Every year when the Academy Award nominations are announced, I reach back into my store of knowledge as a former full time film critic (and current, continuing film enthusiast) and give my immediate thoughts on the nominations for the six major Oscar categories, and which, off the top of my head, I think are likely to walk off with the statuette at the actual ceremony. Ready? Off we go.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
A few years ago the Academy instituted new rules that allowed more than five films a year to be nominated for Best Picture. I generally think it’s a nice gesture that allows the Academy to make a nod toward inclusiveness and is handy discussion fodder for the several weeks until the ceremony. As a practical matter, however, films that are nominated for best picture whose directors are not also nominated in their category have, until this year, been bystanders to the actual Best Picture race. Since the rule change expanding the field the director and best picture Oscars have gone in lock step, and it’s been more than two decades since a film won Best Picture without having the director at least nominated (Driving Miss Daisy).
While it still seems probable that this director/best picture association will continue, this is the first year in a long time where it’s at least possible that a film with an unnominated director might sneak off with Best Picture. That’s because the films with unnominated directors this year — Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty — have generally been doing well both critically and commercially, with Zero Dark Thirty in particular doing very well in the critic awards running up to Oscar, and the other three films each topping $100 million in domestic box office.
On the flip side, with the exception of Lincoln, the films with nominated directors (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook) have are cruising under the $100 million mark (although at $91 million, it’s now likely that Pi will cross that milestone), and all of them are quirky in their way, which is not necessarily to their overall advantage. Box office has not been a reliable indicator of Oscar wins in recent years, but this year the distribution of critical plaudits across all nominees is pretty even, which to my eye at least means it could be a more significant factor than it might be in other years.
As a general comment, in terms of quality and variety of films, this is probably one of the best Oscar slates in decades; it’s not 1939, but it’s as good as it gets otherwise. It’s the first year since the expansion of the Best Picture field where I don’t feel comfortable just tossing half the nominees over the side simply because the director isn’t nominated.
But we do have to start tossing films over the side, so let’s start with Argo, which I think had its moment and unfortunately that moment was a few months ago. The film has been great for Ben Affleck, who one may now call an A-list director without any ironic reference to the tragic crappiness of his film choices as an actor; Affleck got a DGA nomination, which is fantastic recognition for him. And he’s nominated as a producer here. So in a sense, Argo’s work is already done.
Next out of the boat: Amour, which will likely settle, if you want to call it that, for Best Foreign Language film, in which it is also nominated. The fact it’s nominated there means Academy members don’t have to feel bad about not voting for it here; Michael Haneke will get to clutch an Oscar no matter what. Next: Zero Dark Thirty, in part because its creative team of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal are very recent Oscar winners, so the need to reward their output again is less urgent, especially in a year with so many other viable options (disclosure: Chris Boal, who is currently working on the Old Man’s War script, is brother to Mark Boal, screenwriter of ZDT, so as a matter of team spirit I’d be pleased if Mark Boal and/or ZDT got something this year).
Next: Django Unchained, because again there’s too much other competition this year; Tarantino is like Orson Welles — he’s got his Oscar for writing, so his other, more mercurial talent for directing is likely to be passed over for more, er, reliable choices, shall we say. Next out, I rather suspect, is Beasts of the Southern Wild, but HOLY COW BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. I don’t know if anyone saw this one coming (much less its several other nominations). I think it’s spectacular that it’s been nominated, and it’s my official dark horse candidate if the Academy goes all Hurt Locker this year — but I don’t think the Academy will go Hurt Locker this year, otherwise, you know, Zero Dark Thirty. Next off the boat: Silver Linings Playbook, because to be blunt, small-focus difficult comedy about damaged people? Not the Oscar’s bread and butter at the moment. Les Miserables I think is more likely to be compensated in the acting categories than here.
Which takes us to the final two, Life of Pi and Lincoln, and I think at this point it could fall either way. Eventually I give the edge to Lincoln because, you know what? It’s goddamn Abe Lincoln. Also, it’s a widely praised film with a widely praised (and nominated) central performance, it’s done well at the box office, and it’s a historical film about historical people doing historical things, plus Spielberg. These sorts of films do well even when they’re the safe, mediocre choice (see: Gandhi, Out of Africa, The Last Emperor). Lincoln is a safe choice, but not mediocre. Things could still fall to Pi if Academy voters decide to reward the (relative) risk of pulling off a nearly unfilmable book. But it’s hard to vote against Abe.
Will win: Lincoln
Should win: Open field, but I would love for Beasts to sneak up on everyone.
Michael Haneke (“Amour”)
Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”)
David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”)
Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)
Zeitlin out because it’s his first nomination and there are other people here in line before him (see Haneke and Russell), but if this kid’s arms are not bruised his morning from him pinching himself to see if it’s all real, he’s doing something wrong. Russell is more likely (but by no means a lock) to win a screenwriting Oscar, for which he is also nominated. Haneke I already suspect will be serviced by the Best Foreign Film award. So we’re down to Lee and Spielberg. Lee probably deserves it more because Pi was as unconventional a studio film as you’re going to get this year and he made it work, but if Lincoln, which is nominated for 12 awards, starts sweeping, it’s hard to suggest Spielberg of all people is not going get his.
Will win: Spielberg
Should win: Lee
Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”)
Hugh Jackman (“Les Miserables”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”)
Denzel Washington (“Flight”)
Good for Bradley Cooper that he’s nominated; it’s nice for him to be able to let people know he’s not just a dude cranking out flicks like The A-Team. Denzel Washington is probably my favorite actor working today, but Flight doesn’t have that much juice going for it, other than reminding people that Robert Zemeckis can still direct live humans reasonably well. Joaquin Phoenix will get an Oscar someday but this year seems unlikely to me. It’s down to Day-Lewis and Jackman, and you know what? I have a good feeling about Jackman. Day-Lewis has won recently, Lincoln is going to be otherwise compensated, Jackman’s well liked, has paid his dues in a wide series of roles, didn’t screw up his Oscar hosting gig, and if Jackman can’t win for playing friggin’ Jean ValJean, then there’s probably something wrong with the world. Gonna be close, though.
Will win: Jackman
Should win: Jackman
Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”)
Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”)
Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”)
Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)
It would rock if Quvenzhane Wallis won, and no matter what she’s the youngest person ever nominated for the Best Actress award, so keep being perfectly awesome, Quvenzhane Wallis. I do think she’s unlikely to win, however (if she does, Beast’s stock in both the Director and Best Picture category go waaaay up). Naomi Watts is here in the Meryl Streep slot (“Damn it I could only think of four people to nominate… oh, look, Naomi Watts, she’s good. I’ll nominate her”), and while it’s possible she’ll win as a career award thing I wouldn’t count on it. Riva is older (the oldest nominee ever in this category — records all around!) and legendary, but she’s legendary in France, and I don’t know if that’ll be enough for the win. We’re down to Chastain and Lawrence, both of whom are having excellent years, with Lawrence possibly having the edge because she smashed the box office to bits with The Hunger Games. You can flip a coin between the two of them. My coin flip landed with Lawrence’s side up.
Will win: Lawrence
Should win: I’m a sucker for Wallis
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams (“The Master”)
Sally Field (“Lincoln”)
Anne Hathaway (“Les Miserables”)
Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”)
Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”)
Jacki Weaver gets to keep working! Good for her. Hunt and Field have Oscars in the main Actress category so I don’t see the Academy folks thinking they need one in the supporting category, although it’s nice to see Hunt back in it. This is another coin toss, between Adams and Hathaway; I get the feeling people might feel Adams is due, but again, it’s hard to fight against doe-eyed Hathaway wasting away so tragically, singing all the while. It’s the sort of role that is hard core designed for this category, and I suspect it will win.
Will win: Hathaway
Should win: Adams
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”)
Fun fact: everyone in this category already has an Oscar! De Niro has two! So, honestly, who knows what’s going to happen here. My guess? They’ll give it to De Niro, possibly as a bribe, as if to say “See? If you stop slumming with all those crappy films you’ve been in recently we’ll still love you. Hint, hint.” But honestly: No idea here. No idea at all.
Will win: De Niro
Should win: Meh
I’ll check in again near the ceremony with additional thoughts and any emendations to these predictions. Otherwise, tell me your thoughts in the comments.