E: That’s right, it’s my favorite time of the year – tomorrow is Oscar nomination morning! Huzzah! When Emma Stone and host-to-be Seth McFarlane announce the nominations tomorrow morning, I’ll be glued to the television, waiting on their every word. All too often, it’s easy to tell who’s going to win Oscar once you’ve gone through enough pre-cursor awards. But the nominations? There’s always wiggle room, no matter how many lesser award nominations you see. There’s always a bit of mystery, the chance for a snub or the really exciting inclusion of a fresh new artist or an unexpected reward for a low profile character actor. Before the nominations, so much more is possible.
And that’s why I love it.
Zero Dark Thirty
Almost as Likely:
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
The Remaining Nominee Pool:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Dark Knight Rises
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Predicting the Best Picture nominees has become particularly tricky of late since the Academy decided to dicker with the size of its shortlist. For the better part of a century, there were five nominees. Then there were ten. As of last year, however, there are somewhere between 5 and 10, the nominees being determined by a formula that attempts to weigh the Academy members devotion to each film. In 2012, there were 9. In 2012, who knows? Surely this system is designed to make Oscar-ologists like myself tear out all our remaining hair. That said, I will do my level best.
The eventual winner will most certainly come from the top tier (and no, there doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite yet this year, though the Golden Globes will show us on Sunday whether Les Mis can beat Silver Linings Playbook and who’d come out ahead in a fight between Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty). Middling reviews shouldn’t keep the beautiful and devastating Les Mis off the list; Oscar’s okay with popular movies that critics don’t really get, and the enduring story of one man’s redemption is just that kind. Despite the confusion swirling around its politics, Zero Dark Thirty offers an exciting and at least somewhat true story delivered with tremendous craft. And Lincoln. Oh, Lincoln. The story of the Emancipation Proclamation and (arguably) America’s greatest president, full of great acting, glorious words, and real political heroism? No way that doesn’t get rewarded.
Given the expanded slate, it seems likely that “declassified” geopolitical thriller Argo, dazzling adventure story Life of Pi and tragi-comic rom-com Silver Linings Playbook will also make the list. But how many names to add to it? Now that’s the question.
Word from The Hollywood Reporter is that the Academy’s new online voting system is impenetrable, even to computer savy and determined younger voters. Might that hurt the chances of edgier indie fare like Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild? Now, Dave Karger – late of EW and recently of Fandango’s Frontrunner’s site – thinks the Academy will stop at the six movies I’ve given as the top. Karger’s a brilliant Oscar analyst, but I’m not sure. I didn’t think they’d go as high as 9 last year, certainly, so in light of that, 6 seems like a very low number. It seems more like, given last year, that a few more movies will receive at least 5% of the number one votes in the Academy’s weighted system. If there are more than six, my gut says quirky nostalgic love story Moonrise Kingdom and exuberant revenge bloodbath Django Unchained in that order.
Can’t Live Without Them:
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Mis
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Ben Affleck, Argo
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
You Never Know:
Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Michael Haneke, Amour
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Robert Zemeckis, Flight
I’m with the Director’s Guild this year – I think this is a fairly obvious slate, and it ought to be Affleck, Bigelow, Hooper, Lee and Spielberg. Wackiness can of course ensue and the director’s branch of the Academy does get feisty on occasion, but I don’t really see it this year. Affleck’s had huge, sustained buzz all year, his previous directing efforts have been well received, and he’s already an Oscar-winning writer, which has to be a nice mark in his favor. Though it hasn’t made quite the splash it might have, Life of Pi provides lush visuals that have spellbound audiences and especially critics: Ang Lee is an Oscar winning director and producer, and the film was a high interest literary adaptation of a book thought unfilmable. Projects don’t get any more high interest than uber musical Les Mis, and despite Hooper missing out on a BAFTA nom, I think the revolutionary shooting style (not dubbing in the musical numbers but instead performing them on set, capturing ever tremble and crack of each different take) will put him over the edge.
Of course, while Les Mis is high profile to the general public, Zero Dark Thirty has rated interest from Congress. Did the filmmakers get too much access to secret documents? Does the film promote torture? Is it a journalistic effort to tell the true story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden? The fact that we found Osama while they were making the film makes it all that much more fascinating. Bigelow is currently the only woman to win best director; now she has a chance to be the first to be nominated twice.
And, yeah, prestige projects? Hello Steven Spielberg. Is there even anything I can say about the legend who has helped shaped the movie-experience for the last four decades? He too was snubbed by BAFTA, but that could be less of a surprise; Abraham Lincoln is a uniquely American figure. It’s certainly not impossible for one of the others listed to sneak through, but I feel unusually confident (for this odd category, anyway) that these are the best choices.
Assured a Seat at the Table:
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Hustling for the Last Two Chairs:
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Denzel Washington, Flight
Joaquim Phoenix, The Master
Relatively Long Shots:
Ben Affleck, Argo
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
The scenario here is, thankfully, a much more straightforward one than Best Picture, though this doesn’t necessarily make it any less difficult to predict. There are three locks (two time winner Daniel Day-Lewis for his masterful portrayal of our deeply revered president, previous nominee John Hawkes for his devastating work as a paralyzed man desperate for a sexual awakening, and never nominated matinee idol Hugh Jackman for his transformative portrayal of Jean ValJean, whose journey provides the emotional and spiritual core of beloved story), and three contenders for the last two openings. It’s pretty fair to say that none of the long shots will make it to the feast – Best Actor is rarely a category for long shots. Too many stars, too many options, too high profile. Poor Richard Gere! The Academy seems consistently arrayed against you. And despite the raves I hear about Tom Holland, the chances of an unknown teenager getting a Best Actor nomination are pretty close to nil. No, the two finals slots should come from the never nominated Cooper, two time winner Washington and two time nominee Phoenix.
All three of their movies seem to be floundering and so the question is, who’s fading most? As of right now I’d guess maybe it’s Phoenix, whose movie bowed the longest ago and who famously disdains the awards machine, but it’s so hard to say. He did just snag a BAFTA nom, after all. Flight bowed to great acclaim (and middling box office) perhaps too early in the fall. Washington is a two time Oscar winner, well respected and liked. On the other hand, Cooper’s can’t really be seen as a heavy weight even if he’s lately gained box office cred, and with SLP so far failing to make an impression at the box office, the loser here could just as easily be him. After all, he’s awfully young and handsome to be a Best Actor nominee; conventional wisdom holds that the mostly aging, largely male Academy voters can be a bit spiteful that way. So despite the fact that he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice, a BAFTA and a SAG award, Bradley Cooper might miss out. On the other hand, it would be the year’s biggest snub if he did, reminiscent of last year’s un-nominated It-Boy, Michael Fassbender.
So in a squeaker, I’m going to guess that Cooper and Washington will round out the top five. Will I kick myself for saying that, for not being bold enough to imagine Cooper off the list? Maybe. Barring a surprise inclusion by Ben Affleck, Cooper’s should be the first name called (it’s alphabetical order for the Academy), so I’ll know whether to flay myself or not immediately.
Let’s Just Call A Spade A Spade:
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
The Probable Remainder:
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
This Is Where It Gets Murky:
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Emayatzay Cornealdi, Middle of Nowhere
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
Best Actress tends to be a very stable category, but this year may be the exception. Just look at the list of alternative contenders; unless you follow the Oscars or indie/foreign film you’ve probably never even heard of three of those names. And no, I can’t pronounce two of them, either. There are fewer lead roles for women, and so there are generally fewer contenders here than in the perpetually stocked lead actor category. But this year, it’s trickier than usual. This year there are six men competing for five slots, and probably seven women. Actually, I should use the term “women” lightly, because Quvenzhane Wallis is 9.
So, yes, there’s been some jockeying for position. Chastain, Cotillard and Lawrence top all lists as, in turn, a determined CIA analyst hunting Osama Bin Laden, a whale trainer coping with the traumatic aftermath of a crippling accident, and a woman struggling with mental illness and loss. (Gee, you’d never know that last was a romantic comedy, would you?) Supporting Actress winner Weisz makes the drama short list at the Golden Globes for her role as a married woman caught in a torrid affair; french octogenarian Riva replaces Watts at BAFTA. Meanwhile at the Critics Choice, it’s Mirren (playing Alfred Hitchcock’s wife and muse) on the outside.
Though Wallis has her partisans, her age and her film’s tiny box office must surely affect her chances. As enchanting as she’s rumored to be, she was only six during filming, and there will be as many people who just won’t see what she did as acting. And of course you also have the number of people who haven’t seen her movie. Her only major nomination has come from the Independent Spirit Awards, which tends to honor smaller, edgier work than Oscar.
It astounds me that Naomi Watts has only been nominated for an Oscar once (for the magnificent 21 Grams) considering her body of work. She’s a polarizing presence, however, and The Impossible – a movie of a family’s survival in the face of the 2004 Tsunami – is no exception. Notices for the film have been mixed, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that central characters of the largely true story have been changed from Spaniards to Brits for the sake of English speaking audiences. Still, she and the movie have passionate fans.
Cornealdi will hopefully get more good roles out of her time in this year’s Oscar buzz mill. Anna Karenina hasn’t gotten enough support to get Knightley another nomination; the film will most probably be rewarded, however, for its art direction, costumes and possibly even cinematography. Hitchcock doesn’t seem to be well liked generally, which works against winner, 4 time nominee (and silver fox) Helen Mirren; you can’t count her out, however. L.A. Film Critics Best Actress Emmanuelle Riva, who will turn 86 the night of the Oscar telecast, has gathered up amazing notices and a slew of smaller awards as an elderly wife slowly losing her tether to this world in Amour, a heartbreaking portrait of the end of a marriage. Even though she failed to secure a SAG or Golden Globe nomination, if someone’s going to spoil Watts or Mirren’s chances, I think it’s her.
To sum up, I’m going to predict Watts and Mirren will join Chastain, Lawrence and Cotillard on the Academy’s shortlist, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Riva squeak in.
Best Supporting Actor:
Everyone’s Talking About:
Alan Arkin, Argo
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Robert DeNiro, SLP
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Leonardo DiCaprio, DU
Javier Bardem, Skyfall
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Ewan McGregor, The Impossible
Eddie Redmayne, Les Mis
Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
No one’s ever been nominated from a Bond film; let’s admit that works against Academy darling Javier Bardem right from the start. Working against Matthew McConaughey is his entire body of work as well as the name and subject matter of his movie; despite the flurry of awards he’s received, I just don’t see it.
I have to admit something else; I don’t get the Academy’s fondness for performances like Arkin’s. Sure, the type must be familiar, but we have seen that kind of ball-busting movie producer ever so many times before. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy his one big scene, even if I don’t know how they’re going to find a clip from it they can show on television. However, he’s made nearly every shortlist so far (BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globes) and seems an inevitable choice. And he’s won before, so we know that they really, really like him. As a firebrand abolitionist, Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones and his terrifying Civil War era wig seem destined for tomorrow’s big list as well. Another well liked Oscar winner is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who will likely get his fourth career nomination for his work as a charismatic cult leader.
Two time winner Robert DeNiro, on the other hand, could pick up his seventh nomination for his work as an eccentric, football loving father in Silver Lining Playbook. Most of DeNiro’s nominations come from the 70s and 80s; there’s more than a 20 year gap in his resume since his last nominated role, 1992’s Cape Fear. Seems like this could be a good time: he missed out on BAFTA, but SAG, the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice all included him on their lists. So he has to be considered a strong contender for a nomination.
So who does that leave? Much as I’d love it to be Eddie Redmayne, who broke my heart singing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” I don’t think he has a chance. Neither does Ezra Miller, despite happily landing on a few end of the year best lists. Ewan McGregor, too, is said to be marvelous in The Impossible, but just hasn’t had enough buzz. Dwight Henry managed to score an Independent Spirit award, but that may be as far as he gets. No, I think it’s going to come down to the Christoph Waltz’s liberating bounty hunter, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s vicious plantation owner in Django Unchained. Waltz just grabbed a BAFTA nom, but my gut says DiCaprio. Arkin, DeNiro, DiCaprio,Hoffman, Jones.
They’ve Made Every Shortlist:
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Mis
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Almost as Popular:
Amy Adams, The Master
And Then, Hmmm:
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Jacki Weaver, SLP
Maggie Smith, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Judi Dench, Skyfall/ Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Ann Dowd, Compliance
I can’t help thinking this category is Anne Hathaway’s to lose. Right now the rest of the categories flux and shift. Can Hawkes best two time winner Day Lewis, or will Jackman sing past them both? Could Zero Dark Thirty beat Lincoln? Is it a throw down between Chastain and Lawrence? All Hathaway needs to do is get nominated, and her heroic, gutting performance as the tragic Fantine will bring her to Oscar glory. Which is a round about way of saying she’s in. Of course, you can’t underestimate Sally Fields. She’s only been nominated twice before, and like Hilary Swank, has two lead statuettes to show for it. She too should make it safely to Oscar night. Former winner Helen Hunt, too, has been universally lauded; in fact, her film has been buzzed about for well over a year. Though the last ten years haven’t brought the same level of fame or work as Hunt experienced in the 90s, spending two hours on screen as a mostly naked sexual surrogate seems to have done her awards profile, anyway, a world of good.
Amy Adams has an excellent shot of picking up her fourth nomination as the Machiavellian wife of The Master. There’s no shortage of big name contenders for the remaining slots, however. In contrast to the long buzzed about performances like Hathaway and Hunt’s, Oscar winner Nicole Kidman vaulted out of nowhere with Golden Globe and SAG nominations. Her film has been excoriated, but that didn’t stop Jessica Lange from winning an Oscar for Blue Sky and it doesn’t have to stop Kidman here. Before the Golden Globe nominations, I’d have expected one time nominee Weaver to get that slot, but now I wonder. She just hasn’t gotten as much attention as her costars. Ann Dowd has paid for an Oscar campaign herself, which isn’t a great sign; a nomination isn’t impossible, but it’s not terribly likely. Everyone who saw her movie seems to have found her work amazing, but that’s just not a lot of people, not even in the film industry. Maggie Smith and Judi Dench are perennial Oscar favorites, and could make the grade for their work this year; Smith’s crabby old racist was a particular stand out, and something of a surprising role for her.
In the end, my guess is Adams, Fields, Hathaway, Hunt, and – because there doesn’t seem to be a clear alternative – Kidman.
And there it is! In the smaller categories, you can expect animation nominations for Frankenweenie and Brave, costume nominations for Snow White and the Huntsman, Lincoln and of course Anna Karenina, and a screenplay nod for likely winner Lincoln, adapted by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner for the screen. There should be some technical nominations for The Hobbit, The Dark Knight Rises and maybe even The Avengers. I’m hoping that one of my favorite films of the year, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, will also snag a coveted Adapted Screenplay nod. I would have loved to see the very well reviewed epic The Hunger Games nominated for something, but between bowing in the first half of the year and being based on a young adult novel, it doesn’t feel like anyone’s taking it seriously.
And that’s the end of it! I cannot wait to see tomorrow morning what the Academy has chosen. How well have I guessed? I’ll let you know tomorrow.