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LaMond’s top picks
Best picture: “Argo”
Best actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Best supporting actor: Tommy Lee Jones
Best supporting actress: Anne Hathaway
Best director: Ang Lee
Warner Bros. Pictures
From left: John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck star in best picture nominee “Argo.”

Smart film a lock to win

Photo illustration by Christy Keller | The Journal

There are certain things I’ve come to expect.

Like my Cubs not winning the World Series. Or Lindsay Lohan running into trouble.

When it comes to the Oscars, the winner for best picture has almost always received a nomination for best director.

So when Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone finished listing the nominees Jan. 10, “Lincoln” immediately emerged in my mind as the frontrunner for best picture.

And why not? It is an excellent movie filled with great performances and themes that resonate today.

“Lincoln” leads the field with 12 nominations, including the all-important directing nod for Steven Spielberg.

Meanwhile, I dismissed two perceived major contenders – “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” – because the films’ respective directors (Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow) were left off the ballot.

Two shocking snubs. Two inexcusable decisions.

But then something strange started happening. “Argo,” which details a rescue mission during the hostage crisis in Iran, began winning everything.

Golden Globe for the best motion picture, drama. Check.

Screen Actors Guild for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture. Check.

Producer’s Guild for outstanding producer of theatrical motion pictures. Check.

And now all signs point to “Argo” taking home best picture.

That result would cap a stunning comeback. Only three times in the history of the Academy Awards has a film won best picture without gaining a nomination for director.

Three.

And it hasn’t happened since “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.

Let’s get this out of the way: “Argo” should win. It’s smart. It’s entertaining. And even though we know the outcome before taking our seats in the theater, it still manages to be incredibly thrilling.

Before the nominations were announced, not only did I think Affleck would make the best directors’ cut, I thought he deserved to win the award.

Some have speculated that Argo’s march toward the Oscars has been spurred as a “make-up” call for the Affleck oversight. I’m not quite buying that.

In addition to the reasons I’ve previously stated, I think many voters like that Hollywood has a heroic part in the film.

“Agro” has largely avoided controversies over any inaccuracies between the film and the events it’s based on. The same can’t be said about “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The tense drama, which is about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has taken a pounding for its portrayal of the role torture played in gaining information. Politicians took delight in stepping into the role of a critic and denouncing the film.

The debate has nearly overshadowed the performance of best actress nominee Jessica Chastain. Which is a shame.

One of Chastain’s strengths is her versatility. From “The Tree of Life” to “The Help” and now “Zero Dark Thirty,” she always seems to strike the right balance.

She plays Maya, a CIA agent doing all she can to track down the al-Qaeda leader. Chastain has a scene in which she chews out Kyle Chandler’s Joseph Bradley that is the stuff that should win awards.

Unfortunately for Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence was just as good in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Lawrence showcases a variety of emotions as the young widow Tiffany. And that’s why I think she’ll win.

Best supporting actor is another tight category. All five nominees have previously won an Oscar. And a strong case could be made for any of the five to pick up another this year.

Robert De Niro gave one of my favorite performances in the group as the father with a few quirks and a lot of heart in “Silver Linings Playbook.” De Niro makes us forget that he took part in “New Year’s Eve.”

But I’d give Tommy Lee Jones the slight edge over Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”) and Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”).

Jones steals some of the thunder from Daniel Day-Lewis as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln.” It’s Jones’ best work since “In the Valley of Elah” and a reminder of just how good he can be with the right material.

Speaking of Day-Lewis, he is a sure bet in the best actor category.

His competition includes Denzel Washington, a pilot who had to navigate through disaster and an overbearing movie soundtrack in “Flight.” And then there’s Hugh Jackman, who shows at one point in his life he had a different singing instructor than Russell Crowe in “Les Misérables.”

It won’t be enough to beat Day-Lewis.

Whether it’s a small chat with soldiers or making his case in meetings, Day-Lewis is on top of his game in “Lincoln.” And when he’s on top of his game, no one is better.

“Les Misérables” won’t go home empty-handed. Anne Hathaway is a heavy favorite to win best supporting actress.

There’s no telling who will win best director.

Critics loved Michael Haneke’s “Amour.” Benh Zeitlin got an Oscar-nominated performance out of child actress Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” David O. Russell once again showed he can get outstanding performances out his actors in my personal favorite movie of the year, “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Spielberg built great drama with his pace in “Lincoln.” He’s likely going to win, but I’d vote for Ang Lee for “Life of Pi.” The transformation of a story of a boy, a boat and a tiger from book to screen is mesmerizing.

Of course, this should be Affleck’s category. I guess he’ll have to settle for making history with a best picture victory.

Maybe there is hope for the Cubs – and Lindsay – after all.

LaMond Pope is a former sports writer for The Journal Gazette and a movie buff, who looks forward to the Oscars each year.

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