Are There Any Oscar Surprises Left?

Last night Argo won the Best Adapted Screenplay prize at the Writers Guild of America awards, seemingly inching the film closer to Oscar sure-thing status. Are there surprises left in any of the big categories?

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Last night Argo won the Best Adapted Screenplay prize at the Writers Guild of America awards, seemingly inching the film closer to Oscar sure-thing status. Argo's win at the SAG Awards, at the Golden Globes, and at the Producers and Directors Guilds' awards, would seem to indicate that the film is a lock for Best Picture. Could there be a surprise, though? Are there surprises left in any of the big categories?

In the Best Picture slot, Argo only has competition from a few of the eight other films nominated. There's a slight possibility that Zero Dark Thirty could edge out Ben Affleck's film, but that picture's momentum has seriously stalled in the past month or so. Still, it did win for Original Screenplay at the WGAs last night, so it's not necessarily out of the running. There may actually be a better chance that Argo and Zero Dark will split the vote — both being sober looks at conflicts in the Middle East — and something like crowd favorite Silver Linings Playbook sneaks in. After all, Brokeback Mountain won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, the PGA, the DGA, and the WGA awards in its year (it was nominated for the SAG but did not win) and still came up short at the big dance. Oscar surprises can certainly happen in this category, though chances may be slim this time around. In Brokeback's year, the eventual winner, Crash, had a strange amount of momentum leading up to the awards ceremony. But Academy ballots are due today and no other film has come close to matching Argo's buzz. It still seems like a very likely bet.

Elsewhere, we're seeing similar situations. Awards-bedecked Anne Hathaway is as good as locked for Les Misérables. The rest of the actresses in the Supporting category are just there to keep seats warm. Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln is still the strongest contender for Best Actor, having picked up a raft of big awards along his way to the Oscars. He also has the advantage, if you want to call it that, of being the de facto emblem or token of the larger film. People really liked Lincoln, but no one seems all that eager give it awards beyond Day-Lewis. A win for him would basically be an endorsement of the larger film. He's really only challenged in his category by Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, but the Academy is likely to give that film its awards in other categories. Barring something truly strange, Day-Lewis has this in the bag.

Lest you begin to worry that this is going to be the most boring Oscars ever, at least two of the major categories are still somewhat up in the air. The Best Supporting Actor slate is all previous winners, which makes it a little less exciting than usual, but it's still a mystery as to whether Tommy Lee Jones will win for his Lincoln bluster, Christoph Waltz for his Django Unchained oddness, or maybe even Robert De Niro for Silver Linings, an Oscar nominee for the first time in over twenty years. Waltz has, uh, waltzed off with most of the supporting awards this season, so it seems likely we'll hear another one of his strange speeches come Sunday night, but it's not a sure thing! It's not exactly a nail-biter, but we gotta take the excitement of uncertainty where we can get it.

Really the biggest battle of the night remains Jennifer Lawrence vs. Jessica Chastain. Like Day-Lewis, Chastain might get the trophy as an Academy nod to Zero Dark Thirty as a whole, but like the film, she's been losing momentum in recent weeks. Sure she got the Golden Globe, but she promptly lost the SAG to Jennifer Lawrence, who is affable and funny in recent public appearances and may have won more people to her cause because of it. Still, she's in no way a lock, which makes it the most interesting of the major categories. We're giving the edge to Lawrence at the moment, but lots of people had SAG winner Viola Davis winning last year until Meryl Streep — to whom Chastain has earned some comparison — came along and snatched it away. Don't count the serious, educated technician actress out until the fat lady, or in Sunday night's case Jean Dujardin, sings. If you're looking for a close race to follow in this week's lead-up to the show, Best Actress is the one to pay attention to.

There's also Best Director to be considered. Ben Affleck isn't even nominated in that category, so it's a strange one to predict. Lincoln's Steven Spielberg could join Day-Lewis as a representative of the larger film, or upstart David O. Russell might finally get some true old-guard industry recognition. It's a strange category this year, if you care about such things.

Those uncertain races aside, there's probably some truth to the idea that the Internet has Oscar guessing a little less fun. Once all the analyses have poured in and every single critics and guild award winner has been tallied and tabled, a pretty clear picture of who stands the likeliest chance of leaving the auditorium with a golden trophy begins to emerge. But, of course, there have still been upsets in the Internet age, so we could all be proven wrong. Maybe the Academy simply loved Life of Pi. Maybe Helen Hunt really did it for voters. Maybe Joaquin Phoenix has a strange but powerful contingent of self-hating Academy members who will cast their ballot for him, even though he thinks the award is garbage. This is the movie industry we're talking about, after all. Anything is possible. Or, if not anything, certainly something.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.