008 awards and has seemed an "Oscar type" for a while.

What's the Story if He Wins? The "Les Mis" supporters were a silent majority the likes that Nixon never dreamed of. The rumble of the movie has died down in recent weeks as it's faded from threat to win to comfortable also-ran. If there are still pockets of support to be rallied, and if those pockets are not satisfied merely with Supporting Actress, Jackman could see a surge of votes.

Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: The Academy, Tom Hooper, Colm Wilkinson, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Victor Hugo, his lovely and patient wife, his fellow nominees for not singing through their own roles.

What Are the Odds? Not this time, I don't think, but I can see him in line for more nominations and maybe a win down the line.

Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"

Oscar History: Two previous nominations, for "Gladiator" and "Walk the Line," both of which were terrible burdens to him, apparently.

What's the Story if He Wins? The triumph of the anti-campaign! Don't think it'll be the first time that particular narrative gets told, either. And I somehow doubt Joaquin has the stones to pull a Brando or even a George C. Scott-like stunt if he does.

Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: Paul Thomas Anderson, artists around the world who don't pander, Casey Affleck.

What Are the Odds? Doesn't look like it. For one thing, Daniel Day-Lewis is hogging all the "physical transformation"/"complete immersion into the role" attention. If Joaquin were to ever lower himself to campaign, that would have been the stuff to campaign on.

Denzel Washington, "Flight"

Oscar History: "Flight" marks Denzel's sixth acting nomination. He's got two wins. And while "Flight" marks a return to form for the actor, he's probably going to need a "Lincoln"-like tour de force to win his third.

What's the Story if He Wins? Hollywood Reeeeeally Loves Denzel. A-List box-office powerhouses are hard to come by, and we need to reward them accordingly. Secondary narrative: It really sometimes can be a one-man show. "Flight" is nothing without Denzel, and he deserves credit for that.

Predicted Order of People He'll Thank: The Academy, God, Robert Zemeckis, Paramount, his fellow nominees, his wife, Tony Scott.

What Are the Odds? At the outset of this Oscar season, it seemed like it was Denzel vs. Daniel in a race for a third trophy, but "Flight" simply proved to be well less popular than "Lincoln." Still, six nominations puts him in quite rarefied company. Now the hunt is on for the role that could unlock win #3.