This Sunday, RISD alum Seth MacFarlane will take the mic to host the 85th Academy Awards (7 p.m., ABC). It’s been a solid year for film, with nine incredibly diverse Best Picture nominees vying for a place in the Oscar pantheon.
Before we get into our predictions, we’d be remiss not to mention just how surprising the nominations were. There were audible gasps from the journalists at the live-streamed announcement ceremony in January when both Best Director frontrunners (Argo‘s Ben Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow) were passed over for nominations, leaving us to wonder: Can Argo pull off the win everyone expects without Affleck on the roster? The Director category is a historical determining factor for Best Picture, given:
- About three-fourths of all Picture winners also win Director, and
- A mere three films ever have scored Picture without a nom for Director. And it’s only happened once (1989’s Driving Miss Daisy) in the last eighty years. Good luck defying those odds, Argo.
In terms of nominations, Lincoln leads the pack with 12, followed by Life of Pi with 11. Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in 32 years to snag noms in all four acting categories. Indie darling Beasts of the Southern Wild and quiet foreign entry Amour pushed their way unexpectedly into the most competitive categories, tossing Oscar’s traditional exclusivity practices to the wind. Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, Emmanuelle Riva, and Quvenzhané Wallis are the only four of the twenty total acting nominees that received their first nomination this year.
Usually the Oscars are fairly simple to predict, with just one or two upsets each time around. This year, thanks to the unusual number of snubs and surprise noms, calling the race is like navigating a minefield. We’ll try our best, and feel free to laugh in Mike’s face when Les Miserables steals every award. He doesn’t need your approval. He’s doing just fine.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the categories.
Best Picture: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Will Win/Should Win: It’s gotta be Argo. Despite the fact that Affleck was unceremoniously passed over for a Director nod, the hostage crisis thriller has captured every single major precursor (Globe, SAG, BAFTA, Critics Choice, DGA, WGA, PGA). To preserve the prestige of the Academy, voters will need to back-tread and bestow the honor on the audience and critical favorite, or face widespread long-term dismissal for “getting it wrong.” Argo will be the fourth film in Oscar history to take home the gold without scoring a Director nomination — and only the second since the 1930s. But will it deserve the win? Really no more or less than any other film on this list, minus Les Mis.
Biggest Snub: As far as Oscars go, this is a pretty well-assembled category. If anything, add Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s whimsical, visually striking romp through the island of New Penzance. Oh, and Skyfall was pretty cool too.
Best Actor: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight)
Will Win/Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis resurrected Abraham Lincoln for the 21st century. His flawless performance will earn him a record-setting third Best Actor award on Sunday. Would you expect any less from DDL?
Biggest Snub: In his Sundance-winning role as polio-stricken poet Mark O’Brien in The Sessions, John Hawkes tugged at all the heartstrings. He’s one of the highest regarded performers out there today, having received his first nom two years back for Winter’s Bone.
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Will Win/Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence is Hollywood’s golden girl. A mere three years after her stint on “The Bill Engvall Show,” the 22-year-old is poised to win her first Oscar. As the rambunctious, embittered widow Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence carried the film on her shoulders. Couple that with her star-making turn as Hunger Games tribute Katniss Everdeen back in March and she’s untouchable.
Biggest Snub: In Smashed, alcoholic first grade teacher Mary Elizabeth Winstead battles mutually messed-up husband Jesse Pinkman on the path to sobriety. The underrated Winstead (aka Scott Pilgrim‘s Ramona Flowers) knocks it out of the ballpark in this darkly funny role, which you can catch a glimpse of here.
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)
Will Win: Here’s a first for the Oscars — all five nominees are past winners. As far as the winner goes, it’s a toss-up. Tommy Lee Jones was the early favorite, garnering acclaim for his portrayal of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. However, Christoph Waltz has been amassing momentum, winning the Golden Globe and BAFTA for embodying Dr. King Schultz, who flaunts his abolitionist beliefs in a decidedly more unconventional way. We’re putting our money on lighting striking twice for the Waltz/Tarantino collaboration.
Should Win: Two-time winner Robert De Niro hasn’t been considered since Cape Fear in 1991. Since then he’s increasingly been viewed as a paycheck actor, occasionally honing his stellar comedic timing in films like Analyze This and Meet the Parents. As Pat Solitano Sr. in Silver Linings, De Niro seamlessly blends that humor with dramatic import to remind us he’s still here. For that he can thank writer-director David O. Russell, who carried over his nuanced portrayals of family last showcased in The Fighter — a film that won Christian Bale and Melissa Leo their statuettes two years back.
Biggest Snub: A three-way tie. In Django, Waltz was outshone by two of his male co-stars, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. The former a profoundly insecure man-child of a plantation owner and the latter his despicably loyal slave, Leo and Sam conspired to bring to life two of the most distinct cinematic personalities of the year. Fun fact: DiCaprio was originally slated to play Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, the role that won Waltz his Oscar. Additionally, although he received next to zero awards recognition, the New Orleans baker and first-time actor Dwight Henry absolutely killed it as Hushpuppy’s crazy pop in Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Will Win/Should Win: While Les Miserables was the worst-reviewed of the Best Picture nominees, most critics agreed that Anne Hathaway (!)’s tour de force as Fantine, albeit brief, was the single best aspect of the film. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is fraught with a raw emotion rare to the often meandering epic. It’s pretty damned great.
Biggest Snub: A character actress best known for playing Kim Kelly’s mom in “Freaks & Geeks” and Natalie Portman’s mom in Garden State, Ann Dowd finally takes center stage in Craig Zobel’s Compliance. Dowd plays Sandra, an fast food restaurant manager whose life is turned upside down by a prank caller. You can watch it on Netflix.
Best Director: Michael Haneke (Amour), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Will Win: There’s potential for a major upset here, but with Affleck out of the mix Steven Spielberg is expected to win his third Directing Oscar for Lincoln — his first two were for Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Does Lincoln hold up to these films, or is this a career award?
Should Win: Although he’s only 30 years old, Wesleyan graduate and New Orleans resident Benh Zeitlin‘s debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild was nothing short of breathtaking. He’s one to watch, and may just be the best of this year’s nominees. If you beg to differ, Rémy will cut you.
Biggest Snub: This is the last time we’ll mention Ben Affleck in this post, but there are a few other egregious omissions aside from ol’ Chuckie. Zero Dark Thirty‘s Kathryn Bigelow was considered a lock for the win before being passed over completely, after which her film lost all momentum. For all its controversy, Django Unchained is another expertly directed Quentin Tarantino joint and should be recognized as such. As usual, Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) was pitch-perfect — and he has still never been nominated in this category.
Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke (Amour), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), John Gatins (Flight), Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom), Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Will Win/Should Win: At one point Zero Dark Thirty‘s Mark Boal was the guy to beat. Not anymore. This award belongs to Django Unchained helmer Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds screenplay was snubbed in favor of Boal’s The Hurt Locker three years ago. Time for Oscar to pull off a little course correction. (Tarantino scored a writing statuette in 1994 for Pulp Fiction, his only win.)
Biggest Snub: There are two unconventional picks we can briefly highlight here. Drew Goddard and Avengers director Joss Whedon deconstructed the horror genre brilliantly with The Cabin in the Woods (92% fresh on RottenTomatoes doesn’t lie), while Skyfall, credited to John Logan, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, simultaneously deconstructed the James Bond legacy to near-perfection.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio (Argo), Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), David Magee (Life of Pi),
Michael Vorenberg Tony Kushner (Lincoln), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Will Win: Five extremely qualified nominees make this an exceptionally challenging category to call. Conventional wisdom says Argo will take it, but the Academy adored Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook. If Argo‘s a good bet for Picture, they might choose this area to reward one of the latter two films. Besides, Chris Terrio’s a relative unknown compared to Tony Kushner, the Angels in America writer that fused together Lincoln based on extensive research.
Should Win: David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook screenplay managed to spark both the rom-com and family melodrama with new life, a pretty substantial feat. Also, give credit where credit’s due to David Magee, who transcribed the “unfilmable” Life of Pi into a very filmable script. Even though the frame-tale structure proved just a tad flimsy on screen, every scene at sea was masterfully written.
Biggest Snub: These are the five best possible picks. If you could annex a sixth, consider Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater’s script for Bernie, based off a Texas Monthly article the former wrote in 1998 about a homicidal small-town mortician. You can watch the black comedy at your leisure on Netflix.
Will Win: Pixar’s movies look better than everyone else’s, so as long as they’re not churning out Cars 7 you can consider them the default winner. Their latest, Brave, is a weaker entry, but it’s still leading the pack.
Should Win: Forget Brave. Disney should be putting its energy behind Wreck-It Ralph, a far superior film that cleverly exposes the trials and tribulations of arcade game characters. The content posed a far greater risk for the studio, but it’s virtually (pun!) impossible not to love this movie.
Biggest Snub: Did you know they made The Swan Princess Christmas? I didn’t know they made The Swan Princess Christmas. I pick that.
Enjoy the Oscars!