Oscar Preview 2013: Let the Games Begin

Radio host Tom Grooms recently interviewed me and my friend Laura about the DC Film Society Oscar night party. As he always does, Tom asked me to predict the winners. In years past, calling the races was a breeze. Not this time. With the exception of Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, all the major races feel competitive. Some of the close races are due to the bizarre nominations and strange snubs. Some are due to 2012’s abundance of quality films. Either way, it should make for a fun Oscar night.

The past two years I got seven out of nine categories right. It may take divine intervention for me to repeat that now. Regardless, I once again offer my picks for who deserves to win and who probably will take home the golden statuette:

Roger Deakins – Skyfall
Janusz Kaminski – Lincoln
Seamus McGarvey – Anna Karenina
Claudio Miranda – Life of Pi
Ralph Richardson – Django Unchained

Should win: Deakins
When Martin Scorsese finally won his Oscar a few years ago, Deakins became the Academy’s #1 bridesmaid. He is now 0 for 9, despite having shot two Best Picture winners, A Beautiful Mind and No Country for Old Men. He’s also worked on classics such as The Shawshank Redemption and The Big Lebowski. In fact, he has photographed every Coen Brothers movie since 1991 and has also worked with Scorsese, John Sayles and Ed Zwick. Skyfall is Deakins third collaboration with Sam Mendes, and it’s some of his best work. True, you usually don’t associate fine cinematography with a James Bond film, but this is the exception. Not only is it beautiful, but the climactic fight scenes are in dark areas with little light to work with. Thanks to Deakins you can see all of the action without losing the quality of a remote area at night. It’s time to give Deakins his just and long overdue reward.

Will win: Miranda
No doubt Deakins is the sentimental choice, and he won the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) award. He could very easily break his losing streak. Still, Deakins has won the ASC award twice before without the Academy following suit. I don’t quite see the Academy honoring a Bond movie for camerawork. Also Miranda has the beautiful visuals of Life of Pi going for him. It’s those visuals that are the lasting memory for the film, and I think that will be enough to give Miranda the win.

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

Should win: Kushner
Very tough call over Terrio’s excellent work. Kushner adapted Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Out of the book’s 754 pages, Goodwin devoted just four to the passage of the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery. Kushner turned that into a fully formed, compelling story. Even though the script only covered a few months in Lincoln’s life, somehow Kushner gave us a glimpse into Lincoln and his times. He made Lincoln flesh and blood, not the stone monument. Yet this only deepens our appreciation for the man we thought we already knew.

Will win: Terrio
Argo has been steadily gaining steam in the precursor awards. Terrio recently won the Writers Guild of America (WGA) adapted screenplay prize and the prestigious USC Scripter award (along with Joshua Bearman and Tony Mendez, who wrote the source material). Russell could pull it out, having just won the BAFTA (the British Academy Award) in this category. Since he also directed Silver Linings Playbook, a Screenplay Oscar could serve as a consolation prize (as it did last year for Alexander Payne with The Descendants). And you can’t rule out Kushner, a former Pulitzer Prize winner. But Terrio’s story has the funny but true take on Hollywood that should be catnip to Academy voters. That, and the film’s momentum, should carry the night.

Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola – Moonrise Kingdom
Mark Boal – Zero Dark Thirty
John Gatins – Flight
Michael Haneke – Amour
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained

Should win: Anderson and Coppola
Any of the nominees except Haneke would be worthy winners. Anderson and Coppola’s script is my pick because it gives so much – interesting characters, an engaging narrative, and the intricate details that Anderson does so well.

Will win: Tarantino
No clear favorite here, especially because the prime Best Picture contenders are adapted screenplays. Mark Boal earned much credit for his exhaustive research in putting together the Zero Dark Thirty screenplay. He just won the WGA original screenplay award, but he’s also been at the heart of the debate about the film’s depiction of torture. Most of the praise for Flight centered on Denzel Washington. Foreign language films such as Amour occasionally get screenplay nominations, but rarely win. Moonrise Kingdom did not get any other nominations. That leaves Tarantino, whose work also attracted its share of controversy. Still, he recently won the BAFTA in this category, and is definitely the best known of the nominees. Plus he has the Weinstein Oscar marketing team behind him. In a close race, those advantages may be enough.

Amy Adams – The Master
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook

Should win: Hathaway
Field and Hunt also excelled and would be solid picks. Hathaway, despite limited screen time, injected so much heart and feeling into the doomed Fantine. Her performance resonated more than anything else in the movie. She is what pulled the audience in. Oh, yes and she also sung beautifully.

Will win: Hathaway
One of the two airtight locks for Oscar night. Hathaway has won every Oscar precursor award. It doesn’t hurt that she was also terrific in The Dark Knight Rises and that Hollywood loves her.

Alan Arkin – Argo
Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained

Should win: Hoffman
Very, very difficult pick. I would not have a problem with any of these five nominees winning. Hoffman had the most complex role, having to be convincing as a larger than life figure, someone who could inspire fierce devotion. Yet Hoffman also skillfully showed the insecure, fraudulent, but sympathetic man underneath. With The Master and A Late Quartet in 2012 Hoffman once again demonstrated that he’s one of the most talented and versatile actors around.

Will win: Waltz
I really should write “Will win: No freakin’ clue!” This category often serves as a lifetime achievement award, but all of the nominees have won Oscars before. Arkin stole almost every scene he appeared in. Plus his turn as a crusty movie producer rang true in Hollywood. Tommy Lee Jones also stole many scenes as an irascible Congressman. Watching him dress people down was one of the delights that Lincoln offered. He won the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) supporting actor award, and could easily follow suit on Oscar night. If not, then it will be De Niro or Waltz, both of whom have the Weinstein wizards behind them. De Niro has not won an Oscar in 32 years and could be the sentimental favorite. As he did in Inglourious Basterds, Waltz displayed a unique flair and was a perfect match for Quentin Tarantino’s words. Even more than Django, his character is the outsider in the movie, and you saw much of the brutality through his eyes. He won the BAFTA, and right now I’m going with him because I need to pick someone. But I could feel differently tomorrow.

Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts – The Impossible

Should win: Wallis
Another difficult pick. Chastain and Riva delivered brave, multi-layered performances, but Wallis had to carry her film. Everything you see was through her character’s vantage point. And Wallis pulled it off beautifully. She combined a child’s innocence and wonder with a growing realization that there are darker forces in the world. Yes, Wallis was only six years old when she played this part. While she should not get special preference, her youth should not be held against her. She was not simply “being a kid.” Great acting is great acting, whether you’re six, 36 or 86.

Will win: Lawrence
It’s a three-way race among Chastain, Lawrence, and Riva. Chastain was the early favorite. Even those critical of Zero Dark Thirty singled her out for praise. Riva winning would be a heartwarming story. She would be the oldest Best Actress winner. To top it off, Riva turns 86 on the 24th, so the Oscar could be her ultimate birthday present. Plus foreign language performances have won before, such as Marion Cotillard a few years ago. Riva won the BAFTA, so it’s clear she has a solid base of support. But Lawrence is the hottest actress in Hollywood right now, and this is a category where the popular, young and attractive often win. See Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and Gwyneth Paltrow in the past 15 years. In 2012, Lawrence had both Silver Linings Playbook and her star (and franchise) making turn in The Hunger Games. She has the Weinstein magic in her corner and won the SAG best actress award. Plus Silver Linings Playbook received nominations in all four acting categories, and it would be strange for the film not to win any of them. This category is its best bet.

Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Denzel Washington – Flight

Should win: Day-Lewis
All of Day-Lewis’s accolades are richly deserved. He immersed himself in Abraham Lincoln. Like past Lincoln portrayals, Day-Lewis captured the man’s devotion to his country and to the cause of freedom. But unlike other portrayals, Day-Lewis channeled Lincoln’s warmth and good humor. It was a fascinating performance of a fascinating man.

Will win: Day-Lewis
The media bequeathed this Oscar long before the nominations were even announced. Like Hathaway, Day-Lewis has won every Oscar precursor award. It seems every 20 years or so a consensus builds for the informal “Best Actor of His Generation.” Seventy years ago it was Laurence Olivier. Later, Marlon Brando, then Robert De Niro, and now Day-Lewis.

Michael Haneke – Amour
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Should win: Spielberg
Spielberg balanced a story dealing with weighty issues and a revered President with a massive cast. He took what could have easily been a dry history lesson and made a genuine, thought-provoking, and touching film. He even made a Congressional vote exciting. Lincoln also looked beautiful. It’s an epic film that’s also deeply personal. Day-Lewis garnered much of the attention, but the whole cast turned in fine work. While Spielberg has never been known as an actor’s director, maybe he should be.

Should win: Spielberg
Ben Affleck won the BAFTA and the Directors Guild of America (DGA) award for Argo and should be the overwhelming favorite here. Just one minor problem: he wasn’t nominated. That leaves a free-for-all. Silver Linings Playbook clearly has substantial support among actors, with its four acting nominations. David O. Russell seems to have repaired his reputation after much publicized blowups with actors earlier in his career. Ang Lee won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain a few years ago and is well respected throughout Hollywood. He deservedly won praise for his exquisite use of CGI and 3-D photography in Life of Pi, not to mention succeeding in bringing to life a book considered unfilmable. After being frequently subbed in his early career Spielberg has now won Best Director twice. A win here would put him in rare company, tying him with Frank Capra and William Wyler for second most directing Oscars (John Ford had four). Out of Lee, Russell, and Spielberg, I really don’t know. I suppose Spielberg’s cache may be enough.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Should win: Argo
I’d like to say Argo and Lincoln, but that would be cheating. Those two actually have much in common. Both are authentic recreations of their times. Both dig deeper beyond their basic stories. Both manage to deliver suspense even though we know the endings. I’m going with Argo, only because, in addition to its look at the Iranian hostage crisis, it’s also a compelling and fun look at Hollywood in the post-Star Wars years. Everything about the film succeeds, including the portraits of the U.S. embassy staff in Iran, and what led to the crisis in the first place. Sometimes in rating films I simply ask myself “Which of these would I most want to see again?” Out of this group it’s Argo, by an eyelash over Lincoln.

Will win: Argo
What a long, strange trip it’s been. When the Academy announced the nominations, Argo appeared dead in the water. No film won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination since 1990. Lincoln, with the most total nominations, was the clear favorite, with Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook close behind. Then Argo began winning big, receiving the Critic’s Choice Best Picture, SAG Best Ensemble, and the DGA award. Most importantly, Argo won the Producer’s Guild of America Best Picture award, a reliable bellwether for Oscar Best Picture. Argo clearly has support from throughout Hollywood. The entertainment media rallied around the film and Affleck as the wronged director. The momentum behind Argo continues to grow, so much so that I can’t see any of the other nominees stopping it on Oscar night.

Adam Spector
February 21, 2013

Contact us: Membership
For members only: E-Mailing List Ushers Website All Else

1 1