Isn’t it funny how Oscar races can evolve over the span of just a few weeks? Since awards season first began in late December, we’ve seen several key races completely change course, sometimes more than once.
When the first batch of critics prizes were handed out, it looked like most of the major categories would be a battleground for “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” with the former holding the edge for old-school Hollywood charm and the latter benefiting from its status as the best-reviewed film of the year.
But no more. Thanks to what looks to be a highly successful boycott campaign spearheaded by powerful industry insiders, “Zero Dark Thirty” will likely be shut out of the Academy Awards, even though lead actress Jessica Chastain was considered an absolute lock just a couple months ago. And “Lincoln,” although I believe it will nab several high honors Sunday night, will no longer have a free ride, and will have to fight tooth-and-nail for every one of its wins.
And that’s without even getting into the strange case of “Argo,” and the even stranger case of the massively overrated “Silver Linings Playbook,” both of which may turn out to be the big winners of the evening.
These are highly competitive races, and for the first time in more than a decade I’m not at all confident that I will correctly predict even half of the major categories, much less attain my traditional 80-90 percent success rate. But as always, I’ll at least have fun trying to second-guess the Academy and their short-sighted, often patently insane reasons for doing the things they do.
Dark horse: “Silver Linings Playbook”
My pick: “Django Unchained”
If momentum is any indication, then Ben Affleck’s thriller about a CIA rescue mission amid the Iranian hostage crisis will become the first film since 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy” to win the Oscar for best picture without even being nominated in the directing category. Voters love an underdog, and a win here could be an attempt to make up for Affleck’s inexplicable snub, especially after the film has been bulldozing stiff competition for the past six weeks.
That is, unless the jet-black rom-com “Silver Linings Playbook” comes from behind to pull off an upset — which is not all that unlikely, considering the almost unspeakable power wielded by producer Harvey Weinstein, who is more or less Hollywood’s Jabba the Hutt, only more ruthless and all-around offensive. A simple solution: Give the award to “Django Unchained,” clearly the most well-assembled and most purely entertaining of the lot. Hey, a guy can dream.
Front-runner: Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln”
Dark horse: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook”
My pick: Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln”
This has been Day-Lewis’ to lose from the beginning, and the sheer, undeniable power of his performance has been enough to keep him the odds-on favorite. I’d love to see him pick up his third trophy in this category, as it’s almost impossible to debate his status as the single most talented, inspiringly devoted actor working in Hollywood today. “Lincoln” was a great film with many strong attributes, but without Day-Lewis’ transfixing central performance, it may not have amounted to much more than a glorified historical pageant.
It seems absurd to suggest that an actor like Bradley Cooper could steal this thing, but like I said, never underestimate the power and influence of Harvey Weinstein. It’s completely within the realm of possibility that he’ll engineer some kind of coup to ensure that his mediocre film nets a slew of major awards, and if that happens, then the deafening scream of pain and anguish you hear from 20 miles away will be mine.
Front-runner: Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln”
Dark horse: Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook”
My pick: Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained”
Like Daniel Day-Lewis, I think Tommy Lee Jones will maintain a (weak) lead and prevent a “Silver Linings” sweep. It’s his strongest role in years, and although he already has an Oscar in the same category for “The Fugitive,” it has been 20 years since his last nomination or win. But it’s been longer than that for De Niro, who despite his iconic status has not taken home a trophy since 1980’s “Raging Bull.” And of course, he’s got Weinstein in his corner. This may be the closest race of the night, but my money’s on common sense prevailing over fear, intimidation and false sentimentality.
But again, my advice: When in doubt, go with “Django Unchained.” As a smooth-talking dentist turned bounty hunter, Waltz managed to steal the whole movie away from a very talented cast and prove that his Oscar-winning turn in “Inglorious Basterds” a few years ago was no fluke.
Front-runner: Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables”
Dark horse: Sally Field in “Lincoln”
My pick : Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables”
This is undoubtedly the dullest category of the night, in part because it’s the easiest to predict. (Though Jackie Weaver is up for “Silver Linings,” this is one race where a win for that film is completely out of the question.) Hathaway has been the favorite to win since before the movie was even released, and the buzz has never seemed to die down. This is a category that favors young, hip talent, and given that she actually gave the strongest performance on this roster, she still seems like a pretty good bet.
Her only real competition comes from Field, who may benefit from voters viewing her as a grand dame of the silver screen who hasn’t been recognized in too long. But unlike Day-Lewis, I think two Oscars will just have to be enough love for Field.
Front-runner: Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln”
Dark horse: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”
My pick: Michael Haneke for “Amour”
Oh, what a kerfuffle. No Quentin Tarantino. No Kathryn Bigelow. And most strange and outrageous of all, no Ben Affleck. By all rights this fiasco should prove once and for all that Academy nominations are drafted by lunatics with no regard for artistry or, it seems, sanity. Guess that opens the door for Spielberg to claim his third award in this category, unless — you guessed it — the “Silver Linings” goons get to enough voters. For some reason insiders view Russell as a talented and relevant film artist, and this could be his welcome into the fold.
All at the expense of Haneke, a legitimate artist with international accolades and a provocative body of work that puts him near the top of any list of interesting directors working outside the studio system. His work on “Amour” was breathtaking in its commitment to maintaining a singular and thematically appropriate style, and he elevated what could have otherwise been a disease movie-of-the-week to the level of profound human drama.
Front-runner: Michael Haneke for “Amour”
Dark horse: Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained”
My pick : Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained”
My gut is telling me that Tarantino, who is finally widely recognized as Hollywood’s most talented screenwriter and one of its most important directors, will enjoy his first win since 1994 in this same category for “Pulp Fiction.” But will voters, many of them older and easily offended, really want to honor a screenplay that offers up the most prolific use of the dreaded “n-word” of any major film in Hollywood history? I’m betting not, even though Tarantino’s razor-sharp dialogue certainly deserves the prize.
That leaves Wes Anderson for his quaint coming-of-age fable “Moonrise Kingdom,” but that may be too low-key to take the award. So I think Haneke, in addition to winning in the foreign language film category, will also be honored here. I really have no concrete evidence for this — call it a hunch.
Front-runner: Tony Kushner for “Lincoln”
Dark horse: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”
My pick: Tony Kushner for “Lincoln”
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Kushner served up the year’s most elegant and carefully polished screenplay, and I think I could watch “Lincoln” with my eyes closed and still be enthralled thanks to his finely tuned dialogue and deft sense of narrative flow. It almost seems like a “gimme” in light of his pedigree, but wait... What’s this? Another award which “Silver Linings” most definitely does not deserve but could very well end up winning anyway thanks to industry politics? You bet.
Jason’s other predictions
Film Editing: “Argo”
Cinematography: “Life of Pi”
Art Direction: “Les Miserables”
Costume Design: “Mirror Mirror”
Visual effects: “Life of Pi”
Makeup: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Sound Editing: “Life of Pi”
Sound Mixing: “Life of Pi”
Original Score: “Lincoln”
Original Song: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall”
Foreign Language Film: “Amour”
Best Animated Feature: “Wreck-It Ralph”
Documentary Feature: “How to Survive a Plague”
Documentary Short: “Redemption”
Animated Short: “Paperman”
Live-Action Short: “Asad”