When you’re winning, you’re winning. Daniel Day-Lewis hasn’t missed a stop on the awards circuit so far this season, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival wasn’t about to be the first. It was announced today that the two-time Oscar champ will receive one of the festival’s loftiest honors, the Montecito Award, both in recognition of his work in “Lincoln” and his career as a whole.
The award, which will be presented to Day-Lewis at a tribute evening on January 26, recognizes “a performer who has given a series of classic and standout performances throughout his/her career,” and has been presented to Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Javier Bardem, Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore and Geoffrey Rush since its instatement in 2005. I don’t think many would deny that Day-Lewis meets the criteria.
SBIFF director Roger Durling stated, “Daniel Day-Lewis continues to inspire the industry and the public by his approach to tackling the most complex of characters and delivering brilliant performances time after time. He is indicative of what the Montecito Award represents and we are thrilled to be presenting this to him this year.”
I have to confess, a few months ago, I didn’t believe that Day-Lewis could win his third Oscar this season, however remarkable his Abraham Lincoln turned out to be. As you probably know, nobody has ever won three Best Actor Oscars, much less from a more five nominations — and all before the age of 60. (Just look how much longer they made Meryl Streep wait before granting her Golden Man #3 earlier this year.)
But precedent counts for little when it comes to Day-Lewis, an actor held in higher and more universal esteem than almost any of his peers. Furthermore, his personal mystique and infrequent work rate of late bestows a certain event status upon his screen appearances that may dissipate quickly in the case of a disappointment like “Nine” — but only elevates performances that, like “Lincoln,” live up to their on-paper promise.
Thus far, Day-Lewis has racked up wins from the New York Film Critics’ Circle and Boston Film Critics’ Society, in addition to countless smaller critics’ honors, and is the only name in the race that hasn’t been left off one applicable nominations list or another. It’s not, I believe, that Day-Lewis’s strong work in “Lincoln” is without peer in the field. Earlier in the season, I had entertained notions of either Joaquin Phoenix or John Hawkes taking the lead, but with their narratives (and films) having failed to catch fire, and “Lincoln” an ironclad Best Picture contender, I’m struggling to see any way the British genius doesn’t make history this year. And if any actor at work today should, it’s him.
I also find myself playing hypothetical mind games: if Day-Lewis had won the 2002 Oscar for “Gangs of New York,” as he’d been widely expected to do before Adrien Brody’s upset victory, would he be hurtling just as easily toward his fourth victory this year? Such are the questions that keep an Oscar geek awake at night.