Academy Awards: Cheers, Predictions and Gripes

Posted on Feb 14, 2013

I don’t know if it’s just me or if every year, especially since the rise of blogging, Tweeting, etc. etc., that Oscar season has gotten more cluttered. More busy. I’ve always paid attention to the precursor awards like the Writers’ Guild and Directors’ Guild because A.) I’m a nerd and B.) I’m in the business and am curious about what the mood of my “peers” is concerning the “best” films of the year. But lately it seems like every respectable movie website and magazine is obsessed with what Argo winning the ACE Eddie (editing awards) means in relation to its Oscar chances. I feel like all this rampant, constant speculation has drained some of the suspense and surprise out of the actual awards. In fact, I can all but guarantee you that most of my predictions below are going to be correct, because I read up on this stuff relentlessly, and the near-constant analysis of voting habits and previous awards makes it almost impossible to NOT guess the winners. I wish there would be more surprises, and in fairness every year there seems to be one or two shockers. So let’s take a look at the nominees.

Best Motion Picture

Argo
Amour
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

First of all, any grousing or complaining about this list of Best Picture nominees is ridiculous – it’s easily the best slate of films in years. The films recognized boast incredible ambition and craft, even ones I didn’t find successful. That being said, let’s take a look at the also-rans – Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty have their strong supporters, but each is the subject of one too many “think pieces” about their “controversial” content. I think it’s also safe to count out Les Miserables (too divisive) and Beasts of the Southern Wild (too small despite it’s emotional resonance and extreme creativity). Life of Pi is a work of technical mastery, and will likely be awarded as such elsewhere. Amour has passionate support amongst the Academy and I think it could shock in other places, but not Best Picture. To me, it’s a three-film race. Two different types of actor showcase – the zany, explosive Silver Linings Playbook and the intellectual, classy Lincoln – will probably cancel each other out. I’m thinking the winner is going to be Argo, a film that in spite of (or perhaps because of) director Ben Affleck’s snub in Best Director has risen to the vaunted position of “the movie nobody hated.” That’s what wins these days with the Academy’s new preferential ballot, and at this point, I think it’s a virtual lock.

Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Beasts of the Southern Wild
They Didn’t Nominate: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambiguous, brilliant The Master

Achievement in Directing

Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Michael Haneke, Amour
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

The fact that the Best Picture frontrunner’s director isn’t represented in this category makes it one of the most interesting of the night. On paper, it’s Spielberg’s to lose – Lincoln is a massive financial and critical hit and leads the field with 12 nominations. And yet in some sort of PR-fueled pretzel logic, Lincoln is “liked but not loved” by the Academy (is this true, or has it become true due to negative campaigning?). Assuming Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke’s films are too esoteric for the general voters, and Silver Linings Playbook is seen as more of an acting accomplishment, the only other player here is Ang Lee for his spectacular handing of an impossible story in Life of Pi. My gut says Spielberg, but if Lee wins, I wouldn’t be shocked.

Will Win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Should Win: Ben Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
They Didn’t Nominate: Katherine Bigelow’s intensely focused work for Zero Dark Thirty

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

The only one of these five terrific performances I’d rule out is Quvenzhané Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild – not because she wasn’t great, but she’s just far too young. Naomi Watts gave The Impossible a poignantly emotional and physically demanding center. Jessica Chastain lead the charge in the procedural Zero Dark Thirty, but the lack of emotional scenes is tough to connect with. Jennifer Lawrence is the front-runner for her lovable lunatic in Silver Linings Playbook. But I’m thinking Emmanuelle Riva’s go-for-broke performance as a stroke addled piano teacher in Amour might break through. Tough call.

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Naomi Watts, The Impossible
They Didn’t Nominate: These would have been my five picks.

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin, Argo
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

If Alan Arkin wins here for playing Alan Arkin, Argo will be unstoppable. Philip Seymour Hoffman gave the performance of his already brilliant career in The Master, but the film is just too esoteric for the Academy’s taste. This race is wide open – Will they award Robert DeNiro’s return to form in Silver Linings Playbook? Tommy Lee Jones crowd-pleasing, cantankerous speechifying in Lincoln? Christoph Waltz lovable spin on a similar character to his Inglourious Basterds creep in Django Unchained? I really don’t know, but I’m guessing Lincoln-lovers give it to Jones.

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
They Didn’t Nominate: Dwight Henry’s tough, tender and devastating work in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, The Master
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Sally Field, Lincoln

Again, let’s pretend this isn’t sewn up. Jacki Weaver’s subtle support of her wackier co-stars won’t be in contention for Silver Linings Playbook. Helen Hunt’s emotional honesty and frequent nudity in The Sessions turned heads, but not enough. Amy Adams steely resolve in The Master isn’t enough to overcome the general discomfort with the film amongst the Academy. Sally Field humanizes Lincoln and her scenes with Daniel Day-Lewis are among the film’s best. But Anne Hathaway, for providing Les Miserables with its only transfixing 5 minutes, cannot be stopped.

Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables (I’m going to pretend it’s a co-Oscar for her great work in The Dark Knight Rises)
Should Win: Amy Adams, The Master
They Didn’t Nominate: Emily Blunt’s complex, protective mother in Looper

Original Screenplay

Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

A strong field and a tough call. Love is strong for Amour, but I think it’s seen more as an actor’s accomplishment. Flight has one great sequence and some great acting, but is too uneven to win here. Moonrise Kingdom gets the hipster vote, but may be too twee for some. I’m not sure if Mark Boal can overcome the manufactured controversy over Zero Dark Thirty in spite of his stellar writing. Despite its inconsistency, I think Tarantino takes this as both a make-up for Inglourious Basterds’ loss and for igniting a really great comparative dialogue on slavery with Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Should Win: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
They Didn’t Nominate: Rian Johnson’s supremely creative and original Looper

Adapted Screenplay

Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

A few weeks ago, I would have said this was a done deal for Lincoln – the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright’s immaculately researched script structures the film with great dialogue and an irresistible against-the-clock hook. But the Lincoln backlash cannot be underestimated. Apparently Ben Affleck’s snub retroactively applies to the film’s script as well – it’s hard to see Argo losing here, especially since the other scripts are too uneven (Life of Pi, for all its brilliance elsewhere), chaotic (Silver Linings Playbook) or arty (Beasts of the Sothern Wild).

Will Win: Chris Terrio, Argo
Should Win: Tony Kushner, Lincoln
They Didn’t Nominate: The affecting, emotional The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Foreign-Language Film

A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Amour (Austria)
No (Chile)
War Witch (Canada)
Kontiki (Norway)

Will Win: Amour, no contest
Should Win: I’ve only seen Amour

Best Animated Feature Film

Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Will Win: The moderately clever Wreck it Ralph
Should Win: The imperfect but rich Brave
They Didn’t Nominate: Don Hertzfeldt’s masterpiece, It’s Such a Beautiful Day (in fairness I’m not sure it was eligible this year)

Original Score

Anna Karenina,Dario Marianelli
Argo,Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi,Mychael Danna
Lincoln,John Williams
Skyfall,Thomas Newman

Will Win: The lush Life of Pi
Should Win: Probably Skyfall
They Didn’t Nominate: Johnny Greenwood’s haunting score for The Master

Original Song

“Before My Time,” J. Ralph; Chasing Ice
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Walter Murphy and Seth McFarlane; Ted
“Pi’s Lullaby,” Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri; Life of Pi
“Skyfall,” Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth; Skyfall
“Suddenly,” Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boulil; Les Misérables

Will Win: Adele for Skyfall
Should Win: Skyfall
They Didn’t Nominate: Neil Finn’s beautiful “Song of the Lonely Mountain” from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Achievement in Production Direction

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

Will Win: The flying flats of Anna Karenina
Should Win: Anna Karenina
They Didn’t Nominate: The surreal, hodgepodge world of Beasts of the Southern Wild

Achievement in Cinematography

Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Will Win: I think they’ll finally award arguably the greatest cinematographer of our time, Roger Deakins for Skyfall
Should Win: I’d love to see Deakins win an Oscar, but Miranda’s work on Life of Pi was simply sensational
They Didn’t Nominate: The snub of The Master here is confusing and unacceptable

Achievement in Costume Design

Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror, Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

Will Win: The grungy, showy Les Miserables
Should Win: The grungy, beautifully gothic Snow White and the Huntsman
They Didn’t Nominate: The stylishly anachronistic Django Unchained

Best Documentary Feature

5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for a Sugar Man

Will Win: Searching for Sugar Man
Should Win: I’ve only seen Searching for Sugar Man, but it’s damn entertaining
They Didn’t Nominate: The truth-is-stranger-than-fiction The Imposter

Achievement in Film Editing

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Will Win: Argo, because it has to win more than just Best Picture
Should Win: The slow building and then brilliantly tense Zero Dark Thirty
They Didn’t Nominate: The dream-like haze of The Master

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables

Will Win: Too many dwarves to ignore in The Hobbit
Should Win: The Hobbit
They Didn’t Nominate: The surprisingly effective young Bruce Willis make-up in Looper

Achievement in Sound Editing

Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

Will Win: The guns will have it for Skyfall
Should Win: The comparably still Zero Dark Thirty; less is more
They Didn’t Nominate: The wizardly chaos of The Dark Knight Rises

Achievement in Sound Mixing

Argo
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Will Win: Did you know they did it live?? Les Miserables
Should Win: The difficulty of recording with animals and water in Life of Pi
They Didn’t Nominate: The constant overlapping in Silver Linings Playbook

Achievement in Visual Effects

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

Will Win: Life of Pi, in a walk
Should Win: For the most perfect CGI animal I’ve ever seen, Life of Pi
They Didn’t Nominate: It was subtle, but the deletion of Marion Cottilard’s legs in Rust and Bone was miraculous

Best Animated Short Film

Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Paperman

Will Win: Paperman(Disney supported)

Best Live-Action Short Film

Asad
Buzkashi Boys
Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Henry

Will Win: Curfew

Best Documentary Short Subject

Inocente
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

Will Win: Open Heart

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