Wednesday, January 9, 2013

And just before the Oscar nominations hit...

Forecasting the Oscars is not really about the Oscars, because even the Oscars are not really about the Oscars. It's about loving movies (The Oscars themselves may be about making more money out of movies, and winning Emmys, but let's not judge). We love movies and we love to see things we love, things that moved us, things that wowed us, things that altered us, praised and celebrated. And we love to bitch and moan when stuff we love is sidelined for stuff we didn't much care for.

Be that as it may, tracking the Oscar race (the whole silly spiel leading up to the whole silly event) is fun for two reasons - 1) for some reason it's fun to guess how the Academy is going to think, and to see how the general consensus shapes up from the early Film Festivals to the myriad of awards that start pouring in at year end - seeing the year in cinema shape up to what the records will remember. 2) Tracking the whole thing allows you to keep up with the also-rans, the almost-made-its, the coulda-been-contenders, those who thankfully missed the cut and those who inexplicably got shafted.

I will passionately write in favour of the overlooked when the dust of D-Day has settled, but in anticipation of tomorrow, let's have a look at the groupthink as it stands now. For purposes of this post, I will refer to the conglomerate of Critics Groups Awards as "The Critics", and to the conglomerate results of other groups like Film Festivals and Award-giving bodies from the Gotham Awards to the Golden Globes as "The Precursors".

Best Picture:

See here.

Best Director:

The Critics backed Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty (still with a massive lead, despite Torture Porn backlash), Ben Affleck for Argo (slowly becoming Bigelow's less-controversial alternative), Paul Thomas Anderson for enigmatic The Master, Ang Lee for the gentle, technically astounding Life of Pi and Steven Spielberg for his manically detailed biopic of the great President, Lincoln (threatening to sneakily become the one to beat).

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The Precursors also favoured Kathryn Bigelow, closely by Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and David O'Russell for crowd pleasing indie rom com Silver Linings Playbook, in that order.

That gives us a logical top four of Bigelow, Affleck, Spielberg and Lee, which matches yesterday's Director's Guild nominees. But the fifth slot remains open for the taking. The Critics went for Paul Thomas Anderson, but the Academy is unlikely too (too weird, too much ungrateful Joaquin Phoenix), The Precursors favoured O'Russell, and the Directors Guild threw a bone at much criticised previous winner Tom Hooper for Les Miserables. The BAFTA's are reminder that you can't count out Quentin Tarantino for the ever-popular and daring Django Unchained, or Michael Haneke scoring an art-house slot for critically raved Amour.

On the outskirts with multiple nominations? Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom and Leos Carax for Holy Motors. 

My guess? Bigelow, Affleck, Spielberg, Lee and Tarantino. But honestly, I'm hoping for a surprise. So let's say Haneke!

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Best Actress:

An interesting field with Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) way out in the lead, hitting every single note that counts.For the remaining three? Anyone's guess, although we can guess fairly closely by now.

After Jennifer Lawrence, The Critics backed french veteran Emmanuelle Riva in a big way, citing her even more often than Jessica Chastain. But sadly she is likely to be snubbed by the Oscars as Marion Cotillard is already in the mix, and nominating two subtitled performances is just asking too much, and Marion Cotillard is better known. And hotter. Sorry Emmanuelle. We continue to hold out hope, though. After that, they pushed the youngest contender of the year - Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quvenzhane Wallis, hoping for a  Keisha-Castle Hughes Whale Rider type miracle, and Naomi Watts surviving a Tsunami in The Impossible.

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The Precursors have Chastain and Lawrence perfectly on par, followed by Marion Cotillard, Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhane Wallis.

On the outskirts are Helen Mirren as Alma Reville in Hitchcock, and a trio of brilliant, underseen performances skirting infidelity: Ematatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere, Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz and Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea. Interestingly, Keira Knightley's adulterous Anna Karenina was almost uniformly snubbed (only gaining notice from the Golden Satellites).

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Although it's hard to vote against the iconic, much-loved Riva and Wallis, Naomi Watts, Marion Cotillard and Helen Mirren scored campaign-making twin nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, and have career credibility to back them. Cotillard and Mirren proved their popularity with BAFTA
nominations today (although so did Riva), while Watts is massively overdue for her second nomination.

My prediction? Chastain, Lawrence, Watts, Cotillard and Mirren, although I continue to hope for Riva.

Best Actor:

A very tight race between six very strong contenders. It seems a shame to shut out any one of Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln, Joaquin Phoenix as an alcoholic seemingly functioning entirely outside of society's rules in The Master, John Hawkes touching and funny as real-life quadriplegic Mark O'Brien falling for the sex surrogate he hires to see if his naughty bits work in The Sessions, Hugh Jackman singing everyone to tears (in a good way) in Les Miserables,  Denzel Washington digging up the soul of a complex alcoholic / hero in Flight and Bradley Cooper trying to get the better of Bi-Polar in Silver Linings Playbook, but one of them is going to miss out.

On the face of it, Bradley Cooper seems the least heavy-weight of the bunch, but the Precursors have him out front as the most consistently nominated Actor of the year (beating even Daniel-Day Lewis with two additional nominations, AND an additional win). Everyone else sits squarely with five nominations a piece, and it will be for the Academy to decide who they like best. Joaquin Phoenix's snub by the Screen Actors Guild (presumably for expressing his dislike for The Oscars and the campaigning it takes to win them) is probably bodes poorly for him, as is the general lack of support for his tricky, artsy film. But his performance seems too huge, too iconic, too brilliant to ignore.

John Hawkes was overlooked at the BAFTAs, although co-star Helen Hunt was nominated, but the two have been campaigned and nominated so consistently as a pair, it is hard to imagine him missing.

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The Critics went for Daniel Day-Lewis in a huge, almost unrivaled, way, followed by Joaquin Phoenix, John Hawkes, Denzel Washington and, interestingly, Holy Motors' multi-character weirdo Denis Lavant pushing out both Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper.

In the final evaluation, I'm going with Daniel Day-Lewis being unshakable, Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper being too enticing as Box Office stars making good (and presumably attracting significant Oscar viewership as well), Denzel Washington being too respected to pass up, and Joaquin Phoenix too brilliant not to be forgiven, leaving John Hawkes sadly on the sideline. But only time will tell.

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Supporting Actress:

Anne Hathaway has already won Best Supporting Actress for singing, crying, shaving her head and dying, all at once, in Les Miserables, although the critics gave quite a push for Sally Field as Lincoln's unstable, quietly hysterical other half in Lincoln. They're both guaranteed their spot, as is Helen Hunt as a self-possessed sex surrogate calmly baring all in The Sessions. 

Battling out the final two slots are the ever reliable Amy Adams as Phillip Seymour Hoffman's stern, mysterious and frankly creepy wife in The Master, Ann Dowd as an impressionable fast food store manager performing horrendous deeds with presumably good intentions in Compliance and Nicole Kidman going full-on trashy Southern prison slut in The Paperboy. 

Adams is all but locked, save that odd SAG snub, while Kidman was all but missing in the race until her SAG / Golden Globe double-whammy. Dowd is the most hit-and-miss, as far as prescursors go, but was universally praised for her breakthrough performance, and has made it abundantly clear how much a nomination would mean for her career.

On the outskirts are British lovelies Judi Dench at her best yet as the impeccable M in Skyfall, and Maggie Smith throwing around racist one-liners, and turning into a good person, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

My guess would be that both Kidman and Dowd make it in a last minute sweep of hype, and Amy Adams is left out cold.

So: Anne Hathaway, Sally Field, Helen Hunt, Ann Dowd and Nicole Kidman.

Supporting Actor:

This year, the supporting actor race is riddled with previous winners: Tommy Lee Jones (Supporting Actor Winner for The Fugitive) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Lead Actor winner for Capote) have their nominations in the bag for Lincoln and The Master, respectively, and likely go head-to-head for the win.

Christoph Waltz (Supporting Actor winner for Inglorious Basterds), has proven ever popular since Django Unchained came on the scene, and looks set to reap his second nomination off of Quentin Tarantino's writing, while Javier Bardem (Supporting Actor winner for No Country for Old Men), delivers an astonishing, campy, whispery villain in Skyfall.

Veterans Alan Arkin (Supporting Actor winner for Little Miss Sunshine) and Robert De Niro (Supporting Actor winner for The Godfather Part II and Lead Actor winner for Raging Bull) round out the list with celebrated, if not brilliant, turns in Best Picture frontrunners Argo and Silver Linings Playbook respectively. I'm as happy as anyone to see De Niro back in the game, but in all honesty his performance is good but not brilliant. The same could be said of Arkin, although Argo needs an acting nomination to stay in the running as a Best Picture winner.

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The wildcards are Leonardo DiCaprio, seemingly desperate for an Oscar (and lately a persistent also-ran) as a colourful Tarantino villain in Django Unchained and Matthew McConaughey, making sure he stayed in conversation this year with not one, not two, but four acclaimed performances in Magic Mike, Bernie, Killer Joe and The Paperboy.

In the final equation, my guess is for Hoffman, Jones, Arkin, Waltz and DiCaprio. Although I would prefer Bardem over DiCaprio, personally.

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Let the good times roll! We'll celebrate and lament in the morning!