Oscar season presents a dilemma to the film fanatic.
On one hand you know to your core the best Academy Award-nominated films, but on the other, you know all about the statistical correlations between the types of films that usually win and how a previous award can affect academy voting, and you see all the effort studios put into campaigning for their nominated film with full-page advertising spots in the trade magazines and banner ads on movie blogs.
All the passion that was felt after seeing a film, and the thrill felt after it gets a nomination, starts to fade away, making Oscar predictions feel more like how James Spader counted indecisive votes in “Lincoln.”
When I made my list of Oscar predictions, I did not want to lose the emotional connection I have with particular films and my hope to see them win tonight. In the same way there are people who cheer for sports teams that have poor seasons year after year, I will not give up on a couple of my favorite nominees.
Luckily, when it comes to best picture, history and my enjoyment align because “Argo,” the espionage thriller from Ben Affleck, about a CIA operative who used the filming of a fictional movie to extract American fugitives from Iran, is a film I thought was great.
Ben Affleck won the Directors Guild of America award for the film. Now, there have only been six times since 1948 a DGA winner has not won best director at the Oscars; however, Affleck was not nominated for best director by the academy. Still, the academy is made up of movie people, and this film, more than any other, demonstrates the power of the movies, even a fake one, to change the world. Sure, it would be great to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” my personal favorite of the best picture nominees, create an upset, but its nomination most likely came from the academy’s appreciation of the conditions in which the film was made, and how the filmmakers were able to take the mostly untrained cast and pull unforgettable performances from the actors.
While we are on the subject of acting, Daniel Day-Lewis is my pick for best actor in his depiction of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”
For best actress, I am at a loss. No matter who takes the win, I am going to be cheering for Quvenzhané Wallis, whose Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” affected me more than any other character this year. She was able to shape that performance at 6 years old. (Wallis is now 9.) But, I think the race is probably closer between Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” and Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Lawrence’s Tiffany in “Silver Linings Playbook” displays a range of emotions, and the character goes through the kind of reversals academy voters gravitate toward. However, Jessica Chastain’s Maya never strays off course, and remains true to her beliefs, even when her colleagues are rallying against her. “Zero Dark Thirty” all hinges on Maya’s determination, and it is the fact she does not change her stance, in the face of such adversity that I give her the edge for the Oscar.
The competition is also particularly fierce for best supporting actor. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln” has one of the most compelling moments of the year when he goes against his conscience and addresses Congress in a speech that sways some opponents to the 13th Amendment and maintains Lincoln’s political standing. However, I believe it is Christoph Waltz’s meaty performance as Dr. King Schultz in “Django Unchained” that will ultimately take the Oscar.
While the best supporting actor roster is one of this year’s most competitive, the opposite is true for best supporting actress. There just is not one obvious stand out. Since Anne Hathaway does sing in her role in “Les Misérables,” she has the upper hand, not to mention she also won the Golden Globe for the part.
The strangest category this year is best director, which overlooked best picture nominee directors Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained” and Affleck for “Argo.” Steven Spielberg is the most confident he has been in years with “Lincoln,” but, I think the Academy will recognize the achievement of David O. Russell with “Silver Linings Playbook.”
There are quite a few important films in the best documentary feature category this year, but none as enjoyable, or with such a compelling story, as “Searching for Sugar Man,” which should, and most likely will, win. The part music biopic, part detective story about how the musician Rodriguez was forgotten in the United States, but became a hero in South Africa, is just the kind of film the academy voters love because it treats its story as a narrative, and tells it as if the film came from a script.
In this year’s selection of films up for best foreign language film, the French movie “Holy Motors” is absent, even though it should have been nominated. Since Michael Haneke’s “Amour” has met nothing but positive reviews, and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, it is by far the favorite to win.
The writing selections, both for adapted and original screenplay, are pretty strong. It is hard to imagine the film I believe will win best picture will not win best adapted screenplay, but I think it is “Argo’s” producers who will have the glory on Oscar night, not its writers. Almost just as strange, I think Russell will win best adapted screenplay for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
For best original screenplay, it is never smart to bet against Quentin Tarantino when he is nominated. However, Mark Boal gives Tarantino a run for the prize with “Zero Dark Thirty.” At any rate, it is looking like Boal will win. But I will be hoping “Moonrise Kingdom’s” Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola will throw a wrench in it all and create one of the biggest surprises of the evening.
The choices for best animated film are interesting. In the past decade a nominated Pixar film meant a winning Pixar film. But Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman’s “Brave” just felt a little off. For this reason, I think “Brave” is out of the discussion this year and “Wreck-It Ralph,” directed by Rich Moore, will win the Academy Award.
Because of how the camera was used to benefit the story, Janusz Kaminski is my pick to take best cinematography for “Lincoln,” and William Goldenberg will win best editing for “Argo.”
I am going out on a bit of a limb and predict Thomas Newman will win best original score for “Skyfall,” and Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth will win best original song, also for “Skyfall.”
The final category I will predict gives me the best odds since there are only three nominees. Of the three nominated for best makeup and hairstyling – “Hitchcock,” “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Les Misérables” – I think Howard Berger, Peter Montagna and Martin Samuel will take the Oscar for their work transforming Anthony Hopkins into the Master of Suspense in “Hitchcock.”
This has been a very strong year in film. One thing evident from this year’s crop is the amount of studio-produced films being recognized, demonstrating the academy’s need to reconnect with the American public (and TV advertisers) and award films that were actually seen in theaters.