Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscar Predictions 2013

Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert claims that this year is one of the easiest years to predict the outcome of the Oscars being presented Sunday night by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. When the nominees were announced a month and a half ago, it seemed one of the least predictable batch of nominees in years. However, as usual the last month of near weekly awards presentations for the finest work in film over the past year has brought a good deal of focus to the Oscars picture. I don’t agree that it is one of the easiest years to predict. I can remember one a couple of years ago that Ebert claimed was one of the hardest and a record number of people out guessed him in his annual Outguess Ebert’s Oscar Picks contest.

The last few years, I have been very consistent in predicting between 17 to 20 out of 24 awards correctly, with most of my misses coming in the very obscure categories. I’m not so confident this year. I think I’ll be doing very well at 17. It wouldn’t surprise me if I don’t do that well this year.

The main reason this is such a tough year to predict is because such a wide variety of great movies reached such a great amount of audiences. It has been a while since the collection of Best Picture nominees have been seen so widely consumed by the public as they have this year. It’s been longer since that collection of films was also such a consistently high quality. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Amour” are the only two films that didn’t see a wide national release and didn’t receive good to impressive box office numbers, although for the specialty market audience they played to, they had very impressive numbers. Only one film strikes me as one that doesn’t belong in terms of filmmaking quality, but it appealed to a wide variety of audiences and I understand why.

Another reason this year is so hard to predict is because of the sheer number of people who weren’t nominated that many felt should’ve been. I can’t remember a year with so many so-called “snubs.” No year can honor as many people as deserve it, but this year there were people left off the Oscars list who won many of the other awards. Normally, that type of recognition would ensure Oscar recognition, but not this year. With so many that might’ve been considered front-runners left off the Oscar nominations, it’s harder to predict what the Academy’s thinking might be on the other nominees.

All will be revealed tomorrow evening, however, in a show that promises to be one of the more exciting in recent Oscar history. With one of the most unlikeliest of hosts in Oscar history in “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane, and one of the most varied field of nominees in Academy history; Oscar Night 2013 is sure to be one filled with surprises. Here are my predictions:

Best Picture. There are always shifts in Best Picture favorites. Much of that has to do with the political maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes in the industry, to which the public is rarely privy. This year, the favorite seemed to shift every week for a while, sometimes even multiple times within a week. The political/historical thriller “Argo” was an early favorite, garnering a great deal of buzz at the Toronto Film Festival, often a precursor to the awards season darlings. With an earlier fall release than most of the contenders, many felt that the spotlight shone on “Argo” too early in the awards season. Then “Lincoln” hit and was lauded by most as Spielberg’s greatest film since ‘Schindler’s List”. Then people started talking early about how impressive “Les Misérables” was. Then “Zero Dark Thirty” got great word of mouth on its limited opening before the backlash against its depiction of torture began. Then “Django Unchained” stirred up controversy, which somehow always works in QT’s favor. Then the awards were announced and “Amour” was a surprise nominee that showed up everywhere. Perhaps it could be one of the rare foreign language films to take the top award. Then, more and more people started getting out to see the beautifully impressive “Life of Pi”. All the while, “Silver Linings Playbook” kept popping its head up as a crowd-pleasing favorite. Could the Weinsteins pull off another late rally upset?

Who will win? “Argo”. Before the nominees were announced, it was assumed the hunt for this category would be a three horse race between “Argo”, “Les Misérables” and “Zero Dark Thirty”. When all three of those film’s directors were left off the Best Director nominations, those assumptions all changed. At that point, it looked like the Weinstein campaign machine had the field left wide open for them to come in and clean up the rest of the awards season with “Silver Linings Playbook”. Then something unprecedented happened, “Argo” went on to sweep every remaining awards show for both the film and for Ben Affleck as director. With no opportunity to give Affleck the director award, “Argo” is ensured Best Picture. Although, had Affleck been included on that list, I still think “Argo” would’ve taken Best Picture as well as director.

Who would I pick? “Argo”. I know. On my Best of 2012 list I had “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” listed ahead of “Argo”. Heck, I even had “Life of Pi” and “Lincoln” listed ahead of it at one point during the list’s creation. My feelings on this year’s best movies, though, are that they’re all so good, it’s hard to pick one above the other in anything. Affleck has made three excellent films out of the three feature films he’s directed. He has an amazing comeback story. And, the film itself is so good; I can’t help but jump on the bandwagon here.

Best Director. This is probably the most controversial category in Academy history, certainly its recent history. Three directors thought to be shoe-ins were left off the Academy’s list this year. Ben Affleck, for Best Picture front-runner “Argo”, and past winners Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), for “Zero Dark Thirty”, and Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), for “Les Misérables”, were the last directors anyone expected to be left out of this category. Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln” and Ang Lee for “Life of Pi” were also expected to get the nominations they did secure. It was assumed that if by some strange reason these five weren’t all nominated, Quentin Tarantino, for “Django Unchained”, and Robert Zemeckis, for “Flight”, would probably be next in line. Instead the entire field was upset with surprise nominations for Michael Haneke, for “Amour”, David O. Russell, for “Silver Linings Playbook”, and Bahn Zeitlin, for the most excellent “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. It’s enough to make an analyst throw their hands up in the air. Might as well just flip a coin.

Who will win? That’s really tough to say. I’d call this one a two horse race. The general consensus seems to be Spielberg. But, Spielberg has won the award twice before, in 1994 for “Schindler’s List” and in 1999 for “Saving Private Ryan”. The second time it was one of those rare occasions where director went to a different film than picture. This year that will happen again, but I’m not so sure Spielberg will be the one to pull it off a second time. Michael Haneke has been making incredibly high quality films in Europe for well over a decade and the absence of Affleck’s name from the list could finally allow the Academy a chance to award him for all those amazing films. Of course, much also depends on how the Academy will vote on Best Original Screenplay where Haneke is also nominated. I predict Spielberg will win it by a nose.

Who would I pick? Ben Affleck. I can’t imagine picking someone else. I think his omission here is the single greatest travesty I’ve ever witnessed committed by the Academy, and that’s saying something. OK, It may not be as big a travesty as the Snow White opening number, but it’s close. However, if I must pick someone that is nominated, I’ll have to say Behn Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. “Beasts” is the most original of all the picture nominees and probably one of the toughest to film due to budget, location, and its fantastical nature. It’s so good to see this little-picture-that-could recognized during such a good year for the studios. Zeitlin has pulled off an amazing accomplishment.

Best Actor. This is one of two absolute, hands down, sure-fire bets, no-brainers of the bunch. There is no question in anyone’s mind where this one is going, even for the other nominees. This one is the ultimate “It’s an honor being nominated” for the other four. They’re only going to show up to look gracious, but in any other year all of them but Bradley Cooper would probably have a good shot at winning. Not to diminish Cooper’s work, but he’s young, he takes risks, he’ll be here again. Denzel Washington put in the best performance of his career in “Flight”. That just needs to be said.

Who will win? Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln”.

Who would I pick? Daniel Day-Lewis, despite my feelings about Washington. The same can be said for Day-Lewis.

Best Actress. This one isn’t so clear-cut, or at least, it shouldn’t be. First of all, kudos to the Academy for recognizing Quvenzhané Wallis and her work in the wonderful “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and making her the youngest actress ever to obtain the honor of a nomination in this category. And, congratulations to Naomi Watts for her nomination here for her work in “The Impossible”. She’s another good actor who takes risks and will most likely end up with a nomination again in the future. They are the fringe nominees. This one is between the sentimental choice of the oldest nominee in the category ever, Emmanuelle Riva and her work in the surprise contender “Amour”, and the considerably younger options of Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty” and Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”.

Who will win? While I think Chastain was an early favorite, the holiday time spotlight that shone so bright on “Zero Dark Thirty” burned itself out pretty quickly. Riva certainly has a chance to steal the award for sentimental reasons as she did at the BAFTAS, the last major awards before the Oscars. The award will go to Lawrence, however, due to the significant influence of the Weinstein’s Oscar winning machine. While Lawrence’s role was probably the least challenging of the four nominated roles from “Silver Linings Playbook”, the film was a powerhouse of performances and deserves recognition for that. This category is the easiest place for that to happen. The omission of Helen Mirren for her work in “Hitchcock” and the placement of Helen Hunt in the supporting category for her work in “The Sessions” really help Lawrence’s chances here.

Who would I pick? Jessica Chastain for her brave work breaking gender barriers in the coldly calculated “Zero Dark Thirty”. Her role as the lead CIA investigator in charge of finding and capturing Al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden may seem like a walk in the park for the untrained eye, but her instinct to never succumb to typical emotional workings and those little tiny flashes underneath the skin she gives throughout the film demonstrate an incredible understanding of the material and of the significance that it was that a woman did the job she portrays in the film.

Best Supporting Actor. This is one of the toughest categories for me to get a grasp on. It’s another one of those where the quality of the nominees all seem to be on the same level and where many other names could’ve been included. I would’ve liked to see John Goodman get a nod with his “Argo” co-star Alan Arkin, who deserves his nomination just as much. Matthew McConaughey could’ve been nominated for any number of supporting roles he performed this year. “Moonrise Kingdom” could’ve produced half of this list with the performances turned in by Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and Edward Norton. Plus, all those that were nominated deserve to be there.

Who will win? General consensus seems to be pointing toward Tommy Lee Jones for his work as the abolitionist Senator Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln”. I’m not sure why he is the front-runner. Perhaps because of the nature of what his character stands for as much as for Jones’s performance. I’m inclined to agree with popular opinion that this is where the statue will end up.

Who would I pick? Robert DeNiro as a father desperately trying to understand his son’s bipolar disorder in “Silver Linings Playbook”. This is one of the most sensitive performances I’ve seen from the venerated actor, who all too often is associated with the more violent and abrasive characters for which he’s become famous and been awarded for in the past. This is the most human and humane character DeNiro has played, and he plays it just as impressively as he does his monsters.

Best Supporting Actress. This is the second absolute, hands down, sure-fire bet, no-brainer of the bunch. Again the field is filled with amazing career performances by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln in “Lincoln”, Helen Hunt as a sex surrogate (not a prostitute) in “The Sessions”, Jacki Weaver as a quiet, caring mother in “Sliver Linings Playbook”, and Amy Adams as a devoted wife and follower to a man with far-reaching theories in “The Master”. Again in any other year, any of these performances could’ve walked home with the Oscar gold, just not this year.

Who will win? It is Anne Hathaway’s moment to shine in Oscar’s spotlight for her work as a destitute mother trying to protect her daughter in “Les Misérables”. This is the Academy’s chance to award a film that was at one time considered a front-runner for all the big prizes and their chance to award an actress who is a favorite among audiences and her contemporaries. And somehow, I think she’ll just be able to avoid the curse of this award with her sunshiny brightness and a history of smart project choices.

Who would I pick? While I felt Weaver was the unsung hero of “Silver Linings Playbook”, I’d still go with Hathaway. I’ve heard many—especially from the musical theater industry—deride her performance, vocal and otherwise. Even so, I believe her performance of the song “I Dreamed a Dream” to be the single best performance of a song in a cinematic musical I’ve seen. It is proof of why a movie about people bursting into song isn’t an absolutely ridiculous endeavor.

Best Original Screenplay. This category is tied intrinsically with the Best Director Category. “Flight” and “Moonrise Kingdom” are the two “honored to be nominated” nominees. The nomination alone is the recognition for the great work done by John Gatins (for the former) and Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (for the latter). They’re both award worthy but aren’t really in this race.

Who will win? What’s left is Michael Haneke for “Amour”, Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained”, and Mark Boal for “Zero Dark Thirty”. Again, while the spotlight shone bright on Boal’s screenplay at first, backlash against the misinterpretation that it supports torture as a means to extract worthwhile intelligence will keep it from gaining the prize. While even the Academy cannot deny the unbridled brilliance of QT as a writer, his extreme use of the N-word in a film about the touchy subject of this country’s history of slavery will probably shy many of the older members away from checking his box. That leaves the opportunity to honor the great (and equally uncomfortable) work of Michael Haneke as a screenwriter, since Affleck’s absence keeps the director’s race close, they’ll award Haneke here and Spielberg there.

Who would I pick? Mark Boal’s screenplay for “Zero Dark Thirty” is just as brave as Chastain’s performance. Abandoning all the rules to tell a very specific story with a very specific purpose, Boal captures the sacrifice, the lack of reward, and the utter importance of our intelligence community in his sparse, stark script.

Best Adapted Screenplay. This is a category representing and eschewing the unbelievable, the unbearable, and the unfilmable this year. That last descriptor being proven wrong by the brilliant screenplays adapted this year. “Life of Pi” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” could embody every one of those “uns” I put forth. “Silver Linings Playbook” captures the misunderstood and unbearable facets of mental illness in a surprisingly functional romantic comedy. While “Lincoln” and “Argo” capture the unbelievable realities of two important historical events for our country. Quite an impressive collection of material.

Who will win? While much of the consensus is leaning toward Tony Kushner’s work for “Lincoln”, I’m thinking the Academy will be satisfied with giving “Lincoln” three awards. In a year so rich with nominees, they’ll opt to spread the love a little wider. Not too much, though. I think Chris Terrio’s recent win from the writer’s guild for his “Argo” screenplay will guide the Academy’s hand and they’ll award “Argo” a little more for their mistake in leaving Affleck off the ballot.

Who would I pick? It’s hard to overlook the remarkable story that is Hushpuppy’s in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. The tale’s allegory, untraditional storytelling, and its sheer ability to replicate the mind of a six-year-old and how a child interprets a confusing world is unmatched by any other screenplay this year. It is rare to find writers with gifts as palpable as playwright Lucy Alibar and writer/director Behn Zeitlin display with this screenplay.

Best Animated Feature. It seems the renaissance of the animated movie that was begun with Pixar’s “Toy Story” in 1995 is finally beginning to fade as this year’s batch of animated movies, while more numerous than just about any year I can remember, just didn’t produce the same amount of greatness as they have in the past. While I was a great fan of “Frankenweenie” and “Wreck-It Ralph”, the other three films were merely good.

Who will win? This one is “Wreck-It Ralph”s to lose. Coming from the king of animation studios, Disney (as do two others on this year’s list), the Academy will put their statues in the hands of the popular favorite.

Who would I pick? “Frankenweenie” was my favorite animated movie this year. Tim Burton’s beautiful black and white stop motion animation is incredible homage to everything that influenced him as a kid to turn toward filmmaking. It’s original and funny and made with a passion not felt by the other candidates. I’ve heard rumors of a last minute surge in popularity for this choice among Academy voters. One can only hope.

Best Documentary Feature. For the first time ever, I’ve seen four of the five nominees for this category before the awards ceremony thanks to the wonders of Netflix Instant, which made three of the nominees available before they were available in a physical format. The fourth I rented on Bluray. “The Gatekeepers” is still in limited theatrical release, and I don’t know much about it. Recent changes in the nomination process have led to more accessibility to the potential nominees and a better representation of the best this field has to offer. This is the strongest field of Documentary Feature nominees I’ve seen in a given year. The four I’ve seen alternate between incredibly important issues and incredible stories. “How to Survive a Plague” tells the story of the men who led the fight to find a workable treatment for AIDS. “The Invisible War” reveals the shocking number of rape occurrences in the United States Armed Forces and the despicable practice of covering them up. “5 Broken Cameras” tells the story of a Palestinian village’s peaceful protests against the illegal seizure of their farmlands by Israel from a front line perspective. And, “Searching for Sugar Man” tells of a forgotten Detroit musician’s unlikely and overwhelming popularity in South Africa.

Who will win? “Searching for Sugar Man” has long been the popular favorite, and I believe this is where the Academy will award their prize for the sheer unbelievable story found here and the skillful mastery of the storytelling, not to mention the incredible music of Rodriguez.

Who would I pick? I have an incredible love for music and I was a fan of Rodriguez even before I knew his remarkable story from the doc “Searching for Sugar Man”; however, “How to Survive a Plague” is just as skillfully and artfully handled by its makers. It tells just as remarkable a story. The two films are every bit each other’s equals. There is only one quality in which they are unequal—the importance of their message. However much it is important that the music of Rodriguez finally be heard and awarded, and however important it is that he should finally obtain financial gain for his amazing work; one man’s artistic success can never be as important as the saving of countless lives that the men and women of ACT UP and TAG achieved with their work and sacrifice to bring awareness to AIDS research that remarkably led to a real breakthrough. “How to Survive a Plague” is my pick for Best Documentary.

A few other quick predictions: Adele will be awarded the Academy’s James Bond love for the Best Original Song “Skyfall”. “Paperman” was probably the most widely seen Animated Short and the most worthy and will come home with the award. “Life of Pi” will gain its awards in the technical categories, most notably Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. While I agree on cinematography, visual effects should go to the über popular “The Avengers”. “Amour” is another hands-down, don’t-vote-against-it win for Best Foreign Language film. And, Seth McFarlane will be brilliant as a host and, like David Letterman, will never receive another phone call from the Academy.

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