Picking Winners at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Supporting Actress:
Amy AdamsThe Master
Sally FieldLincoln
Anne HathawayLes Misérables
Helen HuntThe Sessions
Jacki WeaverSilver Linings Playbook

William Altreuter:

It often seems to me that the Best Supporting categories are where the most interesting things are to be found in the Academy Award nominations, and this year is proving me right. What we often get—especially with Best Actress in a Supporting Role—are performances that really carry the movie, even though we tend not to notice. We also get actresses showing us what they can do against type, and that display of craft and professionalism is frequently rewarded. The same is true for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, but that is also sometimes given as a kind of valedictory. Supporting Actress has its political aspect too, but it is surprising how often the vote does not get swept up in the wave in years where one film seems to be sweeping through.

This year that film figures to be Lincoln, and because of that I’m not so sure that Sally Field has much of a shot. That’s a shame, because when you think about it, the idea of Mary Todd Lincoln behaving like Sister Bertrille from “The Flying Nun“, or even Norma Rae is so improbable that we really ought to stop and re-evaluate what we thought Field was doing all these years. “Acting” is the answer, and she acted the hell out of this role, and did it so effectively that it takes a moment to realize who we’re watching.

I also liked Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook, but it is hard for me to separate my evaluation from the fact that I really liked Silver Linings Playbook. Politics will play in here, I think. This is a deserving field, and Weaver has to be viewed as a dark horse. Her day will come, but not this year.

In a lot of ways Helen Hunt has the same problem as Sally Field. She’s a past winner, so it isn’t as though she’s due; and I think there is a slight tendency to confuse the actress with the type of parts she is cast in. She is great in The Sessions, turning in a performance that is sure to be spoken of as “brave” because of the fact that Hunt is over 24 and naked quite a bit. In fact, she really does what a supporting actress is supposed to do—she makes the whole movie better, and turns it into the affirming experience it is meant to be. I’d be fine with a win by Hunt, but I don’t see it happening.

I also don’t see it happening for Amy Adams in The Master, for reasons that will sound weird. For most of us Scientology is thought of, to the extent we think of it at all, as a sort of present-day Hari Krishna religion. People you can spot a block away walk up to you and politely ask if you are interested in learning more about it, and we politely refuse. In Hollywood it is viewed as a combination of two things: a real religion that a lot of famous people believe in; and a scary bunch of people who will mess you up if you mess with them. The latter is the position that The Master shows, and although I’m sure there will be those who will say that Adams was brave for taking on the role, I can’t imagine that there will be many brave enough to reward her for it. This is Adams’ second or third nomination. She’ll be back too, in a part that will be less likely to anger Tom CruiseJohn Travolta, and who all knows who else.

Where that brings us is where I think we pretty much knew we were going to be all along. If Lincoln is a juggernaut, the picture that stands in its way is Les Misérables, and Anne Hathaway was one of the best things about Les Miz. The likable Hathaway took on a technically challenging role in a movie that is a hit. She is solid box office, and a past nominee. I have a feeling the Oscars will have some surprises for us, but this award probably won’t be one of them.

Christopher Schobert:

Bill, you are so right that the Supporting Actor and Actress categories are often far more exciting and interesting than the leads. Let’s be honest, any category this year featuring a nominee from The Master is going to be intriguing.

I see three no-chance nominees here: Amy Adams (very deserving), Jacki Weaver (love the film, but not sure I see this one), and Helen Hunt (see below for some thoughts on the star of The Sessions).

The obvious choice, of course, is Anne Hathaway, an actress who seems to inspire real debate among many of the folks in my life. Personally, I’ve always found her a charming, talented star, and she absolutely surprised me with her killer Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. She is predictably strong in Les Mis, and I could see an award for Hathaway being seen as an overall acknowledgment of Les Mis. Plus, I think she deserved a win a few years ago for Rachel Getting Married.

However, she is young, and the film’s response is certainly … mixed. So I’m going to go upset: Sally Field. Which is not really an upset, but still. I don’t know that I ever truly was won over by this performance, but I think the Academy will be. I have a sneaking suspicion one of two films is going to really run the table this year (Lincoln and … I’ll leave you in suspense, for now), and if it is Spielberg’s drama, Field figures to benefit. I think she is one of those perennially well-liked folks, and someone who has not been recognized in years.

Of course, this is my pick now. Ask me in a week, and I’ll probably be back to Anne …

By the way, if you’re wondering who I would LIKE to see win, that’s an easy one: Helen Hunt. Her Sessions costar John Hawkes was robbed of a nomination, but honestly, I think Hunt steals the movie. Her performance is so nuanced, so just-plain right, that it seems to me one of 2012’s least showy, and most affecting. Oh, and the ignored list: There fewer than in other categories, although there had been talk of Nicole Kidman and Maggie Smith. My real disappointment is the ignorance of Ann Dowd’s performance in Compliance. It’s the single most important bit of acting in that film, and it would have been nice to see a real underdog make the cut.

Jared Mobarak:

Ann Dowd not getting a nomination is a bit of a travesty, agreed. Especially since I didn’t think twice—or even once—about Jacki Weaver having a shot here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Weaver and her performance in Silver Linings, but if she didn’t win for Animal Kingdom she has no shot here.

As for other misses, I think a notable mention should be Judi Dench for Skyfall. I know it’s a Bond film and Dench wins Oscars with five minutes of screen time (see Shakespeare in Love), but her role in what should have been just another action flick grounds the whole movie into reality when the hero and villain teeter into over-the-top excess.

Besides these two, however, I think the Academy was spot-on. Amy Adams was superbly dark and conniving and Helen Hunt was the best part of a good movie only brought into year-end conversations because of its acting. Both could win and I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least.

The truth of the matter is, though, it’s Anne Hathaway’s to lose. I loved Sally Field in Lincoln—LOVED. She proved she still has the talent after being relegated to kindly old woman status in the likes of The Amazing Spider-Man, but she has won before and her film is going to win many other awards come February.

In fact, I think Hathaway’s Golden Globes acceptance speech is a perfect precursor to her defeating Field as some sort of passing of the torch. Admitting how influential the former flying nun was at shattering stereotypes and breaking free from mainstream gender tropes for her is a beautiful mirroring to Anne’s shedding of a stifling Disney skin. This year’s Oscars is Hathaway’s official coming out party as a legitimate talent in the industry. No one should be able to question her ability again.

Supporting Actor:
Alan ArkinArgo
Robert De NiroSilver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour HoffmanThe Master
Tommy Lee JonesLincoln
Christoph WaltzDjango Unchained

William Altreuter:

If I were Peter O’Toole I’d make a point of landing a supporting role in a movie as many times a year as I could physically get out of the house. Oscar-wise O’Toole has been robbed more times than all the grandmothers that lived on Mike Tyson’s block put together, and the prize for Best Actor in A Supporting Role practically exists to fill out the resumes of actors who have been passed over. That simple calculus doesn’t work this time because everyone in this field has an Oscar on the mantelpiece already. Making a pick based on the performances is harder: Alan Arkin in Argo, Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained were all terrific, and each of the movies they were in were worthy. Strictly on the basis of acting chops I’d be inclined to say that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was the most impressive—I walked away thinking more about what he’d done with the role than about the movie. He’s also having a kind of moment: it seems rare that there’s a movie that doesn’t have a great Philip Seymour Hoffman turn in it. I kept waiting to see him show up in The Avengers. I don’t see any big prizes for The Master, though. As I said the other day, Hollywood is fertile ground for Scientology, and The Master is to Scientology what a thinly fictionalized movie about Pope Pius XII would be. Sure, it’s all true, but nobody takes it well when their religion is being knocked.

I liked Tommy Lee Jones’ turn as Thaddeus Stevens—exactly the sort of character role an actor loves to sink his teeth into. If the evening turns into a Lincoln festival this Oscar will fall his way, but that’s too easy a pick. We can rule out Christoph Waltz—although I think Django Unchained is a remarkable thing, and although Waltz is the linchpin of the picture I can’t see The Academy giving him a second prize for working with the same director he worked with when he won the first time. I also don’t believe that De Niro will be rewarded for being, essentially De Niro. That’s a fine thing to be, for sure, and I’d rather see him being De Niro in a movie like Silver Linings Playbook than in Meet the Fockers. Working steady is one thing, but I think the Academy might want to wait until some of the stink of his recent stuff has washed off.

That leaves me with Arkin, and here’s how I think the logic of the pick plays out. Alan Arkin has been working steady for longer than I’ve been alive, and every time he shows up in a movie he makes it a little better. Argo is the kind of movie that movie people love, because it is about how movies are important. Hollywood is the hero, and anyone in the industry watching Argo had to feel pretty good about being in the business. It’s also a movie about American competence, which is also affirming. I’m a bit surprised that John Goodman wasn’t nominated, but since he wasn’t I’m making Arkin my dark horse pick.

Christopher Schobert:

I’m not sure if I trust my gut here, but my gut tells me this: I think it’s going to be Robert De Niro. Now, am I saying he DESERVES it? Not really. His is a fine performance, and he takes what was, in the Matthew Quick book on which Silver Linings Playbook is based, an utterly one-note character, and with the help of some savvy screenwriting makes the old man an ornery bastard we genuinely care for. It’s simple, unshowy, great work, and it’s a reminder that, yes, De Niro can still bring it. I think Hollywood holds his talent in such high regard that they’re jonesing to give him the win.

What is fascinating, though, is that any one of these five could win, and I don’t think we would call it too shocking. Like my Sally Field prediction, a Lincoln groundswell could make Tommy Lee Jones the pick. Everybody loves Alan Arkin. The more one ponders Django—which, yes, I was horribly disappointed with overall—the more one realizes how good Waltz is. And all who saw The Master can agree that Hoffman was remarkable.

I have a sneaking suspicion that something is building, and it’s a Silver Linings Playbook tidal wave. Never count out a movie that makes you feel good, or a performance that does the same. That’s De Niro in Playbook.

If I were voting, I could not cast a ballot for anyone besides Hoffman. The list of could-beens in this category is long—Ezra Miller in Perks of Being a Wallflower, Matthew McConaughey in every movie he made in 2012, Leonardo DiCaprio in DjangoJavier Bardem in Skyfall, even Dwight Henry and Ewan McGregor. But the addition I would have loved to have seen is Irrfan Khan. I think his is the most criminally ignored male supporting work of this year. Too bad.

Jared Mobarak:

It really was a great year for character work on the periphery—not to say leads didn’t have their own wealth of screen to chew. The fact each nominee is a past winner actually makes me wonder if the category was a throwaway for voters. McConaughey, Goodman, Miller, Khan, Henry, James D’Arcy from Cloud AtlasMichael Peña in End of WatchScoot McNairy in Killing Them Softly, and maybe even Bruce Willis in Moonrise Kingdom all could have dark horsed in. But the voters went with the tried and true.

If nothing else, this fact does make Supporting Actor a category with no true frontrunner and I do like that element of the unknown. And that’s why I find myself needing to weigh them by whatever meaningless traits are floating in my head.

5. De Niro—He was great in Silver Linings but I never saw the character as anything special. That could be a result of the fantastic comedic chemistry of its leads, however. To me, his getting a nomination is the prize because it has been so long since he’s been relevant.

4. Waltz—He’s the best part of a very funny film that may be getting more exposure than deserved. Waltz could easily be the one win for Django and it would be the most deserving if not for the fact he’s already won an Oscar for the same role. Seriously, the only difference between his Landa and Schultz is the language spoken in their opening scenes.

3. Arkin—I only put him above the previous two because Bill comes up with some good reasons as to why he may be the prize of the bunch as far as body of work and lack of attention go. But he already received his lifetime achievement with Little Miss Sunshine. Unlike O’Toole, he comes in a victor.

2. Jones—It’s a great turn in a well-received historical film with what is most probably the Best Actor winner. His crotchety demeanor is allowed to rest stoically on his face and make you wonder how much acting he is doing. But that scene where he must decide whether or not to compromise his staunch positioning on human rights is a highlight of the movie and could push him over the top.

1. Hoffman—However, I think Hoffman has it in the bag. I couldn’t believe he lost the Golden Globe until I remembered the Weinsteins bought the room for their favorite son Tarantino despite distributing both. I think as Ben Affleck was quick to mention during his Best Director speech, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s exclusion is noticed by the industry and Academy voters may feel the need to give The Master a win. Hoffman is a force onscreen with a character very much on the opposite end of the spectrum as Truman Capote. It shows his range, gives an appreciative applause to PTA, and lets everyone go home happy it wasn’t up to them.

Christopher Schobert:

Jared, I really hope you’re right … And good call on Willis. I would have been cheering for him, I think.

Best Actress in a Leading Role:
Jessica ChastainZero Dark Thirty
Jennifer LawrenceSilver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle RivaAmour
Quvenzhané WallisBeasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi WattsThe Impossible

Christopher Schobert:

Here we go—this is race, kids. The way I see it, there are two no-chancers here, Quvenzhané Wallis and Naomi Watts. Q is wonderful in Beasts, but her nomination is her victory, and the same is true for Watts, star of the sadly underseen The Impossible.

So it’s a three-actor race: Chastain, Lawrence, and Riva. And I have to tell you, I’m finding it very, very difficult to pick a winner. I really believe Zero Dark has suffered a severe blow in terms of Academy recognition, and I think that will cost Jessica Chastain a win. Mind you, despite liking her very much in the film, I don’t think she deserved a win, and perhaps not even a nomination. (She deserved one last year, and not for The Help—for Take Shelter.)

So it’s Lawrence versus Riva. Lawrence’s was the best performance in Silver Linings, and she is extremely likable. If, as I keep hinting at, Silver surges, it’s logical to think she will win …

But I think we’re going to see an upset win, and I think it’s going to be Emmanuelle Riva. This is the kind of brave, fearless work that the Academy loves, and it leads to something the Academy loves even more—a story. What a story it would be to see Riva win! Quite simply, if you see Amour, you’ll be blown away by her work. And even if Academy members doze off after an hour, they’ll have seen enough.

Now, in a week, my mind might be changed … But right now, I see a Riva win.

The most egregious snub here is Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone, and that’s an enormous disappointment. This was, I think, her finest performance, even stronger than her Edith Piaf. I was a bit surprised Helen Mirren wasn’t in for Hitchcock, but I’m generally pleased this is a Mirren and Streep-less year, even though I have great affection for both.

William Altreuter:

My thinking is similar for Best Actress. There are reasons nine year-old girls don’t win big awards: whether we like it or not, the Oscars acknowledge, at least in part, a performer’s body of work. It is also impossible to know to what extent the performance is acting. I liked Beasts of the Southern Wild quite a bit, and Ms. Wallis was great to watch, but the movie is more of a directorial accomplishment than anything else. I find this nomination odd: even though this is a Mirren and Streep-less year was it really such a lean year for actresses? Perhaps it was. (I liked Blake Lively in Savages, but maybe that’s too genre. I also liked Emma Watson in Perks of Being a Wallflower, but maybe that was too juvie.)

I’m afraid I haven’t seen either Amour or The Impossible, so I can’t comment on either, but I don’t think it matters because as soon as Jennifer Lawrence appeared in Silver Lining Playbook I knew this was her year. J-Lar was amazing two years ago in Winter’s Bone, and this year she proved that she can carry a franchise series with her performance in Hunger Games.  What makes her a lock for Best Actress is that she demonstrates a whole new dimension—she is the best thing in a really good movie.

Jared Mobarak:

Chris and Bill have hit the nail on the head with the ultimate two-headed monster at the top of Best Actress. Although, Watts would be closer to them in a just world. Otherwise it was a weak year for English language actresses, no question.

Wallis is a product of her director either knowing exactly what to say to the six-year old or of an infinite wealth of footage shot to play the law of averages. Chastain is good but far from great in a role that I felt grew grating after a while. And Watts is stuck in a film many can’t see beyond racial travesty and questionable pandering/exploitation.

Leaving it to the duo of Lawrence and Riva then, the Frenchwoman wins hands down. If Jennifer couldn’t win for Winter’s Bone I don’t think she will for an ensemble comedy no matter how good she is. And this is coming from someone who witnessed a packed TIFF theater of press & industry people audibly applauding her dressing down of De Niro instead of leaving early to hit their next twenty minute snapshot. She is spectacular and proves she is the real deal with an amazing future ahead.

Her Achille’s heel, however, rests on that story Chris was quick to mention. The Academy would love nothing more than to eat up the against all odds return of an aging foreign great to the top of the heap and they wouldn’t be wrong because to me it is the best performance of the year.

We’re only forgetting the icing on the cake of that story, though. February 24th is her 86th birthday. What a celebration that would be.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:
Bradley Cooper: Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis: Lincoln
Hugh Jackman: Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix: The Master
Denzel Washington: Flight

Christopher Schobert:

Ho hum. Let’s be honest. There is NO WAY Daniel Day-Lewis loses this. And that makes the whole category a bit boring. That’s not to say his Lincoln is not masterful; there were times when I truly forgot I was watching the star of There Will Be Blood. He may have ruined Abe for any other actor. Who could accept anyone else now?

The remaining four contenders (ha!) all did strong work. Bradley Cooper is the most inessential nominee, even though he does a fine job in Silver Linings, as good as any actor could in that part. Hugh Jackman gives a predictably virile, passionate performance as Jean Valjean; his singing is strong, of course, but his emotion is also believable, even if the whole ordeal is not. Joaquin Phoenix likely had the most unique role, and gave the most unique performance, but it’s also odd, jittery, and unsettling—I’m honestly surprised he made it in. And I still have not seen Flight, but Denzel Washington has never done bad work, and from what I’ve heard, he is the unquestioned highlight of Robert Zemeckis’ film.

Good job, gang. But DDL is it.

The ignored? The biggest miss is Jean-Louis Trintignant for Amour. His is the less showy of the two leads, but might be even more difficult—he is the audience conduit, and if he loses us, we’re gone. I guess Denis Lavant never had a chance for Holy Motors, a damn shame, but I am surprised John Hawkes didn’t get in, especially since The Sessions is a film that might be MORE effective when viewed at home. And even though I am not a Django lover, I thought Jamie Foxx was fantastic. I would not have minded seeing him with a nod.

William Altreuter:

I was worried that we’d all agree on this award so I prepared a couple of alternative arguments. Now it looks like I won’t have to use them. Daniel Day-Lewis was, absolutely, amazingly great as the man Sarah Vowell called “the American Jesus”. Why wouldn’t he be? Day-Lewis is good in everything, and he famously immerses himself so deeply in his parts that he probably wouldn’t have needed the prosthesis and makeup that made him look so convincingly like the obverse of a penny. He will be tough to beat, but I think he will be.

I agree Bradley Cooper isn’t winning. The part was not actor-y enough to win a Best Actor prize. Joaquin Phoenix isn’t going to win either: he has spent the years since being nominated for Walk the Line being flakey. I doubt anyone thinks he’s due, and as I have said before The Master—or more accurately, Scientology, is too spooky for mainstream Hollywood to want to tilt with.

Denzel Washington might surprise. Everybody likes him, he is good box office, and maybe the field will be split. I haven’t seen Flight either, but everything I have read about it praises Washington’s performance. When it comes down to it though, Hugh Jackman is going to surprise.

Les Miz hasn’t done huge business, but it has done respectably. It is a big deal production and technically demanding. Singing is something that Jackman does really well (check out his performance in “Oklahoma!” some time). Les Miz is the kind of grand spectacle that Hollywood invented, and Jackman’s performance is the sort of thing that the industry likes to give prizes for. Jackman is a real deal movie star, and it is time that he is brought into the fold. This will be his night.

(Overlooked? Hard to say. This is the year I decided that I like Matthew McConaughey, but I tell you that he had an Oscar performance in either The Paperboy or Magic Mike.)

Jared Mobarak:

How great would a Lavant nom have been! The Academy at least needs to change their Foreign Language rules to allow more than one film per country because his Holy Motors should be alongside Rust and Bone and The Intouchables for a French trifecta (Amour is Austria’s pick). But I digress.

When Bill assumed we’d all have the same winner pegged for Lead Actor I agreed with Daniel Day-Lewis’ name on the tip of my tongue. So, the surprise of him picking Jackman to win the statue isn’t as crazy as the idea we’d all have him beating DDL. Honestly, though, I’d love Hugh to win this award and the more I think about it, maybe Bill is right.

He’s great in Les Miz despite the ample criticism flung at the film and his questionable ability to sing opera. To me not a single note was missed—as though I’d ever know what it would sound like if one had. He’s had a diverse portfolio of work over the years and killed the lead role of one of my favorites, The Fountain. The thing to think about is whether or not he’ll ever have this good of a chance to win again. I say no, so the time is now Academy. Sadly, however, I don’t see it happening.

Cooper had to get the nom because they couldn’t let Silver Linings have every acting category but one; Denzel is great, yeah, but after an hour of the film I wished he had crashed that plane; and Phoenix was a powerhouse who I’d love to see upset here, especially if Hoffman loses and The Master is in need of one victory. But it’s DDL’s to squander and while his winning is getting tired, it is deserved.

Don’t worry about Honest Abe, though, Chris. Billy Campbell and Tom Amandes have their (ahem) improved takes on the role coming later this year.

Original Screenplay:
Michael HanekeAmour
Quentin TarantinoDjango Unchained
John GatinsFlight
Wes Anderson and Roman CoppolaMoonrise Kingdom
Mark BoalZero Dark Thirty

Adapted Screenplay:
Chris TerrioArgo
Lucy Alibar and Benh ZeitlinBeasts of the Southern Wild
David MageeLife of Pi
Tony KushnerLincoln
David O. RussellSilver Linings Playbook

William Altreuter:

When we get past evaluating performances by actors it seems to me that we start to get into rather murky territory. One way that we see this is in the dichotomy between Best Director and Best Picture—as a strict auteur theory guy, and sorry Herman Mankowitz—it is hard for me to say that the two are distinguishable. The problem is compounded when called upon to evaluate what the best Original Screenplay is—who can say? Ultimately what we are looking at is the director’s vision, and whether the script was great, or made great by the way the movie was filmed can be hard to parse out. Of course, sometimes this category is just a chance for a movie to accumulate a little extra hardware: Quentin Tarantino, one assumes, wrote the script for Django with a very specific idea of how he planned to direct the picture. I watch every Tarantino movie hoping for the best, but Django, for all of its pleasures, impressed me as flawed—it went so far over the top that it lost me at the end.

Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, seemed note-perfect, and I have no doubt that Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola knew pretty early on how Anderson was going to make the film look. I’d be pleased as heck if Moonrise won, but Anderson’s work is so quirky that it is hard for me to picture that happening.

I didn’t see Amour. I want to. For the purposes of this discussion it is moot: Amour will not win.

Same with Flight. I want to see it.

Neither Flight nor Amour will win because this category belongs to Zero Dark Thirty. I cannot imagine why Kathyrn Bigelow was passed over for a Best Director nomination—is it because the Academy reckoned she’d already won once? It couldn’t have been because she is a woman, could it? IN any event. Zero is an amazingly well done piece of work about moral complicity—a fine bookend to The Hurt Locker. Boal’s collaboration with Bigelow was worthy last time, and it is every bit as worthy this time.

Evaluating screenplays is a little easier with adaptations: At least with these we have a sense of the source material. I was impressed that a movie could be made of Life of Pi. Not only that, but it was a really good movie. That said, Pi seems to me more of a directorial accomplishment. Beasts of the Southern Wild was great because it had such a documentary feel. That again seems like the director’s work. I’m not familiar with the source material, so I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it will win a writing award. Argo is a contender. It’s a cracking good story, and apparently the Academy didn’t think that Ben Affleck was the person responsible, so it could surprise.

Silver Linings Playbook worked for me even though you can kind of see the gears work. It’s writerly, but I think more than anything else the performances are what make it. On the other hand, it does play like the kind of movie people think of when they think of what a screenwriter does.

All that said, Tony Kushner is exactly what people think of when they think of what a screenwriter does. He is a name brand playwright. He was nominated once before (2006, for Munich) so he’s paid his dues. It makes a nice statement if a movie that affirms America as a Great Nation which struggled with Grave Moral Decisions wins one screenwriting award and another movie which is also about Grave Moral Decisions wins the other. Perhaps most importantly, Lincoln, having been nominated for a boatload of Oscars is going to have to win some, don’t you think? It isn’t going to win Best Picture, because the Academy has this weird thing about Steven Spielberg. This is going to be Lincoln’s big prize.

Christopher Schobert:

Bill, you put it perfectly: This IS murky territory. I’m going to skip ahead to the least murky of the two—in fact, Adapted Screenplay is not murky at all.

I simply can’t imagine Tony Kushner losing. And honestly, looking at the nominees in this category, it seems fitting. Even if there IS a Silver Linings groundswell—and I still think that’s a distinct possibility—Lincoln has two locks. One is Daniel Day-Lewis, and the other is Kushner.

Now, if, for some reason, the Oscar Gods dictate someone else should take it, Russell and Terrio would likely be neck-and-neck, with Russell likely taking it. But it’s Kushner it just is.

Okay, now to the murk. I really, really don’t know where to go with this one. I don’t think Tarantino has a chance—although I can’t say a win would be a complete shock; just seems unlikely—and Flight won’t take it. That makes for a three-way race between MoonriseAmour, and Zero.

Zero is the obvious choice. But I don’t think it wins. I think the Academy liked the film a lot less than the critics, and even though she was not nominated, I feel as if the film is seen more as Bigelow’s achievement than Boal’s, regardless of what one thinks of the film itself.

Amour could stun on Oscar night, and take home several awards in addition to Foreign Language—Riva could do it, even Haneke as director. But … I don’t think it will win the Original Screenplay category.

That leaves Moonrise Kingdom, my pick as the winner. It might be my least favorite Wes Anderson film, and I consider it one of the most overrated films of 2012, despite liking it a great deal. It’s a hard one to hate, really, it plays well at home, its screenplay is sweet and smart, and it is utterly and completely uncontroversial. Considering my love of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, I can’t say I would be upset to see Wes win.

The Missing: How does Stephen Chbosky not score a nomination for The Perks of Being a Wallflower? Rian Johnson did deserve a nod for Looper, I think. But the most egregious snub, clearly, is Paul Thomas Anderson. That is … well, it’s a miss.

Jared Mobarak:

Yeah, I hate these categories. I’m such a visual person that I just don’t understand them. I tried reading the screenplay for Doubt once and could not for the life of me read it with the same magnificent line delivery its cast gave. I end up going so fast that all context is lost.

And I think this is a valid point because the category should be about the screenplay itself, not the movie that came out of it. But then how did Lost in Translation win an Oscar? I doubt that was a riveting read by any means …

With all that said, I have to go with the guys above for Lincoln in Adapted and stand on my own with Tarantino’s Django in Original. That’s not to say I want them to win, just that I think they will.

Kushner loosely used Doris Kearns Goodwin book to craft his four month tale from her four years of biographical information. To me that’s more an original work than anything else and also the kind of material that needs great acting to get it to work superbly. I found Munich a much better work.

To me the darkhorse would be Terrio for Argo. Affleck got the shaft and I don’t see it winning Best Picture so this is the film’s best shot at recognition. And deservedly so. He and Russell for Silver Linings would be much better suited for the win. As for Beasts, isn’t it an adaptation of a story treatment they wrote? I could be wrong but that sounds Original to me.

As far as Original goes, Tarantino admits to writing his scripts as though a novel before paring it down while filming. It’s an hilarious tale with quick-witted dialogue that I’m sure benefits from not showing the campy final 30 minutes in its brutal, visual ‘splendor’. Quentin isn’t up for director and I don’t think the film has a chance for picture, but I see them applauding his panache anyway.

I’d love to see Moonrise win because I love Anderson and Coppola. To me it’s the number two choice. I wasn’t too hot on Amour besides the acting. Boal has no shot with Chris saying it correctly about the Academy not liking Zero as much as critics. And with all the crazy talk about it condoning torture, I doubt many of liberal Hollywood liked it at all. And Flight was borderline awful in its overlong depiction of addiction and unsavory decisions.

In a perfect world Rian Johnson’s Looper would definitely be my winner. Pair him with the Wachowski Starship and Tom Tykwer‘s supposedly impossible adaptation of Cloud Atlas and I’d have been pretty darn happy. Oh well. There’s always next year …

Best Director:
Michael Haneke: Amour
Benh Zeitlin: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang LeeLife of Pi
David O. Russell: Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg: Lincoln

William Altreuter:

The story with the Award for Best Director this year is the omission of Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty (also, what’s with the titles of movies this year? I can’t be the only one that keeps confusing Zero Dark with Silver Linings Playbook can I? And did the world settle on whether it’s Les Miz or Les Mis? Hey, somebody has to ask the tough questions.) Bigelow’s exclusion is peculiar for multiple reasons, but when we are handicapping prizes the most notable reason is that only three films have won Best Picture without their directors being nominated: Wings (1927/28), Grand Hotel (1931/32), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

Let’s linger on 1989 for a minute. The other nominees for Best Picture that year were Born on the Fourth of JulyDead Poets SocietyField of Dreams, and My Left Foot. The other nominees for Best Director, apart from Oliver Stone for Fourth of July, Jim Sheridan for Foot, and Peter Weir for Poets were Woody Allen for Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Kenneth Branagh for Henry V.  A couple of notable omissions that year can be found on the list of Best Original Screenplay losers: Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, and Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. I mention it just to point out what a weird year 1989 looks like from here. The end of the Reagan Administration was a strange time, and the producers of Zero Dark shouldn’t count on joining the list of outliers.

So what are we to make of this year’s Best Director candidates? Well, let’s start with Michael Haneke, for Amour. It is not unheard of for a foreign-born director to win this prize, even in recent years: Richard Attenborough, Milos Forman, Ang Lee, Bernardo Bertolucci, Anthony Minghella (remember? For The English Patient?), Roman Polanski, Peter Jackson, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Milionare—have you forgotten that already?), Tom Hooper … It helps to be some flavor of Brit, but Michel Hazanavicius, a Frenchman, won last year. So a win by Haneke wouldn’t be as unusual as it might seem. On the other hand, it would be very unusual for the Best Director prize to be awarded for a foreign film. So Haneke, an Austrian who made his movie in France, with French, German and Austrian money, can probably not worry about writing an acceptance speech.

Benh Zeitlin, (Beasts of the Southern Wild) is going to have a long, interesting career. I thought Beasts was maybe the most auteur-y movie nominated, but it is hard to imagine a rookie copping this award. Beasts will win some technical honors, and that will suffice. Zeitlin will find that being Academy Award nominated will make getting backers for his next projects easier. The other nominee who’s directorial stamp was visible from the cheap seats was Ang Lee, for Life of Pi. That’s who I’d vote for, and that’s the kiss of death, but consider how impressive an accomplishment Pi really is. For one thing, I have never seen 3-D (cinema’s Next Big Thing for the last fifty years) used better. For another, consider just how unfilmable the novel seemed.  I have yet to see an Ang Lee film that wasn’t remarkable—I even liked what he tried to do with the Hulk. This would be an honorable winner.

I’ve made no secret in these picks of my affection for Silver Linings Playbook. My hunch is that in the years to come of all these movies that will be the one I return to most often. Chris, I know you really liked it too, but I don’t see it winning Best Picture, and I don’t see it winning Best Director either.

That brings us down to where we knew we were going to be all along: Lincoln wins. You know, I can’t say that I am that crazy about all, or even most of Steven Spielberg’s  work—I generally find him mawkish, and I resent the lawyer jokes in Jurassic Park—but there is no denying the guy knows how to make movies. (I just looked at his IMDB entry. I love Sugarland Express and Jaws, and I really like Raiders of the Lost Ark. After that he pretty much loses me. E.T. Go Home!)  He has spent a career making Oscar-bait, and I think Lincoln will have resonated with the Academy.

Christopher Schobert:

This, friends, is a another tricky category. Even though I think both did wonderful work, I’m knocking Ang Lee and Benh Zeitlin off right away. For Zeitlin, especially, the nomination is a pleasant surprise, and for Lee, the fact that he steered Pi into great reviews and solid box office is a victory in itself.

So we have Haneke, Russell, and Spielberg. And I am torn. It is likely, I’d say, that Spielberg wins Director and Lincoln wins Picture. Perhaps more than likely. As I’ve been saying, Silver Linings is a true dark horse candidate in almost every category it is nominated in. And Amour has been so well-received that Haneke would be a surprise, but not a complete shock. (Bill, your point about the foreign directors who have won Oscars is very good.)

As with all of these, I may change my opinion in a matter of days, but I have to bet on Spielberg here. I think there may not be a true LOVE of Lincoln among the Academy (I could be completely wrong about that), but I think there is a real level of respect. Hollywood likes to think of itself as smart, and Lincoln is a smart, well-made film. I still feel there is a real chance—I know I’m in the minority here—that Russell wins it. But as a betting man, I’d go with Spielberg.

Remember 1998? Spielberg wins Best DirectorShakespeare in Love wins Best Picture? Keep that year in mind …

A quick they-shoulda-been-nominateds: I was very surprised not to see Bigelow and Affleck in there (I considered both locks; I even thought Tom Hooper stood a chance at a nomination), but for me, a perfect world would have seen Paul Thomas Anderson, Leos Carax, and Stephen Chbosky in the mix. If only.

Jared Mobarak:

I love it when you guys say everything so eloquently that I can really just coast through my retort. Spielberg has it in the bag, right? I concur with everything you guys said.

Do I want Spielberg to win? Honestly, I don’t care. Best Director has always been an odd category that feels more like a Boys’ Club for legends who were passed over and ripe for a win or young guns chosen in order for the Academy to seem hip. When I see a movie like Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World—a film I loved but totally understand if the vast majority of people didn’t—not earn its director a nomination I just have to shake my head. Edgar Wright owned that film to the finest detail of every frame with crazy CGI, massive set-pieces, and a brilliant bit of subversive humor.

That’s not to say the nominees in 2011 were shabby either. One comparison, however, lies in the nod to David O. Russell. I feel bad saying it, but I think The Fighter and Silver Linings may be the two films he made where the direction isn’t overtly apparent, despite them being contemporary classics of their genres. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. But I could totally see Affleck or Bigelow taking that slot instead—two directors who were the best parts of their respective films (ones I liked a great deal but did not love).

No, if I’d been able to click a few buttons on that much-maligned Oscar web-ballot the choice would have been between Zeitlin, Haneke, and Lee. These three have their DNA onscreen from start to finish—fresh-faced, rejuvenated, and meticulous respectively. Beasts was an amazing visual treat (and my fave of these five), Amour showed someone pigeon-holed his entire career can break out and wow us with heart, and Pi shined Lee in a brand new light. I know he did Hulk—which I thought was much better than The Incredible Hulk—but I still didn’t anticipate him knocking this computer-generated masterpiece out of the park.

That said, though, Spielberg’s the guy.

Oh, and Bill, talking about names, it took me a week to realize everyone’s Twitter abbreviation of ZD30 was Zero Dark Thirty. It even got to the point where I Googled it because everyone thought it was the best film of the year. And then I embarrassedly went back into my corner once I understood what they were all actually talking about.

Best Picture:
Amour: Stefan Arndt, Margaret Ménégoz, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz
Argo: Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald
Django Unchained: Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone
Les Misérables: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Life of Pi: Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark
Lincoln: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy
Silver Linings Playbook: Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon
Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison

Christopher Schobert:

I imagine there will be much talk here of the merits of each nominated film, what their chances are, etc. I’m going to cut through that. I predict Silver Linings Playbook wins Best Picture, and I say that with confidence.

Does it deserve to? Well … Who knows? It’s my favorite among the nominated films, but the question of what “deserves” it is rather absurd. Let us not forget Crash once won Best Picture—there is no deserve.

I truly believe SLP is the most enjoyable and crowd-pleasing of this crop. It plays well at home. It isn’t overly weighty. It’s well-acted, and sharply written. It’s this year’s Shakespeare in Love.

In fact, I’m not even sure Lincoln is the obvious pick. I think that, friends, is Argo.

We’ve got ourselves a race!

William Altreuter:

Did you ever notice how the movie that wins Best Picture is seldom a movie you go back to? Not always—there are plenty of hardcore Hobbit fans that will watch The Return of the Kingagain and again. But has anyone ever gone back and watched Million Dollar Baby a second time? It seems to me that this probably has something to do with the sorts of movies that tend to win the Big Prize: downers. The last comedy to win Best Picture was Shakespeare in Love, in 1998. The last funny comedy to win was The English Patient Annie Hall in 1977. Lots of years comedies aren’t even nominated. For me what this means is that the decision to expand the category from five to ten made good sense, even if it hasn’t meant more love for funny movies.

What this highly scientific survey tells us is that most of the time Serious and Important trumps pretty much everything else. There is an exception though, as I think we will see this year. First, the rundown:

Argo. This is a movie that I’m sure to return to. Excellent performances, exciting story. The reason it was nominated is because it makes filmmakers action heroes. Hollywood has no shame, of course, but compared to some of the others on this list it seems a bit small. Small can win, but it helps if the small film is an intimate film. Million Dollar Baby had that quality.Argo doesn’t. Silver Linings Playbook sort of does, but it is a comedy.

Amour on the other hand, is intimate. On the other hand, do you think the Academy is going to give its top prize to a foreign movie two years in a row? I don’t.

I suspect that nobody who saw Beasts of the Southern Wild was unmoved by it. Did anyone think it was the best movie they saw all year? Not me, and I really liked it. Life of Pi is too cerebral.

Django Unchained is too edgy, I think. Likewise Zero Dark ThirtyThe Hurt Locker won because it was a repudiation of the Bush Administration (and because it was amazingly great, of course). ZD30 is tougher: it makes the (American) audience engage in an act of self-evaluation that is uncomfortable. That’s why it is an amazing movie, but that’s also why it will lose. Actually, I think both ZD30 and Django have this quality. I applaud anything that calls American Exceptionalism into question, and I think that a lot of critics do as well. That instinctive cynicism is why a lot of the people who think or write (or both) about movies think that Lincoln will win here. Lincoln is, in many ways, the opposite of Django and ZD30—a movie about how America is able to overcome its flaws, a movie that affirms the US. That’s why I liked it. Even so, I’m not so sure that our liberal self-doubt, as embodied by Zero Dark Thirty, has been sufficiently overcome to allow us to embrace Lincoln as the better angel it wants us to believe in.

What does that leave? Why, Les Misérables, of course! A star-filled musical based on a long-running Broadway hit based on a literary classic. Technically accomplished, a movie with a complicated production backstory—it has everything that The Academy loves. Remember when I said that Serious and Important trumps everything? The exception is musicals. The connection to legitimate theater is classy. So is being based on a book that people were assigned in high school. And you know what? When musicals are nominated, they have done pretty well historically. Even the recent outliers—Moulin Rouge! (meh) and Beauty and the Beast (cartoons don’t win)—prove my point. It is tough to beat a musical. So mark Les Miz in your office pool.

Jared Mobarak:

I think both of you could have it nailed. Really, I do. A feel-good comedy and a musical would be nobrainers for the Academy, especially based on historical facts.

To me, the only one of this bunch I didn’t assign an 8/10 to in my review was Beasts of the Southern Wild. Zeitlin’s gorgeous debut earned a 9. But even it wasn’t in my Top Five of the year, so my tastes obviously matter very little.

Where Les Miz is concerned, I agree with the musical push to a point, but I’m not sure the incredibly draining/depressing tone helps it. This isn’t a Chicago. The artifice of its creation is unparalleled and it definitely stirs the emotions, but I almost believe it only got nominated because of the musical card and a win is nowhere in sight.

Chris’ choice of SLP holds a little more weight in my mind because it isn’t an “Important” work. Well, maybe it is as far as putting mental illness on the big screen, I don’t know. But there is something about a comedy winning that appeals to me. I’d love it, audiences would love it, and critics would hate it since so many hated the film.

Amour wins Best Foreign, the fact it’s even in Best Picture is a crime to another film. If you’re going to have a separate category like Foreign (or Animation) for that matter, there shouldn’t be any double-dipping. If you’re singling them out in the first place, than segregate them completely.

Bill is totally right about Pi being too cerebral and in that vein Beasts is way too small. ZD30seems unliked by the Academy.

So that leaves LincolnArgo, and Django. To me these are the three. Lincoln has clout and numbers, Argo has audience appeal and Hollywood legend, and Django has Tarantino. Do I want any of them to win? No. My heart gives it to Beasts or SLP.

Unfortunately, my head says Lincoln, my yearning for the underdog says Argo, and my gut says Django. I don’t get the crazy love for Django and never will understand how it made so many critics’ Top Tens, but there it is. Actors seem to LOVE it, it was directed beautifully and yet garnered no nod for Quentin himself, and the Weinsteins—if Shakespeare in Love says anything—have pull.

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