Predicting Oscar: 2012 in Review

silver-linings A mere twelve hours prior to the announcement of the 85th Academy Award nominations, I find myself struggling with predictions in nearly all of the major categories. If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that major precursor organizations like the SAG, DGA, and HFPA (I cringed as I labeled the latter “major,” too) are still capable of pulling out intense, game-changing nominations in the months leading up to Academy voting—well, that and we learned it’s perfectly acceptable to die and leave your child in the care of a stranger you’ve known for a whole twenty minutes (I’m looking at you, Fantine).

The bad taste 2011 left in my mouth lingers no more, with a bounty of 2012’s films offering up plenty of fantastic contributions to the medium.

The most interesting race this year is between the leading women in a category which still feels wide open. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence seemingly lead a race that’s included names of industry mainstays (Rachel Weisz, Helen Mirren) and fresh (literally) newcomers (9-year old Quvenzhane Wallis). Naomi Watts picked up some steam when she garnered SAG and Golden Globe nominations for her brilliant turn in The Impossible (alongside an impressive cast of supporting men, including Tom Holland and Ewan McGregor), and will likely see her much-deserved (albeit long overdue) second Academy Award nomination come tomorrow morning. The remaining slots pose a dilemma. Emmanuelle Riva seems likely to take at least one for her performance in Amour, a film many are predicting as this year’s Oscar dark horse. Marion Cotillard, highly recognized already for her work in Rust and Bone, is poised for the other. That leaves Wallis’ fate in jeopardy. If recognized, she’d be the youngest in the history of the category. Her work is deserving, but it’ll take a lot for the Academy (comprised overwhelmingly of people triple, double, quadruple, her age) to herald a mere child over the immense talent of other actresses (like Riva) who have paid their dues on a career clock that’s already begun ticking.

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Over on the men’s side, things are considerably less exciting. In a year when Daniel Day-Lewis competes, rarely does anyone but Daniel Day-Lewis win; he’s poised for yet another nomination and win this year for his performance in Lincoln, also the frontrunner in the Picture, Director (Steven Spielberg), and Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones) categories. Sally Field will earn a Supporting Actress nomination for her role in the same film, although the likes of Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, and perhaps Nicole Kidman will give her some stiff competition, Hathaway likely taking the win in February.

The Best Director category is also problematic this year. Just yesterday, five directors were recognized by the Directors Guild of America with nominations; Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and Ben Affleck (Argo) claimed expected nominations from the DGA, although Tom Hooper’s inclusion for his work on Les Miserables left the placement of fellow Oscar contenders Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and Michael Haneke (Amour) in the category at tomorrow’s nominations in question. According to GoldDerby, only two films (Hamlet and Driving Miss Daisy) have won Best Picture without their directors being nominated by the DGA, making the top prize even more of a distant dream than it already was for the likes of Django Unchained, Amour, and Silver Linings Playbook.

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The Best Picture race has settled a bit on Lincoln, after fluctuating from Argo to Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty. I’m still not satisfied labeling Spielberg’s historical drama the winner this early, as Zero Dark Thirty was able to pick up considerable amounts of audience and critical appraisal (not to mention a heaping of Guild nominations, many for Jessica Chastain, Kathryn Bigelow, and Mark Boal) prior to the closing of Academy voting.

I’m in a  growing minority in feeling The Hurt Locker’s success with the Academy was due largely in part to director Bigelow’s gender, considering it was touted left and right in advertisements and mid-presentation announcer cliffhangers three years ago (“Will Kathryn Bigelow be the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar?” I remember so clearly being teased before every commercial break) as a means for the Academy to create their own newspaper headlines the next morning. Alas, picking apart films based on the gender of those who crafted them is inherently sexist. I sometimes question the act of separating the acting categories by gender; why not, then, separate the female directors from the male directors? The female screenwriters from the male screenwriters? Can it not be argued that the appeal of a film like Bridesmaids, written by two women and nominated in the Original Screenplay category just last year, is a film by and “for” women? Its overwhelming success (and the fact that it was directed by a man) prove otherwise; so why, then, is Bigelow such a hot topic? Her films have undoubtedly been shaped by male hands, too, considering Boal’s co-writing on Zero Dark Thirty’s script is likely to be recognized this year in the Best Original Screenplay category. I’m a fan of Bigelow’s work (can you really argue with Juliette Lewis’ badassery in Strange Days?), but I feel like the pressure for her to deliver anything above mere adequacy (which, by all means, is all The Hurt Locker amounts to) has been fulfilled within Zero Dark Thirty. I’ve yet to come across a quintessentially “female” agenda (does one even exist? I’ve never heard of anyone getting up in the middle of a screening and yell “ME SMELL WOMAN BEHIND LENS”) in any of her films, only the agenda of the Academy touting her gender as a pawn to diddle its own skittle for awarding a woman its top prize. That, my friends, is not sexist thinking; it’s merely pointing out exploitative bullshit of which the Academy is often guilty of parading, and why Kathryn Bigelow only won because she’s a woman.

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My full predictions below:

Best Picture:

Lincoln

Les Miserables

Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Amour

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Skyfall

Life of Pi

Django Unchained

Moonrise Kingdom

Alternates: The Master, Flight

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty

Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook

Emmanuelle Riva – Amour

Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone

Naomi Watts – The Impossible

Alternates – Quvenzhane Wallis, Rachel Weisz, Helen Mirren

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln

Denzel Washington – Flight

Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables

John Hawkes – The Sessions

Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook

Alternates – Joaquin Phoenix

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables

Sally Field – Lincoln

Helen Hunt – The Sessions

Ann Dowd – Compliance

Amy Adams – The Master

Alternates – Nicole Kidman

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln

Alan Arkin – Argo

Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained

Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master

Alternates – Dwight Henry, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConoughey

Best Director

Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty

Steven Spielberg – Lincoln

Ben Affleck – Argo

Ang Lee – Life of Pi

Tom Hooper – Les Miserables

Alternates – Michael Haneke, Quentin Tarantino, David O. Russell

Best Original Screenplay

Zero Dark Thirty

Amour

Django Unchained

Moonrise Kingdom

The Master

Alternates – Looper

Best Adapted Screenplay

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Lincoln

Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Life of Pi

Alternates – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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