The nominees, their films, and my thoughts...after the jump:
A Double Life
The film: A renowned thespian starts losing his mind during a production of Othello.
The performance: Brilliant - surprisingly tender in his scenes with Signe Hasso, disarmingly sexy in his seduction of Shelley Winters, heartbreakingly confused about what's happening to his sanity. And he has to play Anthony John playing Othello, delivering the best on-screen interpretation of the character I've ever seen.
Body and Soul
The film: The rise of a young boxer from amateur to champ, as he trades his soul for more money.
The performance: A very open portrayal of a nice, kind of dumb guy making up for what he didn't have growing up. Garfield's raw performance doesn't sand edges, doesn't pull punches (ha!), doesn't make apologies, just presents this hot dummy as he is: a good boy, a nice boy, but full of pride, and oddly, boyishly naive. Garfield carries himself with a hunger, a restless energy. He belongs in that ring.
The film: A Gentile journalist passes as a Jew to write a series of articles on anti-Semitism.
The performance: A surprisingly shallow performance. Peck gets across Green's earnestness, sure, and he can deliver the hell out of a speech (of which there are many), but scene to scene, line to line, there's no real connective tissue. He talks about the pressures of his charade, but I don't see it. He says a lot, but I don't feel his words. When I was writing this post, I had to look up who the fifth nominee was, because I never remember him.
Life with Father
The film: An eccentrically strict patriarch and his wife raise their large brood in late-19th century New York.
The performance: Not a lot of shades to this performance, but Powell and the writers make it clear that this man may not have any: he is exactly who he presents himself to be. And it works! He's funny, yes, but also shows his sensitive side in scenes with his wife (best in show Irene Dunne).
Mourning Becomes Electra
The film: Greek tragedy adapted for post-Civil War America, as a brother and sister struggle with their obsession and hatred for their parents.
The performance: The best one in the movie, if only because he gets the inherent camp appeal, tossing his head back, eyes gleaming, playing to the balcony. A breath of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating movie.
And from this lineup, I think I have to go with Oscar's pick. My personal vote goes to...
A DOUBLE LIFE
Coming up next: Best Director, starring George Cukor (A Double Life), Edward Dmytryk (Crossfire), Elia Kazan (Gentleman's Agreement), Henry Koster (The Bishop's Wife) and David Lean (Great Expectations).