Robert De Niro

This category is stocked with Oscar familiars—four of them have previously taken home the Supporting Actor statue, while the fifth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, has but a Best Actor award to his name. They play more or less the character types for which they’ve been lauded, from Tommy Lee Jones’s stonefaced, softhearted senator in “Lincoln” to Alan Arkin’s droll geezer in “Argo.” But Robert De Niro’s turn in “Silver Linings Playbook” is exceptional—the veteran actor humanizes his gruff patriarchal role by inflecting it with a moving portrayal of mental illness.

Effecting an expertly cultivated volatility, De Niro controls all of his scenes. His character’s financial, familial, and obsessive-compulsive anxieties strain his expressions, and the tension this creates is captivating. The internal struggle of the Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed father he plays never lets up—De Niro’s always working, shakily holding together the football fan’s brashness and obsessive insecurities.

Also to his credit, he keeps aloft an aspect of the film otherwise dropped. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s storyline initially concerns their characters’ psychological instabilities, but then veers toward sports and romance; De Niro’s performance keeps the movie’s discussion of mental illness from feeling thin. It’s a worthy portrayal and one of the film’s best components.

—Staff writer Austin Siegemund-Broka can be reached at