BEST PICTURE: “Amour” “Argo” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” “Lincoln” “The Silver Linings Playbook” “Les Miserables” “Django Unchained” “Life of Pi” “Zero Dark Thirty”
Will win: “Argo”
This category hasn’t been anything but a sure thing in several years, and at first it seemed like Ben Affleck’s fact-based story of the CIA’s response to the Iranian hostage crisis had had its day when Affleck failed to get a Best Director nomination. Since then, however, the film has won Best Picture at the Golden Globes and gone on to unexpectedly dominate the various guild awards, leading to talks of a second wind for the film. A film without a Best Director nomination hasn’t won Best Picture since “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989, but the handwriting, if not quite on the wall, is definitely creeping towards it.
Everything about Spielberg’s period epic seemed tailor-made for Oscar, but its follow through proved just as good, particularly given its resonance in an election year. Spielberg seems like a pretty solid bet for his fourth Oscar, making “Lincoln” the obvious Best Picture choice if “Argo” can’t pull it out.
BEST DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln” Michael Haneke, “Amour” David O. Russell, “The Silver Linings Playbook” Ang Lee, “Life of Pi” Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Will win: Steven Spielberg
As stated above, “Lincoln” has resulted in Spielberg’s best year since “Munich," maybe even since “Saving Private Ryan." It helps that the two people who were considered the biggest threats to his win, Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, weren’t nominated. Spielberg is the biggest directorial heavyweight in this category, making it seem much more sewn-up than Best Picture is.
Spoiler: David O. Russell
Not many people were expecting “The Silver Linings Playbook” to get as much traction with the Academy as it has; it’s the first movie to be nominated in every major category since “Reds” in 1981. Despite Russell being a director of somewhat less cachet than Spielberg, he’s also done a lot to rehabilitate his diva image over the past few years, and it doesn’t hurt that he did, in fact, do a brilliant job with this particular film (dig that 360-degree kiss shot towards the end.
BEST ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln” Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master” Denzel Washington, “Flight” Bradley Cooper, “The Silver Linings Playbook” Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis
No one in the Academy’s history has won Best Actor three times, but then, Daniel Day-Lewis is not just any actor. The Irish thespian pulled out all the stops in his portrayal of the 16th president, even studying descriptions of his voice to get the pitch right. The result is a performance that evokes Lincoln-the-legend while bringing warmth and humor to Lincoln-the-man when a lesser actor might have settled for just one. Day-Lewis has swept the precursors already, and a lot of people were calling the award for him before the film even came out.
Spoiler: Joaquin Phoenix
The biggest mark in Phoenix’s favor was that he was nominated at all; his performance as an alcoholic, almost feral drifter was high on most people’s projections after the film was released, but after he disparaged the concept of awards in an interview, many people thought it would doom his chances. But there he was when the nominations were announced, and if the Academy is willing to overlook his jab at them (along with the shadow of his deliberately bizarre faux-retirement), they might be willing to give him their vote as well.BEST ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, “The Silver Linings Playbook” Quvenzhane Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty” Naomi Watts, “The Impossible” Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence
Lawrence was first nominated for Best Actress two years ago for her role in the excellent country-noir “Winter’s Bone,” and since then her career has soared into the stratosphere due to a combination of the nomination, her scene-stealing performance in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” and her casting as protagonist Katniss Everdeane in the lucrative film adaptation of “The Hunger Games.” Not only is Lawrence’s performance as a young widow and amateur dancer the best of her career to date, she’s also shown a charming lack of pretentiousness in interviews and on the circuit that gives her exactly the kind of likeability the Academy wants in a winner.
Spoiler: Jessica Chastain
Like Lawrence, Chastain became ubiquitous almost as quickly as she appeared, showing up in five separate films in 2011 (one of which, “The Help,” earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination); Kathryn Bigelow’s fact-based story of the killing of Osama bin Laden wasn’t nearly the nominations bonanza many thought it would be, which is probably to do with the controversy over its portrayal of torture, but beyond the controversy, Chastain’s performance as the CIA analyst who develops a Captain Ahab-like obsession with bin Laden is widely agreed upon as the highlight of the film, and Chastain’s quickly-rising star could still get her the win.
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln” Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master” Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained” Alan Arkin, “Argo” Robert De Niro, “The Silver Linings Playbook”
Will win: Tommy Lee Jones
Jones got his best notices in years for his sharp-tongued, hilarious performance as fiercely abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a character who provides an Oscar reel pretty much every time he opens his mouth (“You are more reptile than man, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you!”); you know somebody’s going to go far when he’s one of the most talked-about performances in a movie that stars Daniel Day-Lewis.
Spoiler: Christoph Waltz
Waltz, who won this same award three years ago for “Inglourious Basterds,” surprised a lot of people with his nomination; if “Django Unchained” was nominated in this category, conventional wisdom was that it would be for Leonardo DiCaprio’s sadistic plantation owner, rather than Waltz’s loquacious bounty hunter. That said, Waltz already won the Golden Globe, which may be a sign that he’ll get a second bite at the apple.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Helen Hunt, “The Sessions” Sally Field, “Lincoln” Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables” Jacki Weaver, “The Silver Linings Playbook” Amy Adams, “The Master”
Will win: Anne Hathaway
Hathaway has been the favorite probably the earliest of any nominee in any category; it doesn’t hurt that, despite her somewhat brief screentime, her performance as tragic single mother and prostitute Fantine (and her tearful performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”) has anchored the film’s advertising campaign. She’s swept the precursor awards and is probably the closest thing to a lock of all the categories.
Spoiler: Sally Field
Despite Hathaway’s near-lock status, Field, a two-time winner already for “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart” is probably the biggest threat, with her tormented performance as Mary Todd Lincoln, which manages to go toe-to-toe with that of the film’s masterful predominantly male cast along with highlighting the Lincolns’ tragic personal lives even in the face of triumph.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY “Amour” “Moonrise Kingdom” “Zero Dark Thirty” “Django Unchained” “Flight”
Will win: “Zero Dark Thirty”
Journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal’s script has made it over several hurdles; in its original form, it was the story of the unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden, beginning with the 9/11 attacks and ending with the ill-fated attack on Tora Bora; after bin Laden was successfully killed, it had to be rewritten from scratch, which then led to the now-familiar outcry over its portrayal of torture; despite this, the fact that it made it to the nomination in the first place bodes well for its success.
Spoiler: “Moonrise Kingdom”
Quirky auteur Wes Anderson’s story of an orphan and a neglected rich girl who run away together was the biggest critical and commercial success of his career, and if the Academy is put off by both the controversy over “Zero Dark Thirty” and its unrelenting tonal darkness, it may benefit Anderson and his co-writer Roman Coppola.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: “Lincoln” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” “Argo” “Life of Pi” “The Silver Linings Playbook”Will win: “Lincoln"
This script is legendary playwright Tony Kushner’s second collaboration with Steven Spielberg, after 2005’s “Munich;” the result is the impressive achievement of whittling Doris Kearns Goodwin’s tome “Team of Rivals” into a sprawling but tightly-paced political procedural that gives its (many) characters sparkling, witty voices that sound like 19th-century Aaron Sorkin or a less profane “Deadwood."
Based on a 2007 article in Wired, Chris Terrio’s hugely exciting screenplay may be “Argo"'s best shot at a win if it can’t pull out Best Picture, especially after Ben Affleck’s unexpected Best Director snub, which came as a complete surprise to most prognosticators.