When the Academy Awards executives chose to extend the number of best picture nominations beyond five without doing the same with the best director, they created a situation.
Traditionally, the best director directs the best film. So by pushing the number of nominated films beyond five, the academy created the assumption that the “real” best picture nominations were the ones tied to nominated director.
This year, that assumption went up in flames. Who would have guessed that out of a field of nine, the “orphaned” best picture nominees would be “Django Unchained,” “Les Misérables,” “Zero Dark Thirty” or current front runner “Argo”? Who would have guessed that the sidelined directors would include critical darling Quentin Tarantino, recent winner Kathryn Bigelow and prodigal son Ben Affleck? Or that the directors invited to the party would include newcomer Benh Zeitlin or European veteran Michael Haneke?
Who knows what caused all this chaos in the top two categories. Maybe the Oscar voters weren’t enamored with the films they were expected to nominate, like “Zero Dark Thirty.” Whatever the case, a split between best director and best picture now appears likely. The backlash against the Ben Affleck snub has been embarrassing for the academy. Don’t be surprised if next year the number of best picture nominations reverts back to five.
Even though “Skyfall” didn’t get nominated for best picture (hey, it deserved it more than “Les Misérables”), this Bond fan is looking forward to seeing the phenomenally successful 007 movie pick up a few wins in the technical categories. If Adele doesn’t win for best original song, expect to find a TV set with a foot-sized hole in the screen sitting on my curb the next morning.
Here are my predictions for the winners in the major categories, along with those I believe deserve to win:
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
This is often the toughest category to call, but never more than this year. Each of the five nominees already has an Oscar. Each of the performances galvanizes its film. I’m seeing it as a narrow three-way race between Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln” and Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook.” My vote would go to De Niro, whose very human performance as a father who loves his son but struggles to deal with his mental illness is unlike anything he has done in decades. I doubt, though, this one performance means the academy is yet ready to forgive De Niro for all the garbage he has appeared in during the last 15 years. I predict Jones will win for playing a fiery abolitionist congressman, but De Niro and Hoffman will be fast at his heels.
Should win: De Niro
Will win: Jones
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
If “Les Misérables” consisted of nothing more than Anne Hathaway singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” it would have been enough to guarantee her an Oscar victory (it also would have been a much better movie). Hathaway has this category sewn up, and she deserves to win it. I am happy to see Jacki Weaver nominated for playing Bradley Cooper’s mother in “Silver Linings Playbook.” She gave a wonderful performance as essential as any other to the movie’s success, but I feared it would be overlooked.
Should win: Hathaway
Will win: Hathaway
Daniel Day-Lewis as the embodiment of Abraham Lincoln is an even more likely winner than Hathaway, but my vote would go to Denzel Washington as the alcoholic pilot in “Flight” (my choice for the year’s best film). Here was a performance so convincing it was chilling, and one that dared to challenge the audience’s feelings toward the protagonist right down to the last five minutes. However, Day-Lewis will win, and it is easy to understand why. From now on when people think of Abraham Lincoln, they may still picture a Matthew Brady photo, but they will hear Day-Lewis’ voice.
Should win: Washington
Will win: Day-Lewis
It frustrates me that the person who most deserves to win, Naomi Watts in “The Impossible,” stands the least chance. Sure, the other four actresses gave standout performances, but they didn’t have to stay in character while thousands of gallons of water were dumped on them. This is supposed to be a two-actress race, but a pair of wild cards must be addressed first. While it has happened only in the supporting actress category, the Oscars have a history of young actresses scoring upset wins (Tatum O’Neal in “Paper Moon,” Anna Paquin in “The Piano”). So don’t rule out a win by 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The other wild card is more likely to take the statue, though, for the Oscars also have a history of French actresses scoring upsets (Juliette Binoche as best supporting actress for “The English Patient” and Marion Cotillard as best actress for “La Vie en Rose”). That puts 86-year-old Emmanuel Riva of “Amour” in a position to win if the front runners cancel each other out.
Those front runners are Jessica Chastain as the CIA officer obsessed with finding Osama bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty” and Jennifer Lawrence as the loveably bipolar sex addict in “Silver Linings Playbook.” This is a tough call. If Oscar voters are in a serious mood, they will pick Chastain. But, as she joked in her Golden Globes acceptance speech, Lawrence has Harvey Weinstein in her corner, and you won’t get rich betting against Harvey Weinstein. I bet against him last year in the same category, and his candidate, Meryl Streep, won in the one year she didn’t deserve to. So I believe I will put my money on Katniss to win.
Should win: Watts
Will win: Lawrence
Ben Affleck has been gathering best directing trophies from every acronym from BAFTA to the DGA. But he won’t be getting an Oscar Sunday night, because AMPAS didn’t nominate him. That leaves a category without a front runner. I think Steven Spielberg will win because he is Steven Spielberg, and also because “Lincoln” is one of his best films, if perhaps his least Spielbergian. Ang Lee might win for the stunning technical and artistic achievement that is “Life of Pi,” but “Pi” hasn’t been racking up victories elsewhere.
Should win: Spielberg
Will win: Spielberg
When the Oscar nominations were announced, I thought “Lincoln” was the sure winner. After all, the snub of Ben Affleck supposedly put “Argo” out of the running. Then “Argo” started winning just about every other award out there, and at this point it looks unbeatable. I think the academy may have inadvertently caused the “Argo” surge by snubbing Affleck. Had Affleck been nominated, people wouldn’t be crusading to vindicate him with an “Argo” victory and “Lincoln” still might be the front runner. “Argo” also has benefitted from “Zero Dark Thirty’s” torture controversy. Overnight, “Argo” became the “nice” CIA movie.
So “Argo” probably will win, though I wish it wouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I like “Argo” a lot, but I never saw it as best picture material. The story is supposed to be a true one, but the trumped-up suspense during the final 15 minutes is obviously invented (none of that stuff at the airport actually happened). Of the nine films nominated, “Lincoln” is the one most likely to become a classic.
Should win: “Lincoln”
Will win: “Argo”