There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of drama surrounding this year’s Academy Awards. There’s more speculation going on over how Seth MacFarlane will do as host than over the big races. Argo has been on rails for over a month now, Anne Hathaway locked up her award as soon as the first trailer for Les Misérables hit, and the lack of notable competitors has seemingly handed Best Director to Steven Spielberg. Not that surprises can’t happen — everybody thought Best Actress was Viola Davis’ to lose last year yet there was Meryl Streep with another statue — and some races have two horses in them, but there aren’t a lot of left-field upsets brewing.
Which should render making predictions easy, but, well, no plan ever survived contact with the enemy, and no predictions ever survived contact with reality. Here’s where my head is on Oscar eve, plus some other thoughts on the major categories. My apologies to those on the edge of their seats for my thoughts on Best Documentary Short.
Probably Will Win: Argo It’s racked up every key pre-Oscar indicator possible. It’s possible that could have led to a little reverse-backlash, as voters may have gotten tired of the story, but they had their chance to hope off the train plenty of times before now. I’m a little bothered by this momentum, since it seems to be speaking less to Argo‘s quality as a film and more as a referendum on Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director. It’s almost condescending, as if people think Affleck needs this acclaim to salve the wounds of being snubbed. He’s a big boy. He’s already got a statue. He’ll be fine.
Probably Should Win: Lincoln It just has the weight and heft of an Oscar-winner. It feels significant. It’s career work from several parties. And I still think there’s a chance it pulls off the win. But there’s so many other chances to honor the film, I can see voters figuring it doesn’t need the top prize to be sufficiently honored.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: Skyfall If fare like Inception and Moneyball were able to make it into the field in the past, and if Bat-fans can work themselves into fits over The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises not getting nominations, I have no qualms arguing Skyfall should have been one of the nominees. It’s smart, it’s thrilling, it’s gorgeously made. It just has the stigma of having had twenty-two other films in the series come before it.
Probably Will Win: Steven Spielberg With Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow not around, things look really good for Spielberg tomorrow night. Lincoln is the kind of film that demands major awards attention. There’s been some talk that Ang Lee may be gaining some momentum with Life of Pi due to his bringing what was viewed as a difficult adaptation to the screen, but this is the biggest award the Academy can give Lincoln outside of Best Picture, so I think they go with Spielberg here.
Probably Should Win: Spielberg Never mind that he directed three nominated performances, Spielberg was smart enough to restrain himself and let the cast and words shine. Not that he simply set up the camera and walked away; all the Spielberg touches are there, but they’re not as in your face. And Lincoln is a better film for it.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: Bigelow I don’t want to think that there was an air of, “You got yours, Missy, now sit back down,” behind her snub, but, well, I kind of think that. And there’s the impression she’s just repeating herself, what with Zero Dark Thirty treading on somewhat similar ground as The Hurt Locker. But there’s no denying that she took events whose outcomes were widely known and still made them tense and involving. More so than Affleck did in a similar vein with Argo. Toss out Tom Hooper, whose clunky direction was one of Les Misérables many issues, and slot Bigelow in there.
Probably Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis Day-Lewis might be such a foregone conclusion here that a bit of a revolt happens and someone like Joaquin Phoenix slips in. But Day-Lewis owned this role the second he opened his mouth. It’s the kind of big, iconic, historical role the Academy just eats up, and there’s the minor detail of Day-Lewis being absolutely magnificent. It’s his to lose.
Probably Should Win: Day-Lewis There’s a reason he’s been the prohibitive front-runner for months.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: Denis Lavant There was probably no way Holy Motors was going to get serious attention from the Academy, but there wasn’t a braver vision put on-screen last year, and Levant was smack in the middle of it. He’s absolutely fearless, a total chameleon, and has to carry the weight of the entire film on his shoulders. In fact, had he been nominated, I’d have had a hard time choosing between him and Day-Lewis. Levant was that good.
Probably Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence There are rumblings of a possible Emmanuelle Riva upset brewing, but she’s been pretty absent from most of the lead-up awards. Still, don’t underestimate sentimentality: Riva’s birthday is Oscar night, and the gift of an Oscar would be a great story. But Lawrence has been the darling of the season, she’s been a dynamite speech-giver, she’s more than easy on the eyes, and she is actually really good in Silver Linings Playbook.
Probably Should Win: Jessica Chastain Like Day-Lewis and Lavant, Chastain is the beating heart of Zero Dark Thirty. So much so that, as thrilling as the bin Laden raid is, the film suffers a bit from not having her on screen for such a big chunk of time.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: None Oscar pretty much got this one right. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Helen Mirren get nominated for Hitchcock on sheer reputation. but it’s not like she was snubbed.
Best Supporting Actor
Probably Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones Jones’ marked grumpiness during the awards season has some thinking he’s rubbed too many people the wrong way. Robert DeNiro is just sitting there waiting to take the reins, especially since Silver Linings Playbook is as invested as he’s been in years. As is Christoph Waltz, who took home the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. But Jones being a sourpuss didn’t stop him from winning the Screen Actors Guild award, and actors are the biggest voting branch of the Academy. It’ll be close, but I think Jones takes it.
Probably Should Win: Jones I could make a spirited case for Waltz, but his performance in Django Unchained feels like more of what he did in Inglourious Basterds. Not that Jones hasn’t been cantankerous before, but his role in Lincoln is more than just that. There’s some depth behind his curmudgeon, and not a small amount of heart.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: Javier Bardem I rang the bell hard for him in the run-up to the nominations, and I still think he deserved a nod. Silva was one of the best Bond villains since the heyday of Goldfinger and Blofeld, and Bardem invested him with a constant malevolent intelligence and wit that was a blast to watch.
Best Supporting Actress
Probably Will Win: Ann Hathaway She’s won everything in sight, and she absolutely sings the hell out of arguably the signature song in Les Misérables. Barring an upset of epic proportions — or a case of the aforementioned front-runner fatigue — Hathaway’s got this in the bag.
Probably Should Win: Sally Field The thing with Hathaway’s performance is that it’s basically a well-sung song and that’s it. She has a mini-movie about a quarter of the way into Les Mis, and then she’s gone. It’s a glorified plot point with a knockout musical number behind it. Field, meanwhile, walks a delicate line with a character that would have been easy to veer into caricature, and who emerges as an equal to her more famous husband. Plus, she’s bound to give a memorable speech.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: None Again, no glaring omissions here. Cases could be made for a handful of venerable actresses like Nicole Kidman and Judi Dench, but the five nominees feel like the right field.
Best Original Screenplay
Probably Will Win: Quentin Tarantino They may have snubbed him for Best Director, but the Academy loves Tarantino the writer. And they love scripts that give actors great dialogue, with which Django Unchained abounds. In what looks like a spread the wealth kind of year, here’s the chance for voters to throw some love towards Tarantino.
Probably Should Win: Tarantino Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola are right there with Moonrise Kingdom, but that script is a gentle breeze competing with Hurricane Tarantino. Sometimes the Academy confuses “Best” with “Most” to its own detriment, but in this case, more is more, and Tarantino deserves it.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon It never stood a chance, being a deconstruction of horror films, but The Cabin in the Woods was easily one of the smartest, most surprising films of 2012, and it all came from the script. It’s a masterpiece of set-up and delivery.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Probably Will Win: Chris Terrio Terrio won the Writers Guild award for Argo, against essentially the same competition (Beasts of the Southern Wild was ineligible due to WGA rules). If voters don’t vote Argo for Best Picture, this is their only other chance at giving the film a major award. If they do vote it Best Picture, this category gets swept along for the ride.
Probably Should Win: Tony Kushner The portions of Team of Rivals focusing on the passage of the 13th Amendment comprise all of four pages. From that, Kushner crafted a compelling piece of drama filled with vivid, memorable dialogue that feels completely of its time. I say give him the statue.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer I had my problems with Cloud Atlas — some of the big ideas weren’t quite as big as the filmmakers thought they were — but the script did a great job of taking a sprawling novel and turning it into a cohesive, propulsive story that at least tried to swing for the fences
Best Animated Feature
Probably Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph Pixar’s been the 800-pound gorilla in this category, but it doesn’t feel like Brave has all that much momentum behind it. Plus, aside from The Pirates! Band of Misfits, it’s the earliest released nominee, giving voters plenty of time to lose it in the glare of ParaNorman, Frankenweenie and Ralph. Frankenweenie‘s gotten some love from the critics’ awards, but I think Ralph, being the bigger success, will win the night.
Probably Should Win: ParaNorman It’s not just the best animated film of 2012, I had it ranked as one of the best of 2012 period. From every standpoint you’d judge a film it excels, and it’s beautifully animated on top of it, with some really inventive imagery in its haunting finale. There’s no award I’d love to be wrong about more than this one.
Probably Should Have Been Nominated: Rise of the Guardians Another beautiful, inventive piece of animation. It may have fallen down a bit in the story department, but it’s miles ahead of the recycled Frankenweenie.
As for the rest, we should expect another charming acceptance speech from Adele as “Skyfall” wins Best Original Song. Life of Pi will probably clean up on the technical side, and if Roger Deakins doesn’t win for his cinematography on Skyfall, then nobody in the Academy understands cinematography. Plus Seth MacFarlane will undoubtedly crack a joke that will ruffle somebody’s delicate sensibilities. It might even be funny. We’ll see in a little less than twenty-four hours.