The Nominees Are In: Early Oscar Predictions for the 85th Academy Awards

Posted: January 10, 2013 in Award Season, Personal

Compared to last year, I am actually in better shaped with my Oscar preparations. I have viewed the majority of the films that comprise the top categories and feel a little more prepared to comments on the possible winners earlier than in the past. Get ready for a possibly turbulent awards season as there are strong films but no truly clear frontrunners.

The nominees are laced with a selection of expected winners, mostly due to a combination of film topics, directors and cast, but there are some strong films that may not get the attention they deserve. Lincoln and Les Miserables will walk away with a set of awards, but they will not convincingly steal up every major category. Silver Linings Playbook has a chance to be a surprise winner in several categories, similar to Shakespeare in Love did when it got the upset for Best Picture. The Impossible was a emotional roller coaster, but it was a surprise hit with its phenomenal acting for Naomi Watts and eye-catching visuals (though not recognized in the nominations). Life of Pi has a good chance of getting recognition in several categories for its stunningly beautiful art direction, whereas Cloud Atlas was overlooked in most of its relevant categories. I have yet to see Zero Dark Thirty but the nods before its release indicate that it may be a late challenger, even without the direction nod for Kathryn Bigelow. And for all of the buzz that Argo generated, there was no direction nod for Ben Affleck either.

Where 2012 was not a stunning year for animated features or music in film, this year boast a selection to return to recognition for some talented production companies and composers. Disney/Pixar will be expected to win for their captivating feature, Brave, but all of the features offer a combination of good stories and entertaining graphical presentations. On the music end, Cloud Atlas is yet again a surprising snub considering the film’s success at developing an amazing original classical score and its success at tying the music into the storyline. Still, the scores are strong with contenders that include John Williams and Mychael Danna.

As I said before, this should be a year that will not produce clear frontrunners but a lot of surprises on Oscar night. Here are my early thoughts on the major categories:

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Frontrunner: Partially for the name recognition and the role itself, Daniel Day-Lewis has got to be the clear favorite of the group. Taking on the role of Lincoln, he was able to project a sense of humility and strength during one of the most dramatic moments of his presidential career.
  • Competitor: Denzel Washington will definitely be recognized for his presence as a flawed hero and a troubled human being. While it may not be too far off the general trend of his other films, Flight was definitely one of his better performances.
  • Dark Horse: Joaquin Phoenix may not even show up at the ceremony unless he appears to be the frontrunner going into the night, but his performance was recognized right before the nominations were released.

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Frontrunner: Lincoln may appear to be the frontrunner now, but the acting is definitely a good reason to keep them in contention. Tommy Lee Jones is rather intriguing, as those unfamiliar with his representation of an historic figure will appreciate both his contention and compassion presented in the film.
  • Competitor: Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor and has a good chance to be recognized for his performance in The Master. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, it seems like a victory is long overdue.
  • Dark Horse: While his performance from Inglorious Basterds appeared to be a clear favorite a few years ago, Christoph Waltz’s excellent performance in Django Unchained could be under-appreciated or it could steal the category.

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Frontrunner: Though most people will not have seen the film, Emmanuelle’s performance in Amour is certainly award-worthy. This is not a clear category for a clear winner, but her performance cannot be ignored.
  • Competitor: Jennifer Lawrence is a mood disorder explosion of brilliance in Silver Linings Playbook. She could very easily run away with the front spot as we get closer to the award night, but for now, she is still behind Emmanuelle.
  • Dark Horse: The rest of the field…I have not yet seen Jessica Chastain’s performance, but Naomi Watts represents the best in the human spirit while Quvenzhane is absolutely captivating and has a chance of being one of the youngest winners in the history of the awards.

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Frontrunner: This has to be the one category with a clearest frontrunner. Anne Hathaway’s passion and grittiness in Les Miserables should earn her the Oscar.
  • Competitor: Sally Field can easily get recognition for the scope of the role and her strongly variable emotional performance.
  • Dark Horse: Amy Adams will get her press and recognition for The Master, but Hathaway already has a strong lock on this award.

Animated Feature Film

  • Frontrunner: Returning to the scene with a strong story and beautiful animation, Pixar’s Brave should be a favorite going into award night.
  • Competitor: Due to Tim Burton’s combination of strong yet quirky presentation, Frankenweenie could get some great attention.
  • Dark Horse: ParaNorman is a fun and creative animated film that could steal one away from Pixar.

Directing

  • Frontrunner: Without Affleck and Bigelow, Spielberg’s choice for working with a historically-based story will get a lot of attention. The representation of the war both on the battlefield and in Congress can easily take center stage.
  • Competitor: In comparison to the presentation of the story in Lincoln, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi combines an intriguing story with the beautiful visuals.
  • Dark Horse: Amour with Michel Haneke exhibits a combination of love and compassion that could slide in for a win.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • Front Runner: In recognition for the expected, Tony Kuschner’s Lincoln will probably get the win. It is a deserving film with a strong dialogue.
  • Competitor: Just as intriguing as Lincoln is Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell manipulates mental illness into both a challenging and rewarding series of conversations and interactions, particularly in the relationship between the main characters.
  • Dark Horse: With little recognition for the more expected categories, Chris Terrio’s Argo presents a turbulent time through a combination of entertaining conversations during the Hollywood scenes and tense moments during the planning and escape.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • Front Runner: Quentin Tarantino’s films may be bloody and violent, but there is no shortage of gripping moments built into the story. Even with Christoph Waltz’s acting, it is the screenplay that helps to set up the film’s strong recognition.
  • Competitor: Zero Dark Thirty’s subject matter may make Mark Boal a winner on Oscar night.
  • Dark Horse: Without a nomination for Best Picture (even after early predictions put them in), Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola could take this category with their quirky and dysfunctional style of storytelling.

Best Picture

  • Front Runner: At this time, it is hard to pick against Lincoln. With the subject matter and the right combination of elements, it is definitely going to be difficult to dethrone this film from its path to the Academy Awards.
  • Competitor: Even with some mixed review from the critics, Les Miserables is a wonderful combination of visual spectacles, beautiful vocal performances and the making of Oscar gold.
  • Dark Horse(s): It is not hard to imagine that the field is a bit stronger this year and that Lincoln may not maintain momentum as we reach Oscar night. While wonderful films, it is hard to imagine that Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Amour and Life of Pi will challenge the other films, but stranger things have happened. In comparison, Kathryn Bigelow’s success with The Hurt Locker pushes Zero Dark Thirty into contention. Argo may have missed on other categories, but the film’s overall presentation was a strong one that even left the viewer curious of the outcome in the film when they may have known what happened in real life. Silver Linings Playbook has a similar appeal to when Shakespeare in Love stole the film big award, but it is a little bit of a different contender. Its charm as a film that explores mental obsession and illness boasts strong performances and memorable moments that could continue to build its momentum.

For now, these gut reactions leave a lot of room for change. Each of the awards shows over the next month will swing the momentum more toward or away from Lincoln as a frontrunner, or possibly propel Silver Linings Playbook or Zero Dark Thirty to achieve greater than anticipated success. There are still some films I have left to catch, so look forward to more reviews very soon.

By the way, I will say again that I believe the biggest snub of the nominations to be Cloud Atlas. While it would not have won for Best Picture and probably could not have even challenged the field for entry into the top 9, there are several categories that were clear possibilities for success that were overlooked, most notably makeup, both music categories, film editing, production design, visual effects and screenplay. Many thought the movie was too complex for its own good, but I would beg to differ.

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