last year, and certainly more memorable. I'll go ahead and say it: With the exception of Les Misérables, every Best Picture nominee is superior to last year's winner, The Artist (and many are equal to or better than The King's Speech, the winner from two years ago). I'll get to that race in due time, though. Let's dive in to some of the lesser categories to start.
Predicted winner in bold
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - The Master
Sally Field - Lincoln
Anne Hathaway - Les Misérables
Helen Hunt - The Sessions
Jacki Weaver - Silver Linings Playbook
We'll start with a category that is most likely a lock. Hathaway has won just about everything up until now, and there's no reason to think her streak will stop Sunday night. Hers was a very good performance in a highly flawed movie, and has all the requisite features of a trophy winner: singing (live!), de-glamming, showstopping scene, um, dying. I wish I liked the movie more, but I suppose it deserves to win something -- plus, Hathaway (in Rachel Getting Married) probably had a better performance than Winslet back in 2009, so you can think of this as a make-good win. I also just can't get excited about any of the other nominees -- Hunt (my favorite) was actually a lead, Adams didn't do much for me in a movie I really liked (obligatory handjob reference), and I honestly don't know what Jacki Weaver is doing here. Maybe making food (which was seemingly all she did in Silver Linings) backstage? Which leaves us with Field, the erstwhile challenger for Hathaway. I wouldn't be *shocked* if she won -- which could also signify a big night for Lincoln. But... I really hated her performance. She was just a shrill, melodramatic shrew, and I kept waiting for her to complain about having "the vapors" and ask for a hot toddy. Weakest part of the movie for me. So yeah. Moving on.
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
I'll be honest -- I don't know what to do about this clusterfuck. I haven't even bolded my pick as I write this. To start, you can safely knock two names out of contention - Hoffman and Arkin. Hoffman (excellent, as usual) is another lead slumming in this category, and the fact that the P.T. Anderson didn't get a nom for writing or directing tells you everything you need to know about his chances here. The consensus for Arkin seems to be "good, not great" and is the required fifth nominee (for the record, I loved him in the movie -- "Argo fuck yourself!"). Between the remaining three, it's anyone's statue for the taking. Each has their pros and cons. Jones is the nominal frontrunner and delivered a performance that stood out even next to Daniel Day-Lewis's, but... did you see the Golden Globes? Dude gave McKayla Maroney a run for her money. Voters will remember that. Waltz was great and absolutely crushes Tarantino dialogue like no one this side of Sam Jackson (whose spot he probably took here), but he just won three years ago. Last, there's De Niro, finally back in the Oscar limelight after a 20-year nomination and 30-year win cold streak. None of the three winning would surprise me, but I have a feeling it's between Jones and De Niro. I'm going with... I guess De Niro. For now. I don't think his performance is Oscar-worthy (definitely my least favorite of the bunch), but the movie has a lot of support, and the feeling could be that he's "due" for another statue, not to mention that Lincoln has lost a lot of momentum lately. I might change my mind before the ceremony though -- I'm really not confident about this pick.
Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis - Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Naomi Watts - The Impossible
This one is probably only between two names, which are probably not the two names you're thinking, and also it's probably just going to be Lawrence. Probably. A lot of these races that seemed like locks weeks or even days ago are suddenly not. As far as who it won't be, count out Wallis (too young, novelty nomination) and Watts (great, but disappears in the second half of the film). Chastain -- my favorite of the bunch, and a surefire future winner in this category -- has been reduced to a (very) long shot at this point. Something about torture, blah, blah, blah. That leaves Riva -- the late hour dark horse -- and Lawrence -- who has been splitting the precursors with Chastain -- as your last ladies standing. Riva has a lot going for her: a mesmerizing performance, closer to the average Academy voter's age, not making an ass out of herself on SNL, and the ceremony is on her freaking birthday (not to mention the fact that it might be her last one). But... it's still probably gonna be Lawrence, who managed to imbue humanity and poignancy into the clichéd crazy/hot chick role. Not exactly a stunning achievement, but people seem to like it (and she is very good).
Bradley Cooper - Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
Hugh Jackman - Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix - The Master
Denzel Washington - Flight
This is not one of those locks that has suddenly seemed less than certain. This statue is D-Day's and most likely has been since before Lincoln even wrapped filming. Cooper and Jackman are just happy to be here as first time nominees, classic leading man-types making a foray into prestige picture territory. Denzel is the very much deserving veteran making a rare reappearance (nowadays, at least) after not playing a cop or an agent with a youthful protégé or whatever. You've gotta feel bad for Joaquin Phoenix though -- he makes his long-awaited return to acting, delivers an absolute knockout performance... only to run into Daniel Day-Lewis, only the greatest living actor, playing Abraham freaking Lincoln. And while I actually think Phoenix's performance is the superior one, it was inevitable that Day-Lewis was winning this award. Sorry, Joaquin. Any other year...
Best Adapted Screenplay
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin - Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Tony Kushner - Lincoln
David Magee - Life Of Pi
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Chris Terrio - Argo
While Kushner has seemingly had this locked since the nominees were announced, Terrio -- fresh off a semi-surprising Writer's Guild win -- is breathing down his neck. Which would be creepy if it were literal instead of figurative. Anyway, it's between the two of them, with Russell's screwball-comedy-but-with-crazy-people script as the possible spoiler. The film, somehow, managed nominations in every single major category, which means it has a lot of support and, therefore, a chance to surprise come Sunday night (and another reason I went with De Niro above). Not here though. Ditto the scripts for Beasts and Pi -- the former should be content with the nomination, and the latter shouldn't even have been nominated (that frame, ugh). So, while Terrio deserves props for his finely-tuned, suspenseful work, ultimately there was a lot of dramatic license taken, and he pretty clearly skirted around politics, something which Kushner, decidedly, did not do in Lincoln. In my mind, he deserves second billing after Day-Lewis for his balance of contemplation and bombast, his deft handling of sensitive issues, and the seamless way he weaved together many a plot thread. Easily the best of the bunch. Were Terrio to win, consider it an apology to Ben Affleck.
Best Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola - Moonrise Kingdom
Mark Boal - Zero Dark Thirty
John Gatins - Flight
Michael Haneke - Amour
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
Along with Supporting Actor, this is one of two categories I can't figure out for the life of me. Both of these categories will go a long way toward determining the overall narrative of this year's Oscars. Will the Academy want to find a way to award Zero Dark Thirty in a major category in spite of the controversy? How much cachet does Quentin Tarantino really have with the Academy? (aka will the Weinsteins be able to affect this race?) Can Amour win an award outside of the Foreign Film category? For that reason, you can safely assume that Moonrise Kingdom (better luck next time, Wes Anderson) and Flight (out of its depth) will not win here. Which leaves us with another three-headed fustercluck of Boal, Haneke, and Tarantino. Boal would seem to be the odd one out given the Academy's more-or-less snubbing his film -- but he did win the Writer's Guild award (and it's the best script of any nominated in either category, in my opinion). Between Tarantino and Haneke -- whose scripts are about as different as two scripts can be -- I give the edge to Haneke. Why? Well, both films were also directed by their writers, and it was Haneke, and not Tarantino, who received the Director nom, which tells me there is more support for Amour than Django (not exactly surprising). So for now it seems that I'm calling for Django to go home statue-less after picking up two Golden Globes -- again, not surprising. This is another pick I'm in no way confident about -- Boal and Tarantino are definite contenders.
Michael Haneke - Amour
Ang Lee - Life Of Pi
David O. Russell - Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg - Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin - Beasts Of The Southern Wild
First things first: No one not named Kathryn Bigelow or, unbelievable as it may be, Ben Affleck has any business winning this award. Bigelow's film displayed by far the most technical prowess of any film last year, and Affleck, in addition to showing a high degree of competency, has a career arc that has exactly the kind of narrative that the Academy usually loves (unless your name is Mickey Rourke). THAT SAID, back to the directors who were actually nominated...
There is a definite theme to the final days of the award season -- what once seemed so certain now is anything but. On nomination morning, this statue was Spielberg's. No doubt about it. Now? I have doubts about it. And those doubts are because of Ang Lee. For one, his film should absolutely CLEAN UP -- and deservedly so -- in the technical categories. Two, and most importantly, none of these guys (great job, Academy) have won anything resembling a major precursor, meaning there's really no indication of which way the Academy could be leaning. The one clue would usually be overall nominations, but it's close to even: 12 for Lincoln, 11 for Life of Pi. So it really comes down to two things: brand recognition and possible branch support. Lee, esteemed as he is, is no Spielberg, and, while Pi should have more support in the (smaller) technical branches, Lincoln received three nominations from the largest branch, the actors. In what is basically a coin flip at this point, I think Spielberg takes it in a very close race. As for the others, Russell hangs around as an interesting possible spoiler, Haneke's nomination is a long-deserved feather in his cap, and Zeitlin gets to enjoy this year's Precious Memorial Nomination.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Life Of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
The Best Picture category is the culmination of that theme I mentioned above. Again, on nomination morning, Lincoln was your Best Picture winner. But... then Argo started winning major awards. Like, all of them. Were it to lose the Best Picture race at this point it would fly in the face of decades of precedent. Of course, even if it were to win it would fly in the face of a major, major precedent -- you can't win Best Picture if your director wasn't nominated (insert obligatory Driving Miss Daisy reference here). So what's an Academy to do? Go with the crowd-pleasing entertainment de résistance, or the also crowd-pleasing biopic opus? They can't really go wrong either way -- both are well made, have wide appeal, and have that certain Hollywood sheen. Both will probably also stand up fairly well years down the line (better than the last two Best Picture winners, I dare say). What I think decides it though is that Argo is the best film Ben Affleck is likely to make, while Lincoln isn't even Spielberg's 10th-best film.* (Look it up.) So call Sunday night Whofleck's Redemption -- from Hollywood purgatory, from J-Lo accessory, from Academy snubbery. Honestly, who'd have thought he'd nab a second Oscar before Matt Damon (he produced Argo, along with -- wait for it -- George Clooney and Grant Heslov)? Hell, the way his career trajectory looks right now, he might win a third before the "talented" one of the Boston duo even has a second. And you know what? I'm okay with that... as long as it's not for acting.
So that was a bit longer than I was intending -- hope you were able to get through it. Next up, the remaining categories in quick-hit style. Or, as I like to call it, How to Win an Oscar Pool.**
* Ten Spielberg films that are better than Lincoln (in chronological order):
Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Munich.
** I have not won an Oscar pool in some years. I think. I'm usually fairly drunk by the time the whole thing is over.