Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Will win: ARGO is the sort of movie most people seem to like but few seem to love, which is par for the course for the Oscars lately. Plus it's a hooray-for-Hollywood story, so the Tinseltown types should eat it up.
Should win: AMOUR's the best movie of the bunch, and it would have had my vote if I'd had one. But let's not kid ourselves that it has a chance at winning. Of the movies with a genuine shot, LINCOLN is the one that feels the most like a "Best" Picture- handsomely made, with seriousness of purpose but some comedic elements as well, driven by strong performances. And, oh yeah- really frickin' good.
Should have been nominated: Never in a million years would the Academy have gone for THE LONELIEST PLANET, an artsy, observational film that balances 2 hours of behavior (flirting, walking, dancing, walking, drinking, walking some more) with about five seconds of actual plot. But if you're on its wavelength, it's pretty spellbinding stuff.
Best Lead Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Will win: Lawrence is a talent who will deserve an Oscar someday, but she'll probably edge out Riva and Chastain this year. As much as I hate to say it, the hotness factor will probably have something to do with this. After all, Oscar voters have historically tended to go for actresses who get their start in "looker" roles only to show off their acting chops later. Chastain is incredibly attractive as well, but by the time anybody knew who she was, she was already a Serious Actress, whereas Lawrence was glorified T&A on a basic-cable sitcom. And it's easier to imagine Riva taking this if she was more of an icon a la Catherine Deneuve, but seeing as how her most iconic role came more than half a century ago, I don't know if Sony Pictures Classics can successfully play the "legend" card...
Should win: ...which is really a shame, since she's easily the best of the bunch, beautifully embodying the physical pain and emotional torment central to AMOUR with a minimum of fussiness. Her performance is less about (over-)playing than it is about gradually dimming the light behind her eyes until we can practically see it flicker out. Devastating stuff. Plus her (86th) birthday is the same day as the ceremony. Who doesn't want to make this happen?
Should have been nominated: Rachel Weisz won an Oscar for THE CONSTANT GARDENER, but she deserved at least a shot at a second for THE DEEP BLUE SEA, as an adulterous wife consumed with love for a hotshot airman (Tom Hiddleston) who is first drawn to, then repulsed by, the depths of her obsession.
Best Lead Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Will win: In spite of the fact that he already has two Oscars, Day-Lewis remains the safest bet of the night. I mean, Daniel Day-Lewis as Abe Lincoln. Whaddya need, a road map? The only possible spoiler I see is Hugh Jackman, if for some reason a LES MIS groundswell happens. But I doubt it.
Should win: Day-Lewis warranted the hype, but Joaquin Phoenix's deeply committed and borderline grotesque performance felt like an exposed nerve onscreen. Nice to have him back.
Should have been nominated: AMOUR is a two-hander that succeeds primarily on the strength of its performances, yet they nominate one and not the other? A shame too, since Trintignant is arguably even better than Riva, albeit in a part that (on the surface anyway) is more reactive. But delve more deeply into his performance and you'll find the film's true painful center, as he plays a man who can't bear the thought of the love of his life slipping away and will do anything within his power to stop it from happening.
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Will win: Spielberg's the one to beat here, since SILVER LININGS and LIFE OF PI never quite got the across-the-board groundswells they needed to overcome LINCOLN. Plus if ARGO wins Best Picture the voters may want to recognize LINCOLN as well.
Should win: Haneke- not just because AMOUR's the best of the five films nominated here, but also because wouldn't it be awesome to see him win a whole slew of Oscars?
Should have been nominated: In a year full of small-minded cinema, both Leos Carax and the newly-minted filmmaking team of the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer thought big, bold, and ambitious. Whether or not you're into HOLY MOTORS or CLOUD ATLAS, it's undeniable that their makers swung for the fences.
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Will win: When is it possible for such a wide-open race to be boring? When all five of the winners is already an Oscar-winner, that's when. To that end, I suspect the gold-watch Oscar will end up going to DeNiro, an acting legend who's gotten a little lazy onscreen in recent years, and who will probably net himself a third Oscar simply for waking up and coming to play for a change.
Should win: Most of the nominees in this category seem to have been nominated because the voters like them in general and want to recognize for doing their thing yet again. The exception is Hoffman, who shows a delicacy and precision that's unlike anything I've seen from him before.
Should have been nominated: I'd seen Scott McNairy in a handful of films prior to last year, but KILLING THEM SOFTLY announced in no uncertain terms that he had arrived as a character actor worth watching. As a low-level crook who plans a blindingly stupid heist, McNairy practically sweats desperation as he tries to navigate his way through a criminal underworld that's designed to chew up and spit out guys like him.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Will win: Hathaway's had this in the bag ever since she was the centerpiece of the first teaser. The Academy doesn't really-really-like Sally Field enough for her to overcome the Hathaway juggernaut.
Should win: Honestly, none of these performances really blows my hair back, but I wouldn't be unhappy to see Hathaway win. Of course, she was better as Catwoman in my opinion, but oh well.
Should have been nominated: It certainly wasn't as respectable as any of the ladies nominated here, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a performance as gleeful as Eva Green's priceless vamping in DARK SHADOWS. I wasn't keen on the movie itself, but Green cartoony femme fatale was compulsively watchable- not to mention a hoot.
Best Original Screenplay
Zero Dark Thirty
Will win: ZERO DARK THIRTY boasted a strong and well-researched screenplay by former journalist Mark Boal, but considering the recent controversies surrounding the film- as well as the fact that many see ZDT as being slightly inferior to Bigelow and Boal's 2009 Oscar winner THE HURT LOCKER- I'm giving the edge to AMOUR here. Although I wouldn't rule out a DJANGO upset either.
Should win: This is MOONRISE KINGDOM's only shot at an Oscar (seriously? No production design nomination?), so it would be nice to see Wes Anderson's film win something.
Should have been nominated: LOOPER combined a clever premise with bold storytelling and some heady ideas, all packed into an exciting and well-executed thriller. So why would the writers' branch even think of nominating a relatively unremarkable rehabilitation drama in its place?
Best Adapted Screenplay
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Will win: ARGO might net Best Picture, but Tony Kushner's mammoth LINCOLN screenplay is still the one to beat.
Should win: It shouldn't come as a surprise that LINCOLN was well-researched and -constructed. But few historical dramas boast so many well-drawn supporting characters- or so many great lines of dialogue.
Should have been nominated: BERNIE is the kind of low-key charmer that gets perennially overlooked by the writers' branch. And that's a shame, since the film deftly plays a dark true-crime premise as comedy while injecting observations about Texan identity into the story for anyone who cares to look for them.
Best Animated Feature
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Will win: No obvious front-runner, but I'd say that WRECK-IT RALPH's cleverness edges out FRANKENWEENIE, since the Academy seems to be in no hurry to honor Tim Burton.
Should win: Kind of a weak year, but I'd give the edge to PARANORMAN, not least for the unexpected (and totally offhanded) coming-out bit. Didn't expect to see that in a family movie, not that I'm complaining.
Should have been nominated: Once again, the Academy seems to totally overlook the fact that animated features aren't just made for family audiences. I'm not saying the animation branch should've recognized IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY- although yeah, they totally should have- but it would've been nice to see something geared toward adults and not just a bunch of greasy kids' stuff.