Last year was a consistently good year in film, and the 85th annual Academy Awards will honor the biggest and best this Sunday night. With awards ranging from Best Production Design to Best Documentary Short to Best Director, the ceremony is by far the grandest and most renowned of the awards season every year. Below is a roundup of the biggest categories at the Oscars, which include Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Director and, of course, Best Picture.
First, a short summary of the nine films nominated for the coveted Best Picture award: There is honestly not much to say about Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” because it just seems out of place in this category, not to mention the fact that it was shot in an identical fashion to “The King’s Speech,” for which Hooper won Best Picture in 2010. A director’s signature style should only go so far. Also, who thought it was a good idea to cast Russell Crowe? Despite all its flaws, this film is exactly the kind of thing that the Academy eats right up.
Just as the Oscars love the bygone era of musical cinema, they also love Steven Spielberg. Who can honestly say they outright dislike Spielberg? Unfortunately, he made the biggest error a director could make — let’s face it, “Lincoln” is boring at times. The film is only saved by the enormous amount of talent it features.
Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” on the other hand, is certainly the most entertaining film of the ones nominated. It has a fascinating plot, solid acting and a winning combination of comedy and drama. These elements are similarly found in David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which carries more weight in the acting than in the story itself, but nonetheless stands out as an extraordinary film.
As soon as word got out about Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” both films seemed destined for the Academy Awards. Lee’s visual creativity and Bigelow’s controversial, yet relevant, subject matter are immediate contenders, but the force of a film like “Argo” could easily overshadow these two commercial successes.
And then there’s Quentin Tarantino. “Django Unchained” is like the mysterious, scruffy guy that everyone thinks is too cool for them, but who in reality is not that interesting. If that simile is a bit too hard to understand, let me simplify it: this film is overrated and has a select few performances that carry it along.
Last, but certainly not least, the underdogs: “Amour” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Both films were unexpected triumphs among critics and audiences around the country. There is a reason why Michael Haneke’s “Amour” has been referred to as a masterpiece by numerous critics. Benh Zeitlin has created a refreshing world of wonder, intrigue and fascination with “Beast of the Southern Wild.” It is right to honor these two contenders, even if they don’t have a chance with the Hollywood elite.
Who’s up for what?
To summarize, the aforementioned films are all nominated for Best Picture. Out of the nine films listed, only five of them are nominated for Best Director, including Haneke for “Amour,” Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Lee for “Life of Pi” and Spielberg for “Lincoln.” The Academy overlooked both Bigelow and Affleck for the director nod. This was a surprise to many, considering that Affleck has already won both the BAFTA and the Golden Globe Awards for direction this year. In a similar vein, it is surprising to see that Bigelow was not nominated given her tremendous success at the Academy Awards with “The Hurt Locker” in 2009.
Despite these shockers, both “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” have an acting nod under their belt. “Argo’s” Alan Arkin is up for Best Actor in a Supporting Role alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz and Robert De Niro. It will be interesting to see how the Academy votes in this category as all the actors nominated are known for some legendary roles. It’s also nice to see De Niro take on a good role late in his career, as it seems that most of his recent films have been far below his skill level.
In fact, the acting in “Silver Linings Playbook” is so solid that all four acting categories have nominated an actor from the film, a first for any film in the past 30 years. Jacki Weaver, who plays Bradley Cooper’s mother and De Niro’s wife in the film, is one of the nominees for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway and Helen Hunt join her. This, too, is a category with strong contestants, but it is clearer to see that a select few have a much greater chance of winning the Oscar.
Perhaps the most predictable nominees come from the Best Actor in a Leading Role category. The nominees are Hugh Jackman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper, Denzel Washington and Joaquin Phoenix. Most anyone who followed film in 2012 could have predicted that these would be the five, which is not to say they are not well deserved.
The nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role, on the other hand, have a diverse group of women ranging in both age and acting experience. Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis could be the youngest winner in this category if she receives the award for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” on Sunday. Similarly, in a sort of poetic parallel, 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva has the chance of becoming the oldest winner for her role in “Amour.” Also nominated are Naomi Watts for “The Impossible,” Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty” and Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
And the Oscar goes to...
Let’s start with the easy predictions; Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It would be utterly ridiculous if he didn’t, and although he is possibly the greatest actor of our times, he was not exactly faced with a challenging role in “Lincoln.” Joaquin Phoenix, on the other hand, was mesmerizing and assertive in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” It’s upsetting that his powerful performance will go unrecognized up against Day-Lewis, who has already won dozens of awards in the past year.
If previous awards ceremonies really have this much sway over the Oscars, chances are that Jennifer Lawrence will pick up the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Silver Linings Playbook,” as she already has received several awards under her belt for it. Despite Lawrence’s superb and natural performance, it would be refreshing to see an underdog take this one, particularly Emmanuelle Riva. Naomi Watts wasn’t particularly outstanding in “The Impossible,” but there’s really only so much you can do when you spend over half of the film screaming in agony as her character did.
In a similar vein, Anne Hathaway probably has the greatest chance of winning the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, although Amy Adams should not go unnoticed in this category. The point of a supporting role is to push the story forward in a powerful manner, and most of the actresses this year did exactly that. Helen Hunt and Jacki Weaver will not win, but Sally Field might just slide in and surprise us all. In the typically Hollywood, gimmicky way, Anne Hathaway’s performance is just too Oscar-friendly to pass up.
As for who will win for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, there is no absolute standout winner. All five actors in this category have gone above and beyond for previous film roles and all have at least one Academy Award to prove it. Tommy Lee Jones and Alan Arkin were not exceptional this year. And while Robert De Niro was understatedly great, the win should go to Hoffman or Waltz, who were both refreshing and powerful in their performances this year. My personal pick is Waltz because, despite Tarantino’s tendency to create in-your-face characters, Waltz contributes a calm and composed performance in the best way possible.
Now, onto the big ones. Many critics and film buffs have taken issue with the nominees for Best Director this year. Affleck was not nominated in this category despite deserving the nod for his “Argo.” The nominees, Haneke and Zeitlin, despite their masterful films, will not win this category—which leaves us with Russell, Lee, and Spielberg. Of the three, the race is probably between the latter two directors. Both critics and audiences praised Lee and Spielberg for bringing more of their creative genius to the big screen in 2012. It’s a tough call, but Spielberg has a slight edge in that he is Steven Spielberg.
And finally, we come to the award of awards: Best Picture. Unfortunately, “Amour” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are again out of the picture on this one, but the former will clearly win Best Foreign Language Film. Quite frankly, “Django Unchained” and “Les Misérables” do not deserve to win and probably won’t. The remaining five films all have a relatively decent chance, “Silver Linings Playbook” being a personal favorite (as if you couldn’t already tell). “Argo” is almost sure to get the win, not only because it has already picked up numerous awards in 2012, but also because, knowing the Academy, this will be their “we-regret-not-nominating-Ben-Affleck-for-Best-Director” award.
In the end, predictions are predictions and the Academy has been known to throw curveballs from time to time, so there’s really no way of knowing until this Sunday night. Here’s hoping everyone makes good decisions this weekend!