I have been busy of late, and my mind has been abuzz with blog ideas. I want to write a few words about a recent weekend trip to Querétaro. Meanwhile, friends have requested topics for me to cover, and I still have to put together a “Links” page to the blogs of other writers who’ve inspired me, entertained me, or helped me along the way.
But that’s all pushed to the side for a few days; this Sunday is Oscar night, and – amateur critic that I am – I thought I’d take a stab at predicting the winners. Putting things in context, “Lincoln” leads the overall race with 12 nominations, followed closely by “Life of Pi” with 11 nominations. That said, this year’s race seems one of the toughest to predict in years. As such, it should be a good show.
Note that I’ve seen every nominated film in the categories covered below. Oscar prognosticating is an expensive hobby!
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Who Will Win: Argo
Who Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Watch Out For: Silver Linings Playbook
Comments: This has been a strange year for the Best Picture category. I predicted (to myself, mostly) that Ben Affleck’s tremendously-entertaining “Argo” would win immediately after seeing it in October. One month later, “Lincoln” opened and the buzz became, “‘Argo’ who?” as “Lincoln” became the year’s highest-rated film at that point in 2012. Another month passed and the “killing Bin Laden” drama “Zero Dark Thirty” became the film to beat…for exactly three weeks, when controversy hurt its chances. Believe it or not, it was about this time that people were actually saying “Skyfall” and “Best Picture” in the same sentence.
More recently – and in light of Affleck’s surprise snubbing in the Best Director category – a groundswell of momentum has been rebuilt for Affleck’s film. “Argo” is back in contention, and in fact is the film to beat. It is funny, suspenseful, patriotic, and certainly the most entertaining film of 2012…
…but it isn’t the best. That honor goes to “Zero Dark Thirty.” Kathryn Bigelow’s (who was also snubbed) lengthy thriller is one of the gutsiest pieces of filmmaking to come along in years. The film is not afraid to ask tough questions, show tough images, or portray its heroes as unlikable. Frankly, “ZDT” is better than her 2009 Oscar-winner “The Hurt Locker,” and if that film can win Best Picture, then this one should.
That said, don’t count out “Silver Linings Playbook,” an uneven – but funny, touching, and phenomenally well-acted – “dramedy” about love, forgiveness, and starting over (oh, and bipolar disorder). It is the first film since Warren Beatty’s “Reds” in 1981 to earn nominations in all four acting categories. No small feat.
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Who Will Win: Ang Lee
Who Should Win: Ang Lee
Watch Out For: David O. Russell
Comments: Poor Steven Spielberg. While I don’t really feel sorry for him (the man’s won twice before), this year’s Best Director competition has morphed from being his trophy to lose into him likely settling for third place. His presidential biopic, “Lincoln,” is exactly the type of film the Academy often embraces: a well-acted period piece helmed with a touch of restraint. Personally, I think it’s damning that he never won one of these gold statuettes for one of the FX-heavy adventure films that made him a household name in the first place: “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” etc. “Lincoln” is a fine entertainment but it doesn’t hold a candle to any of those…
…which is exactly why Ang Lee will – and should – win his second Best Director Oscar. “Life of Pi” is a moving film, to be certain, but more than anything it is one of the directing triumphs of the past decade, specifically because of the efforts by Lee to bring such an “unfilmable” epic novel to the big screen. That isn’t a real tiger, but unlike the striped cats of 2000’s “Gladiator,” it’s hard to tell the difference this time. Such technical mastery will likely lead to wins in the Visual Effects and Cinematography categories as well, but it’s not hard to forget that it is always Lee at the helm, and that as with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and other visually-dazzling films, Lee never lets the visuals trump the story. He deserves to win.
Still, this is one of the hardest categories to predict. It could be David O. Russell, the half-indie, half-mainstream wunderkind who’s been making interesting films for years, who was nominated just two years ago for the boxing drama “The Fighter,” and who directed four of his “Silver Linings Playbook” cast members to Oscar nominations – one in each category!
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Watch Out For: Bradley Cooper
Comments: A pretty humbling list of nominees this year, is it not? In a weaker year, any of them could win. First (alphabetically) is Bradley Cooper for his eye-opening portrayal of a manic Philadelphia Eagles fan suffering from bipolar disorder; who knew the guy could act?! Next is Hugh Jackman, that Aussie song-and-dance man (and one-time Oscar host), so well-cast as long-suffering Revolutionary-era Frenchman Jean Valjean. Then there’s Joaquin Phoenix, the enigmatic Method actor who received his third nomination for his mesmerizing portrayal of Freddie Quell, a substance-abusing, WWII-surviving malcontent. Fourth on the list of nominees is Denzel Washington, giving his best performance since “Malcolm X” as a tortured airline pilot who must come to terms with the reality that denial is not just a river in Egypt. How do you choose from such a list?
See, it’s simple: watch Daniel Day-Lewis act his way into likely Oscar history as Honest Abe during the last four months of the man’s presidency. In “Lincoln,” DDL brings to life a man who – while generally lauded as the best president we’ve yet had – was so much larger than life he was impossible to put into human terms. DDL captures it all – the reedy voice, the stooped posture, and the conviction to his causes, namely the overturning of slavery – that what he does he does in the role isn’t acting, it’s becoming. Give this man his third Oscar already; once again he’s earned it.
I may be reaching here, but if that snowball’s chance in hell happens and DDL doesn’t win Best Actor, my guess is Bradley Cooper will take home the prize for “Silver Linings Playbook.” His Pat Solitano, Jr. is a study in mania-vs-control, and with his performance you understand both the effects of mental illness as well as the chances of beating it, provided of course that the will is there and that the stars are aligned.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain
Watch Out For: Emmanuelle Riva
Comments: What was, for what seems like months now, a two-person race between Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain has become less suspenseful these last few weeks, as Lawrence has picked up a comfortable lead, winning more critics awards than Chastain. Helping matters is Lawrence’s Hollywood appeal and career diversity for someone as young as she is; she’s already on her second Best Actress nomination, and in addition to “Silver Linings Playbook” her resume includes such diverse roles as Ree, daughter of an Ozark Mountain meth head (“Winter’s Bone”), Raven/Mystique (“X-Men: First Class”), and teen lit heroine Katniss Everdeen (“The Hunger Games”). The perception that her character – a feisty young widow whose hot temper masks a good deal of pain and yearning – is more likable than Chastain’s forever unsmiling CIA analyst in “ZDT” makes Lawrence’s chances greater still.
But I’m in the minority, I guess. I have already raved at least twice in this blog about what an overall acting triumph “Silver Linings Playbook” is. That much is true – and Lawrence was so very good in a role that was originally offered to Anne Hathaway (!). But Jessica Chastain was better. Lawrence had a scenery-chewing role with less than one hour of screen time in a two-hour movie. Although Chastain’s role was less showy, she was in almost every scene of an almost-three-hour movie. Her tough – yet secretly vulnerable – heroine reminded me of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.” When Chastain’s Maya finally shows her humanity, in the last scene of the film, it’s a revelation. Unfortunately for her, voters turned off by the film’s dark tone may have stopped watching by that point.
Chastain is out – almost for certain – but rising out of obscurity as JLaw’s best competition is 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva. Her devastating performance as an elderly Parisian whose descent into Alzheimer’s and irreversible senility is a real sucker-punch to the guts, coupled with the fact that an Oscar win would make her the oldest winner in Academy history (she’s already the oldest nominee in her category) makes for the kind of story Oscar loves. The fact that her dialogue is all in French shouldn’t provide much an obstacle; foreign language performances have won twice in the past 15 years. Rather, Riva’s biggest obstacle is simply this: have enough Oscar voters seen “Amour?”
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Who Will Win: Robert De Niro
Who Should Win: Robert De Niro
Watch Out For: Christoph Waltz
Comments: If there is any category this year tougher to predict than Best Actress, it’s this one. Five Oscar veterans, previous winners all. Alan Arkin and Tommy Lee Jones took early awards season honors for their cranky (albeit funny) characters from “Argo” and “Lincoln.” Any buzz for Arkin has since faded, but Jones remains a contender. Hoffman hasn’t won many awards, but his performance as religious charlatan Lancaster Dodd received arguably more critical acclaim than any of his fellow nominees in this category. Christoph Waltz became a serious candidate when he a) beat out fellow “Django Unchained” cast members Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson for a slot here, and b) won the damned Golden Globe!
But almost out of nowhere, Robert De Niro’s name has lately been mentioned as the one most likely to be called on Oscar night. As will surely be the case for Best Actor nominee Daniel Day-Lewis, a predicted win for De Niro would give him his third Oscar – but his first since 1981, when he won for “Raging Bull.” That makes for an even longer time lapse than Meryl Streep’s 1983-2012 “Sophie’s Choice” – “The Iron Lady” gap! And it’s no wonder, either. As superstitious Eagle’s mega-fan Pat Solitano, Sr., De Niro gives his best performance in over 20 years. He is funny, furious, and fragile – have you ever seen Robert De Niro cry onscreen before?
At first, I wanted Hoffman to win. He nearly matches his “The Master” co-star and fellow nominee (for Best Actor) Joaquin Phoenix beat-for-beat in the three major scenes they share together. No easy task. But honestly, it’ll be weird if Hoffman wins Supporting Actor while the film’s lead, Phoenix, goes home empty-handed, seeing as the movie is all about the Phoenix character’s unsuccessful quest to change himself. I felt the same way in 2006 when “Walk the Line’s” Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress while her co-star (Phoenix again, as it happens), lost even though he played the film’s central character, Johnny Cash, whereas she had the smaller role as his wife, June Carter. (Even more ironic in this instance is that Phoenix lost Best Actor that year to Hoffman (as Truman Capote in “Capote”), his co-star this year.)
So congratulations, Bobby. But no more “Fokkers” movies, please.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Who Will Win: Anne Hathaway
Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway
Watch Out For: Sally Field
Comments: There isn’t much to say here. Unlike last year, when the nominees included Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain for “The Help” (with Spencer eventually winning), this year’s crop of nominated performances is really nothing to write home about. Likewise, there won’t be any surprises. This award has been Anne Hathaway’s to lose, and that’s probably not going to happen. As “Les Miz’s” dying Fantine, Hathaway doesn’t have much screen time, but her signature song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” was smartly filmed in a single, close-up take, with Hathaway looking suitably pale, dirty, and malnourished.
If I’m not particularly inspired, it’s because Hathaway has been so clearly coveting a statuette for so long now that it’s become a bit of a turn-off. Frankly, I’m not looking forward to her acceptance speech. Still, she earned that prize, and the woman can definitely belt out a tune. There is a small-ish chance of an upset by Sally Field, who stole most of her scenes as Mary Todd Lincoln – and who would, like DDL and De Niro, take home her third statuette were she to win – but Field’s not considered an acting “legend” like her twice-winning male counterparts, so Hathaway’s path to Oscar victory is pretty much secured.
Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Adapted)
Django Unchained (Original)
Life of Pi (Adapted)
Moonrise Kingdom (Original)
Silver Linings Playbook (Adapted)
Zero Dark Thirty (Original)
Who Will Win: Amour, Argo
Who Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln
Watch Out For: Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook
Comments: This year’s list of writing nominees is an eclectic one, and an instance when the truly “best” screenplays probably won’t win. I mean no disrespect to the talented writers of “Argo” (Adapted) or “Amour” (Original); both films tell good stories and tell them well, but they’re going to win for political reasons rather than out of merit. In the case of “Argo,” it’s another category win resulting from collective Academy guilt over the snubbing of Ben Affleck. In the case of “Amour,” it’s a desire to reward this no-nonsense Austrian film in another category besides just the predicted Best Foreign Film.
The two best screenplays of the year are detailed, (mostly) accurate depictions of real political events – one from 2011 and the other from two centuries ago. In the Original Screenplay category, Mark Boal’s blistering “Zero Dark Thirty” script details the ten-year investigation that led to the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. Mr. Boal’s screenplay pulls no punches in depicting the long workdays and lonely lives of the CIA agents and others tasked with finding an answer; it likewise is unafraid to show us that the pursuit of justice can be an immoral task in itself. For the record: torture did not work. See the movie, people! In the Adapted Screenplay category, Tony Kushner’s engrossing “Lincoln” screenplay portrays the 16th U.S. president not as larger than life, but as a real human being – a husband and father, a man of stories, and a (at the time) polarizing leader. There are dozens of characters for the audience to keep track of; Kushner makes it easy.
I amend what I wrote in the last paragraph of my introduction to clarify: I have seen all of the aforementioned nominated films. In the technical categories, that isn’t always so. In the Animated and Documentary categories, I’ve seen none. As such, I’ll pass on those categories and mention just a few general thoughts: I think wins in the technical categories will be divided across four or five films, rather than swept by a single movie <cough cough “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” cough cough>. “Life of Pi” will win the most (including Best Director, as I wrote earlier), “Argo” will come in second (but win the top prize) and take Film Editing as well, while “Les Misérables,” “Anna Karenina,” and “Skyfall” should win two or three each. As for megahits “The Avengers” and “The Hobbit”…their victory is likely in the nomination. Sorry guys.
Who do you think will win? How do you think Seth MacFarlane will fare as host? What will the final broadcast’s running time be? And the Nielsen rating? Whose dress will have the most revealing boobage? Sign in and let us know what you think. Until then, forgive me this blog indulgence and see you after the show!