BY FRANKLIN P LAVIOLA
This Sunday, February 24th brings the 85th Academy Awards. Anything can happen this year, when the event, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, is broadcast, live from Hollywood, beginning at 7pm, on ABC. Below is a look at the nominees in the top six categories — who will win, who should win, and who should have been nominated .
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Will Win: The most wide open Best Picture race in years. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi might have the most nominations apiece, with twelve and eleven, respectively, but neither film is a clear frontrunner for the top prize. Back in December, when Zero Dark Thirty virtually swept the major critics‘ awards, it looked as if Kathryn Bigelow had a legitimate shot at winning her second Best Picture trophy. Thanks to political controversy and a multi-faceted smear campaign, that’s no longer likely to happen. With box-office figures now approaching $100 million, David O. Russell’s crowd-pleasing Silver Linings Playbook, which somehow earned eight nominations, could be this year’s big spoiler (think Shakespeare in Love in 1998). The Weinstein Company has been the driving force behind the Best Picture winner two years in a row (The King’s Speech and The Artist), and if the aggressiveness of their marketing campaign for Russell’s dramedy is any indication, they are out to make it three in a row. However, since the nominations were announced on January 10th, another film has emerged as the favorite, collecting a host of important precursor awards, including Best Picture at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards (BFCA), British Academy Films Awards (BAFTAs), and the Producers Guild of America, Best Director at the Critics Choice Awards and Directors Guild of America, and Outstanding Performance by a Cast at the Screen Actors Guild awards. On Sunday night, actor-director-producer Ben Affleck’s Argo will become the first film, since Driving Miss Daisy, to win the Best Picture Oscar, without also receiving a Best Director nomination.
Should Win: Two of the nominated films are head and shoulders above the rest — Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Michael Haneke’s Amour. Bigelow’s tense, highly detailed procedural about the CIA’s decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden was the best film of 2012. Zero Dark Thirty might be misunderstood by some now, but it will be remembered by many for its cinematic achievements.
Should Have Been Nominated: Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, and Django Unchained all made my ten best list. In addition to these three, the Academy should have nominated, or at least considered, The Turin Horse, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, The Dark Knight Rises, Damsels in Distress, The Deep Blue Sea, Holy Motors, The Kid with a Bike, The Grey, Farewell, My Queen and Skyfall.
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Will Win: Without the inclusion of Affleck, this becomes a category totally up for grabs. Haneke, Lee, and Russell could all conceivably win, but the Academy is most likely to go with a more obvious and safe choice. Steven Spielberg has already won the Best Director Oscar for both Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). He will win his third for the tedious self-importance of Lincoln.
Should Win: Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon & Cache), walking a fine line between compassion and cruelty, made his best film yet with Amour.
Should Have Been Nominated: Kathryn Bigelow, who won Best Director for The Hurt Locker (2009) was unexpectedly and unfairly snubbed this time around. Bigelow brought ambiguity and a surgical precision to every scene, while managing a large ensemble of actors more cohesively than any other filmmaker this year. Bela Tarr, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Christopher Nolan, Whit Stillman, Terence Davies, Leos Carax, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardennes, Quentin Tarantino, Benoit Jacquot, Joe Carnahan, and PT Anderson all should have been in contention.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Will Win: Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman can campaign all they want, but the outcome of this category was likely decided back in October, when Spielberg’s historical drama was first screened. Daniel Day-Lewis, by far the best thing about the film, will make history and become the first actor to win three Best Actor statues. A career five-time nominee, Day-Lewis previously won Oscars for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).
Should Win: As great as Daniel Day-Lewis’ incarnation of the 16th President of the United States is, my pick would be Joaquin Phoenix for his astonishing turn as troubled World War II veteran Freddie Quell. Phoenix, who was previously nominated for Gladiator and Walk the Line (and should have been nominated for Two Lovers and I’m Still Here), crafted a daring and highly physical performance that was completely unpredictable on a moment to moment basis, not to mention hilarious and often moving.
Should Have Been Nominated: French film legend Jean-Louis Trintignant, was somehow ignored, despite obvious support for Amour within the Academy. As a man in his 80s, who must cope with his wife’s rapidly deteriorating health, Trintignant was heartbreaking throughout. Liam Neeson and Christian Bale were both brilliant in Joe Carnhan’s The Grey and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, respectively, but AMPAS has never been comfortable nominating actors for action hero roles, no matter how demanding they might be. In Richard Linklater’s Bernie, Jack Black gave a career-best performance, as a gay funeral director, who charms the citizens of a small town in Texas, before murdering the meanest and wealthiest woman in town.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Will Win: Going into Oscar season, this was essentially a two-way race between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. Chastain won both the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Drama and the Critics Choice Award for Best Actress, and Lawrence won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress. Chastain will most likely be the victim of the politically-motivated smear campaign against her film, while the Weinstein Company might have gone too far with their promotion of Lawrence, recently “planting” a tabloid story that Chastain was feuding with Lawrence. All of this silly and contrived drama should pave the way for a surprise Emmanuelle Riva victory. The French legend, who won the BAFTA for Best Actress last week, is already the oldest actress ever nominated in this category. She turns 86 this Sunday, the same day the Academy Awards are presented.
Should Win: This is a very tough choice between Riva and Chastain, but I’ll go with the latter. As the CIA operative obsessed with catching Osama Bin Laden, Jessica Chastain was downright riveting. The film’s haunting final moments with her character alone and uncertain seal the deal.
Should Have Been Nominated: Greta Gerwig displayed her ace comic timing as Whit Stillman’s depressive heroine in Damsels in Distress. French beauty Lea Seydoux gave a real star turn, as Marie Antoinette’s (too) faithful servant, in Benoit Jacquot’s Farewell, My Queen. As an English girl coming of age in the turbulent 1960s, Elle Fanning subtly captured her character’s personal and political conflicts in Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa.
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Will Win: Amazingly, all five of the nominees are previous Oscar winners. This comes down to a three-way race between Tommy Lee Jones, Christoph Waltz, and Robert DeNiro. While Jones won the Screen Actors Guild award and Waltz won both the Golden Globe and BAFTA, it will be Robert DeNiro, playing Bradley Cooper’s gambler father, who will take home the trophy. DeNiro previously won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Godfather, Part 2 (1974) and the Best Actor Oscar for Raging Bull (1980).
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman gave perhaps his finest performance yet, as the conflicted cult leader (based on L. Run Hubbard), in The Master. However, it’s Christoph Waltz, in his second outing for Tarantino, who carried the bloody western for long chunks of screen time and was responsible for a number of its most memorable moments, including a (possibly improvised) campfire monologue about the German mythological hero Siegfried.
Should Have Been Nominated: Waltz’s co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo Dicaprio both gave worthy performances as the slippery villains of Django Unchained. Jason Clarke was captivating, as the CIA officer, assigned to torture detainees in Zero Dark Thirty. As Liam Neeson’s lowlife foil in The Grey, Frank Grillo convincingly transitioned from false swagger to a stoic acceptance of his fate. Simon Russell Beale brought complexity to the role of the cuckolded husband in The Deep Blue Sea. Matthew McConaughey gave his best performance, as the sick and devious Texas cop in William Friedkin’s Killer Joe.
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Will Win: The second category on the board whose outcome seems to have been determined ages ago. Anne Hathaway, who gave a far more noteworthy performance in The Dark Knight Rises, will win her first Oscar for belting out (and crying her way through) the show tune “I Dreamed A Dream,” in a single four minute shot.
Should Win: Well, certainly not Sally Field’s unbearably shrill performance as Mary Todd Lincoln! While it’s difficult not to pick the versatile Amy Adams (her fourth nomination in seven years!), whenever she’s nominated, my pick would be Helen Hunt. As the sex surrogate, who deflowered John Hawkes in The Sessions, Hunt, boldly performed the majority of her scenes in the nude, and convincingly played the growing romantic feelings toward his character.
Should Have Been Nominated: As the daughter of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert brilliantly conveyed the confusion and helplessness of dealing with a terminally ill parent, in only a handful of scenes in Amour. Playing a Marie Antoinette, consumed with Sapphic desire, Diane Kruger gave her best performance yet in Farewell, My Queen. As Jessica Chastain’s fellow CIA operative, Jennifer Ehle brought intelligence and an unabashed sexiness to her doomed character in Zero Dark Thirty. Alice Englert (daughter of filmmaker Jane Campion) made a striking debut, as Elle Fanning’s sexually-precocious best friend in Ginger & Rosa.