Expect drama at the 2013 Academy Awards
Some years, predicting the Academy Awards winners is a sure thing; there's a clear front-runner like The Artist last year, or The King's Speech the year before that. But 2013 is not one of those years. Expect drama, when the stately odds-on favorite a month ago squares off against a plucky little upstart that's been raking in the pre-Oscar accolades; when an actress in a quirky comedy has a chance to edge out the female lead in a serious drama; in a directors' free-for-all where the winner of the Directors Guild of America award—usually the instant Oscar front-runner—wasn't even nominated by the Academy.
So fasten your seatbelts for the Oscars this Sunday, 4 p.m. It's going to be a bumpy night. In the meantime, here's my usual reckless attempt to second-guess Academy voting.
BEST PICTURE Argo A month ago, I'd have bet on Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, a well-crafted drama about an iconic figure in American history at the moment of his greatest triumph. But that was before Argo star-producer-director Ben Affleck and his fleet, witty, real-life suspense caper started winning every other film award there is—Golden Globe, DGA, Producer's Guild, Screen Actor's Guild, even the British BAFTA. Not once has Lincoln (or any other movie) wrested away the prize, and I see no reason to believe it will be any different at the Oscars. Indeed, since the Academy unaccountably failed to nominate DGA-winner Affleck in the Best Director category, Argo is liable to pull in even more of a sympathy vote. (As a co-producer, Affleck can still earn a statuette.) To win without a directing nomination would be an epic upset, but not unprecedented. (Driving Miss Daisy managed this feat in 1989.) And don't forget, Affleck once starred in Gigli, and there's nothing Hollywood loves more than a successfully rehabilitated image.
BEST DIRECTOR Steven Spielberg, Lincoln But anything goes in the biggest smackdown of the night, with DGA winner Affleck not even nominated. The only other DGA nominees in the race are Spielberg and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and Spielberg's Americana epic seems likely to trump a tale of a boy and a tiger, however gorgeous. But it wouldn't be the first time Lee has snagged a directing Oscar for a film that didn't win Best Picture. (Remember 2006, the year that will live in infamy, when Lee won for Brokeback Mountain, but the film lost to Crash?) Don't discount Michael Haneke, whose Amour is nominated for both Best Foreign Film and Best Picture. But the strongest upset candidate may be David O. Russell, whose bipolar romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook, has also earned nominations in all four acting categories. Only Benh Zeitlin for the visionary Beasts of the Southern Wild lacks momentum.
BEST ACTOR Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln The only sure thing this year is another win for Day-Lewis for his extraordinary alchemical transformation into Honest Abe. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Denzel Washington (Flight) and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) had their moments, but none of them should bother to write a speech.
BEST ACTRESS Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook If Zero Dark Thirty had racked up more pre-season awards, or won Kathryn Bigelow a directing nomination, then its star, Jessica Chastain, would be the favorite. Chastain won a Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Actress, but the Globes are handed out in both comedy and drama categories, and the Globe winner for comedy, Lawrence, went on to snag the SAG award. This category also includes the oldest and youngest acting nominees ever, 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (heartbreaking in Amour, and my favorite dark horse for an upset victory) and 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), along with the excellent Naomi Watts in The Impossible.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln He has strong competition from Golden Globe-winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), the beloved Alan Arkin (Argo), and even Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook). (Not so much Philip Seymour Hoffman in the overrated The Master.) But who doesn't love Jones as cantankerous anti-slavery advocate Thaddeus Stevens? He deserves an Oscar just for wearing that wig.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables This one is virtually in the bag for Hathaway, who's cleaned up at the pre-Oscar awards, and is the only player in Les Miz who benefitted from the tricky device of shooting all the songs live, in one take. Sally Field (Lincoln), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Amy Adams (The Master) round out the category.
BEST of the REST Zero Dark Thirty may snag a Best Original Screenplay award for Mark Boal as its biggest win of the night. Tony Kushner's script for Lincoln should edge out Chris Terrio (Argo) and Russell (Silver Linings) for Best Adapted Screenplay. I like Amour for Best Foreign Language Film (possible upset: Denmark's A Royal Affair), and Brave for Best Animated Feature. And expect the visually stunning Life of Pi to take home awards for Cinematography, Visual Effects and Production Design, while Anna Karenina sneaks off with the Costume prize.
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