The Atlantic's film critic predicts this year's Oscar winners, from the bizarre Best Director race to Anne Hathaway's already-in-the-bag Best Supporting Actress win.
This year is shaping up to be a particularly odd one for the Oscars. A widely presumed—and entirely worthy—frontrunner for Best Picture, Zero Dark Thirty, seems to have been derailed by political controversies that, whatever their merit (and I find it limited), are external to the film itself. Another anticipated contender, Lincoln, appears to be losing steam by the week, much as Up in the Air did in 2010. And no one seems able to fathom just what went so terribly wrong with the nominations for Best Director.
So what will happen on Sunday? I don't pretend to have a better idea than anyone else—I should perhaps note here that I wrote an entire article arguing that The Hurt Locker had virtually no chance of beating Avatar three years ago—but for whatever they may be worth, here are my predictions and precriminations:
It certainly feels as though we've seen this movie before, with Argo gaining alphabetic velocity, a la The Hurt Locker, with each round of pre-Oscar awards: PGA, SAG, DGA, BAFTA, ACE. I confess it seems more than a touch unfair that while its primary competitors, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, have both been dogged by questions of historical accuracy, no one seems to care that large portions of Argo—in particular the last act, featuring skin-of-the-teeth escape after skin-of-the-teeth escape—were made up out of whole cloth. That's the advantage, I suppose, of writing about a historical event that almost no one had even heard of beforehand.
What will win: Argo
What ought to win: Zero Dark Thirty
What was nominated but shouldn't have been: Life of Pi, Django Unchained
What wasn't nominated but should have been: Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, The Avengers (yes, The Avengers: it was a damn sight better than, say, Avatar)
What the hell happened? Of the four films that seem to have any chance, however slim, of winning Best Picture—Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Les Miserables—only one, Lincoln, received a directing nod. Worse, of those four movies, it was the one whose excellence depended least on its director and most on its lead performance, by Daniel Day-Lewis. (Thought experiment: Envision Lincoln with Spielberg as the director but another actor in the lead role. Now envision it with Day-Lewis as Lincoln but someone else directing. Which is the better picture?) I've longed for the Academy to decouple the Best Picture and Best Director categories as much as anyone. But this was exactly the wrong way to do it.
Who will win: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Who ought to win: Of this batch of nominees, Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) or, if that's too unrealistic, David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook). In a better world, it'd be Kathryn Bigelow.
Who was nominated but shouldn't have been: Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michael Haneke (Amour)
Who wasn't nominated but should have been: Bigelow, Ben Affleck (Argo)
When Daniel Day-Lewis is at the top of his game, he's playing an entirely different sport, and Lincoln finds him at the top of his game. In pleasant contrast to past major roles—as Daniel Plainview, Bill the Butcher, Christy Brown—Day-Lewis turns in a subdued, almost recessive performance, bringing a historical giant down to human scale. To date, no actor has ever won an Oscar for a performance in a Steven Spielberg film (the last to be nominated was Christopher Walken in 2002's Catch Me If You Can). That will change Sunday.
Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who ought to win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who was nominated but shouldn't have been: Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Who wasn't nominated but should have been: John Hawkes (The Sessions)
This wasn't the strongest of years for the category, with several compelling performances but none that stand out indelibly. Jessica Chastain was good in Zero Dark Thirty, but it was the precise opposite of Lincoln: a film that belonged to its director rather than its star. Quvenzhané Wallis is certainly memorable in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I don't think it's really possible to assess the craftsmanship of a six-year-old performer. Jennifer Lawrence seems the likely bet here, though Amour's Emannuelle Riva has a shot as well.