I feel like I've been following the Academy Awards since I started breathing, but I simply cannot remember the last time Oscar pundits, analysts, bloggers, fans, nerds, whatever, went into such a tizzy over not just one, but two glaring omissions from the coveted list of nominees – and we're not even talking about omissions from any of the high-profile acting categories.
I am, of course, referring to Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, who were infamously, shamelessly, disgracefully snubbed as Best Director for "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty," respectively, despite the fact that both fact-based masterworks topped numerous year-end "Best of" lists from critics (mine included) and even started winning some awards back in late-December (especially for Bigelow). I mean, how dare they?
But right after New Year's, the tide changed – and mighty fast – for "Argo."
Just hours after being passed over by the Academy in the early hours of January 10, a vindicated Ben Affleck took the stage at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards to collect his first statue of the season for Best Director ("Argo" won Best Picture too). In an all-too-obvious dig, Affleck addressed the elephant in the room by thanking "the Academy" just seconds after he bounced up to the podium (he was joking, maybe).
And that was just the first of many stops on what has turned out to be Affleck's "Argo-F**k Yourself Redemption Tour." In the days that followed, "Argo" won Best Director and Best Picture at the Golden Globes, it won Best Picture again at the Producers Guild Awards and it even trumped the presumed victor "Silver Linings Playbook" to win Best Acting Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The icing on the cake came from his peers at the Directors Guild, which also named him Best Director. So while all of these back-to-back victories much have taken some – but let's face it, not all – of the sting out of his snub, this groundswell of support for Affleck has become a blessing in disguise for "Argo," which has now emerged as the movie to beat for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
To that extent, that makes at least one of the categories easy to predict on my annual Oscar predictions list.
As for the others, there could be a few upsets, but I stand by my predictions. Hopefully you will too – and if you don't, well, then "Argo-f**k yourself."
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
The Nominees: "Brave," "Frankenweenie," "ParaNorman," "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," "Wreck-It Ralph"
The Breakdown: Major kudos to Disney for leading a strong year for animated films, three of which are nominated here. But where Disney-Pixar has dominated this field in years past, its latest offering, "Brave," lacked the ingenious touch of previous gems like "Up" and "Toy Story 3." Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" may resonate with Academy voters who will appreciate the nods to classic horror films, but "Wreck-It Ralph" is the cleverest of the bunch by far, since it did for 80s video game characters what "Toy Story" did for, well, toys.
Should Win: "Wreck-It Ralph"
Will Win: "Wreck-It Ralph"
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
The Nominees: "5 Broken Cameras," "The Gatekeepers," "How to Survive a Plague," "The Invisible War," "Searching for Sugar Man"
The Breakdown: All strong contenders to be sure, but "Searching for Sugar Man" takes the cake for its crowd-pleasing and rousing stranger-than-fiction story about the resurrection of Rodriguez – a long-lost singer-songwriter from the 70s who finally got the long-overdue fame and recognition that he deserved.
Should Win: "Searching for Sugar Man"
Will Win: "Searching for Sugar Man"
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
The Nominees: "Amour," "Kon-Tiki," "No," "A Royal Affair," "War Witch"
The Breakdown: With strong showings in four other major categories (including Best Picture and Best Director), Michael Haneke's gripping emotional drama about a long-married couple facing the ravages of old age is a lock for Best Foreign Film.
Should Win: "Amour"
Will Win: "Amour"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
The Nominees: Chris Terrio ("Argo"), Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), David Magee ("Life of Pi"), Tony Kushner ("Lincoln"), David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook")
The Breakdown: For a low-budget sensation like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" to get nominated for four Academy Awards, the nominations will have to serve as the prize (including this one). But it's strange that Chris Terrio's screenplay for "Argo" doesn't have the frontrunner status that it deserves, since it has so many great one-liners. Then again, David O. Russell's beautiful screenplay for "Silver Linings Playbook" is an actor's dream that features so many profound, funny and touching moments, but Tony Kushner's dense screenplay for "Lincoln" weaves a true ensemble of history's finest characters, and it will likely pick up the slack here after losing steam in the Best Picture and Best Director categories.
Should Win: David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook")
Will Win: Tony Kushner ("Lincoln")
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
The Nominees: Michael Haneke ("Amour"), Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained"), John Gatins ("Flight"), Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola ("Moonrise Kingdom"), Mark Boal ("Zero Dark Thirty")
The Breakdown: "Zero Dark Thirty" bolted out of the gate last December by reaping enormous critical praise, only to face controversy over its allegedly favorable depiction of using torture to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Support for this proficient masterwork has sadly since waned, but there's no denying its visceral impact (especially in the last 40 minutes). Mark Boal's meticulous screenplay is the backbone of Kathryn Bigelow's gripping thriller, but older Academy voters might be more drawn to the personal ordeal depicted in Michael Haneke's emotionally powerful "Amour."
Should Win: Mark Boal ("Zero Dark Thirty")
Will Win: Michael Haneke ("Amour")
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
The Nominees: Amy Adams ("The Master"), Sally Field ("Lincoln"), Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables"), Helen Hunt ("The Sessions"), Jacki Weaver ("Silver Linings Playbook")
The Breakdown: If there's a sure thing in any of the acting categories, it's Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables." And that comes down to a single scene: her one-take performance of "I Dreamed a Dream," which is comparable to Jennifer Hudson's show-stopping performance of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," which won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2006's "Dreamgirls."
Should Win: Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables")
Will Win: Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables")
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
The Nominees: Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master"), Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln"), Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained")
The Breakdown: How there could be any debate in a category that features Philip Seymour Hoffman's brilliant performance as the complex cult leader Lancaster Dodd in "The Master" is beyond me. But even though it sure is nice to see Robert De Niro back in fine form as a football-obsessed father in "Silver Linings Playbook," the tide does seem to be leaning more towards Tommy Lee Jones' scene stealing turn as Thaddeus Stevens in "Lincoln" (especially after his victory at the SAG Awards).
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master")
Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln")
The Nominees: Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour"), Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), Naomi Watts ("The Impossible")
The Breakdown: In a category that features both the youngest-ever acting nominee (Quvenzhane Wallis: 9) and the oldest (Emmanuelle Riva: 85), look for a possible upset here from the latter, especially if Academy voters sympathize with her ailing character in "Amour." But while Naomi Watts should win based on the power of her grueling turn as a tsunami survivor in "The Impossible," 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence exudes the spirit of an old soul while giving a strong, vulnerable and heartbreaking performance in "Silver Linings Playbook." And since "Silver Linings" is the first movie since 1981's "Reds" to feature nominations in all four acting categories, it has to win at least one of them. (Doesn't it?)
Should Win: Naomi Watts ("The Impossible")
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook")
The Nominees: Bradley Cooper ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln"), Hugh Jackman ("Les Miserables"), Joaquin Phoenix ("The Master"), Denzel Washington ("Flight")
The Breakdown: So, it's all about Daniel Day-Lewis' monumental turn as the 16th President of the USA, right? Well, not so fast. Sure, Day-Lewis successfully managed to humanize an iconic figure like Honest Abe, but don't rule out Hugh Jackman, who not only gave a tremendous physical and emotional performance in "Les Miserables," but did so while singing the whole darn thing live – no small feat, and one that's bound to resonate with Academy voters (and besides, Day-Lewis already has two Best Actor Oscars, while Jackman has none). But "Les Miserables" got otherwise mixed reviews and, well, Daniel Day-Lewis simply is Lincoln. More than anything, the film succeeds by depicting what it must have really been like to have been in his presence.
Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln")
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln")
The Nominees: Michael Haneke ("Amour"), Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), Ang Lee ("Life of Pi"), Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln"), David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook")
The Breakdown: Well, well, well! What to do about a category where the person who should win (and probably would have won) wasn't even nominated? Okay, we've already addressed this, but suffice to say that Best Director now comes down to two people: one who turned a seemingly unfilmable best-selling novel into a breathtaking, groundbreaking, beautiful and emotionally profound 3-D masterpiece, and one who made an "important" film that will find a permanent home in American History classes ‘til the end of time. Look for the Oscar to go to the latter, since "Lincoln" has to win one of the top two big awards, and it sure as heck won't be Best Picture.
Should Win: Ang Lee ("Life of Pi")
Will Win: Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln")
The Nominees: "Amour," "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty"
The Breakdown: Aaaand, we're back. Even though I laid out my argument for why "Argo" will win Best Picture at the top of this article, here's why it should win: it's the best movie of the year, period. "Argo" has it all: drama, suspense, satire, humor, excitement, a fascinating (and still-relevant) true story, fully-realized characters and a rousing finale. What more do you want from a Best Picture?
Should Win: "Argo"
Will Win: "Argo"
-- Scott Mantz
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