Oscar Nomination predictions!

Damn it! The Oscar nominations are tomorrow!! Two weeks early!

Well, I forge ahead. Time for my favorite annual game: predicting nominees in the Oscars’ major categories.

Best Picture 

Zero Dark Thirty
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Master

The top five are more or less sure things. They’d be my likely five in a pre-2011 voting system. They were my top five before the Directors Guild nominated their directors earlier today. Those five have owned the precursors thus far, and their favorable DGA nominations only further their status as the category’s sure things.

Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained, the former a precursor monster and the latter a critical and popular smash with Oscar pedigree and potential for a wide swath of nominations, would be giving me fits right now in a five-nominee year. I’d have them at a coin flip with Les Miserables and Life of Pi. As it is, I’m more than comfortable predicting both for a nomination.

Now, I could end things there and predict those as the Academy’s final lineup. However,  it’s important to remember that, in addition to the potential for 10 nominees, the nominations use preferential balloting. Long story short, being ranked as a voter’s favorite film of the year counts for a lot, and enough voters ranking a film number-one can do a lot to counter a lack of widespread support. With the expanded field, passion counts more than ever. Consider the Best Picture nomination for The Tree of Life last year after its total shutout from both the guilds and the Golden Globes. While its support base wasn’t broad, those who loved it tended to love it. That meant lots of top spots on Oscar ballots (a key component in preferential balloting) and a best picture nomination.

Beasts of the Southern Wild fits that mold better than any other film this year. It wasn’t widely seen, but those who love it have been particularly vocal about it. Its Oscar buzz has been hard to call otherwise. It was shut out at the Golden Globes (not a surprise, given their lust for star power, especially in the Drama category) and was ineligible for several Guild awards (including the SAG and WGA). However, its nomination by the Producer’s Guild makes me significantly more confident in its chances.

Moonrise Kingdom is similar in that regard, and has had more precursor support than Beasts (Golden Globe and WGA nominations). It gets in, with room to spare.

That leaves me with nine nominees, the same as last year. However, there are still some possibilities:

A blockbuster could earn the last slot, a la District 9 and The Blind Side in 2010. Skyfall is the most likely possibility here, given its overwhelmingly positive reviews, massive box-office haul and Oscar pedigree (American Beauty Oscar-winner Sam Mendes directing, 9-time nominee Roger Deakins on cinematography, juicy roles for previous winners Javier Bardem and Judy Dench). The Dark Knight Rises would seem to be a logical choice here, since The Dark Knight’s Oscar snub was widely cited as the reason for an expanded Best Picture field in the first place. However, its critical response was milder than the hosannas aimed at that one, and as a blockbuster, it wasn’t the dominant film of the summer the way its predecessor was. That honor for 2012 went to The Avengers, a film that has generated no Oscar buzz at all, which sadly isn’t shocking given that there was no way the Academy would deem it “serious” enough.

In the end, Skyfall will likely suffer for the same reason that Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom will succeed: it’s the kind of film that earns critical accolades but doesn’t end up on many “10 best” lists. I’d love to see it get recognized, but I don’t think it’s going to pull the number-one votes it’s going to need.

However, the most divisive film of the year, The Master, is exactly that sort of movie. While I’m wary about predicting a full slate of ten, I can’t shake the idea that The Master will pull the kind of the support that will leave more obviously Oscar bait and less divisive, but also less adored, films like Flight and The Impossible out of the running.

Best Director

Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

One thing I miss about the not-so-old 5-nominee Best Picture category: predicting the Academy’s annual Best Director wild card. Most years, the fact that only the Director’s branch of the Academy votes for the nominees in this category would lead to a director getting recognized, but his film being snubbed for Best Picture. Often, the wild card would be a respected figure whose film was just too unconventional for the Academy. David Lynch, for example, was nominated for best director for two films (Blue Velvet in 1986 and Mulholland Drive in 2001) that did not earn a single other nomination. Many legendary foreign directors (Pedro Almodovar, Krzystzof Kieslowski, Francois Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni) have received recognition here for films not nominated for best picture. Many other American and English auteurs have been nominated here as well for Best Picture snubbed films.

Other outliers fit that trend of acclaimed films that didn’t jibe with the Academy’s less esoteric taste for Best Picture. Just looking at the 2000s, examples include Lynch, Almodovar for Talk to Her, Fernando Meirelles for City of God, Mike Leigh for Vera Drake, Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Paul Greengrass for United 93.

However, the expanded Best Picture field has greatly reduced the odds of this phenomenon, which had previously been a near guarantee (there was at least one Best Director wild card in 42 of the previous 45 Oscars before the field expanded). Even last year, many prognosticators picked Terence Malick to pull a Best Director nod for The Tree of Life, with the film missing out for Best Picture. However, the film mustered nods in both categories.

This year, I’m floating that possibility again. Remember, the Directors branch of the Academy does the nominating here. For one, that means the DGA nominations have some weight, since there is some crossover with the membership. These predictions line up with the DGA picks, with one exception: I swapped out Tom Hooper for Les Miserables with Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master. Why? The aforementioned Auteur Exception. It was an Academy Awards staple for decades. Even if The Master is snubbed for Best Picture, I think Anderson will keep the tradition alive.

Other possibilities who could bite me in the ass on nomination morning: David O’Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained, Michael Haneke for Amour (this one is really giving me second thoughts, actually).

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible

What a brutal category to predict this year. Chastain and Lawrence are locks, with ample precursor support for Best Picture contending films. After that it’s a free-for-all. In addition to my three picks, very strong cases can be made for Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone, Rachel Weisz for The Deep Blue Sea, and Helen Mirren for Hitchcock. Mirren seems like a likely nominee, given her Golden Globe and SAG nods. However, Hitchcock has been an awards season dud otherwise, a clear-cut case of Oscar bait that failed to gain traction in any other categories. Watts, also a GG and SAG nominee, seems more likely than Mirren, given the more recent release of her film, and the fact that it has been pinning its Oscar hopes on her from the get-go. If one gauged Oscar-season momentum, Hitchcock’s would be flailing, while The Impossible would be riding steady.

So, why predict Riva and Wallis, despite their comparative lack of precursor support? Well, it’s that nagging “passion principle” that I brought up back in the Best Picture discussion up there. Riva and Wallis earned raves like few other performances this year. Riva’s film is a critical darling from an acclaimed director, and is exactly the kind of performance that snags a nod seemingly at the last second, thanks to good timing and intense support from those who have seen the film. Wallis’s film, meanwhile, came out in the Summer, and she has not yet left the conversation despite her chances being hampered by the SAG’s ruling the film ineligible. I just can’t fathom Beasts earning a Best Picture nomination without the little actress who is absolutely integral to its success also being recognized.

A nomination for Mirren would just seem so damn obligatory compared to these two. Perhaps I’m being wishful, but there you go.

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Denzel Washington, Flight
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

The first four here seem pretty strong. All have ample buzz and precursor combos, and are unlikely to be bumped from their perches. The fifth slot is more difficult. Phoenix is doing battle with Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook, with an outside chance for Richard Gere for Arbitrage. While Cooper seems like a safer bet, he’d be an Academy newcomer with a comedy pedigree, something that I don’t think stacks up well for him against Phoenix, a two-time nominee with a more obviously challenging role. Gere, meanwhile, earned some of the best reviews of his career for Arbitrage, but I imagine he’ll have to settle for them. The Academy doesn’t care for nominating characters who are blatantly dickish, no matter how strong the performance is.

Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Sally Field, Lincoln
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Amy Adams, The Master

Damn it, I’m getting tired. Gonna blitz through this: Hathaway’s the frontrunner, Field’s got solid, baity role in a film with a chance of dominating these awards, Dame Maggie is Dame Maggie and riding the Downton Abbey feel-good train, Kidman has been campaigning like crazy for The Paperboy and is GG and SAG nominated, and Amy Adams is gonna be nominated for like 872 Supporting Actress Oscars in her career and will never win one. Also, maybe Helen Hunt.

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook.

Arkin and Jones are my safe picks. Hoffman seems likely (SAG and GG nods, general acclaim for his performance). The Golden Globes nominated both DiCaprio and Waltz. The SAG nominated neither, substituting Javier Bardem for Skyfall and Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook. I’m splitting the difference. Matthew McConaughey’s abs might also earn a nod for Magic Mike.

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About johnmichaelmaximilian

Freelance writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Movies are my favorite thing.

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