It’s that time again: Time for me to have an excuse to talk about the Oscars without complaining about how meaningless they are! But seriously, the Oscar nominations proved me wrong this year by taking some interesting chances and meting out some snubs which, whether I agree with them or not, at least show the Academy is perfectly willing to upset the public if it wants to. There are surprisingly few locks this year, especially in comparison to recent years, and I can honestly say I’m not 100 percent on most of these picks. Plus, it’s been a pretty good year for Oscar movies, with surprisingly little in the way of uptight, stodgy upper-middle class fare aimed at capturing the hearts of everyone’s parents and amounting to whatever the complete opposite of edge is. I can at least be glad for that. Let the guessing begin!
Best Picture: “Argo”
The hazy cloud of wild guesses among the few obvious choices is beginning to clear up, with predictions coalescing into substantive picks. Perhaps most interesting of all is “Argo,” a true dark horse contender. When this film came out in October, I predicted it could very well win Best Picture. But then people stopped talking about “Argo.” For a while the big buzz picture was “Zero Dark Thirty,” which quietly exploded onto the scene, but was here and gone, not unlike the soldiers in the raid that climaxes the film. After that, the title seemed to belong to “Lincoln.”
Then Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated in the Best Director category, spelling disaster for “Argo” when one considers that the last film to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination was 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy.” But something about Affleck’s snub spoke to the Academy, and what seemed like a surefire end to the film’s trail to the Oscars could have become the spark that lit a fire in the hearts of the Academy. Out of respect for Affleck and the film’s strong populist appeal, I firmly expect Ben Affleck to be standing onstage come Feb. 24, not as a director, but as a co-producer. I guess my initial gut feeling was right here — “Argo” received a standing ovation when I saw it in October, and that type of broad support means a lot when it comes to the politics of the Academy. If only “Beasts of the Southern Wild” had a fighting chance…
Best Director: Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
This is a tough prediction to make since the Director’s Guild winner, Affleck, wasn’t even nominated here. While Ang Lee’s direction is probably the more showy, largely thanks to the special effects in “Life of Pi,” Spielberg is the safer choice, and the Academy usually plays it safe when it comes to the major awards. They also might think it’s time for one of cinema’s best, most popular and widest reaching living directors to take home his third statue for his work in the director’s chair. Had Lee not already won I would say this would be about 50-50, but the Academy doesn’t need to reward him for past films, as they often do. Still, this is no lock, since the come-from-behind Best Picture winner that has brought Best Director along with it for the past four years can’t do so this year because of Affleck’s snub. This one I’ll be paying attention to.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Done deal. Locks don’t come any more guaranteed than this. Daniel Day-Lewis will make Oscar history by being the first to win Best Actor in a Leading Role three times. Day-Lewis is known for his somewhat controversial but respected method-acting techniques, and it shows on the screen. He does not just play the role of America’s 16th President, Day-Lewis becomes him. People will remember this role many years from as one of the finest portrayals, if not the finest portrayal, of an American President, and that’s as good a reason as any to bet on Day-Lewis.
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Lawrence is definitely the frontrunner here, and the Academy will reward “Silver Linings Playbook” either here or in the Best Supporting Actor category. I’m about 75 percent sure of this one. Jessica Chastain was at one point neck and neck with Lawrence, but it seems the controversy surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty” has hurt the film more than anyone thought it would. Emanuelle Riva stands some chance here as well, if only because, in contrast to Lawrence who will have many more chances in this category, this is probably it for Riva: she’s the oldest nominee ever in this category (Quevenzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is the youngest ever). I haven’t seen “Amour” so I can’t comment on the actual quality of Riva’s performance, but I feel pretty confident that Lawrence will win come Oscar night.
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Now it gets fun. As I write this I’m still not sure whom I should pick. It seems like a three-way tie between Robert de Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Christoph Waltz. All are terrific in their respective films, but who should win? They’ve all won before, so that’s not a card to play in anyone’s favor. De Niro has a shot if voters snub Lawrence, who will likely be the victor for “Silver Linings Playbook.” The early favorite was Jones, but now more are saying Waltz will win here. I don’t know about this, especially because he won three years ago for “Inglourious Basterds.” So I’ll pick Jones as the fiery Thaddeus Stevens by just a hair, but I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
Another virtual lock. No one has been talking about anyone else in this category recently, and with good reason. Hathaway has been amassing an impressive track record recently, so much so that mentioning her past as a Disney Princess transcends cliché and is almost pure pointlessness. I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t comment on the quality of the performance, but it’ll be nice for her to finally win the gold. We all knew it would happen eventually.
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
The other tough one of the night. This might be the one category where “Zero Dark Thirty” will have traction, considering the Academy’s willingness to award more controversial films in the less prominent Screenplay categories. “Amour” has a good chance as well, but I predict that Quentin Tarantino will win here — witty dialogue always does well in this category. No film on the shortlist better fits that bill than Django, and I think that’s enough.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
Again, I could see “Argo” winning here, and there’s a very slim chance for “Silver Linings Playbook” as well, but I don’t think either has traction here. No one film has enough support this year to sweep the season, but I think “Lincoln” will come closest. It was always something of a weak frontrunner in terms of support, but I still think it’ll come out ahead here. It’s not a lock, but the chances are better than with either Supporting Actor or Original Screenplay.