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Western Herald – Deciphering the darkness: Final Oscar Predictions
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Deciphering the darkness: Final Oscar Predictions

Craig Manning
A&E Editor

Well it’s been an interesting Awards season, to be sure. I’ve mostly kept out of this conversation since the Screen Actors Guild awards, partially because they essentially sealed Argo as the big winner of the season, but also because what has happened since then has only served to muddy the waters in nearly every other category. In a normal Oscar year, the top eight categories (Picture, Director, the four acting fields and the screenwriting categories) are largely locked up by the time Oscar night roles around. Not so this year, which has seen substantial shifts in momentum for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor in the past few weeks, and which boasts a Best Director field with no discernible frontrunner.

These continued shifts mean two things: first, that Sunday night’s Oscar telecast will probably prove to be the most exciting and surprise-filled ceremony in at least a decade; second, that my predictions are shooting through darkness. I’ve spent the week catching up on all of the precursor winners, reading essays by Oscar prognosticators and trying to take my own bias towards particular films–*cough* Django Unchained *cough*–out of the equation. And I am finally ready to present the results. Below, I have included my predictions in each of the 24 Academy Award categories. These picks range from legitimate guarantees to educated guesses to dartboard-decided assumptions, but maybe I’ll get lucky and get them all right. A guy can dream, right?

In any case, my pencil is down. Enjoy and check back Monday morning for a full-scale recap.

Best Picture

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

After two solid years of foregone conclusions, this category got good and exciting this year, frontrunner status shifting from Silver Linings Playbook to Argo to Lincoln to Les Miserables to Zero Dark Thirty and then back again. On the eve of nomination day, I guessed that Ben Affleck’s historical drama was going to come back for the win. I felt the film building momentum, and figured that, once critics, audiences and voters alike moved on from the new, shiny toys of the holiday release season, they’d ultimately come back to Argo.

My resolve was shaken a bit when Affleck missed out on a Best Director nomination, but I still wondered whether Steven Spielberg’s creaky, flawed and overlong Lincoln could really become a Best Picture winner. Zero Dark Thirty, meanwhile, suffered the same Best Director snub that hit Argo, while a firestorm of media controversy will likely leave it as the critics’ darling that goes home empty-handed from the Academy Awards. And Les Miserables, all its grandeur and performance caliber aside, can’t win in a field in which it is, quite simply, the weakest film. For a moment, it appeared that the terrific—albeit lightweight—Silver Linings Playbook would pull a Best Picture coup, its four acting nominations and across-the-board likability placing it in line with recent winners.

But as I predicted, voters eventually came back to Argo. Something was in the air from the moment Affleck’s name was left off the Best Director list, and ever since, the film has been unstoppable. Wins at major awards shows like the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs cemented its wide-reaching appeal, but the support from the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild was ultimately what cemented Argo as this year’s Best Picture winner. There are still Oscar pundits who doubt that Affleck’s film can become only the fourth to win Best Picture without a corresponding Best Director nomination, but at this point, Lincoln’s poor showing in the precursors feels like the more damning precedent.

Will Win: Argo
Alternate: Lincoln

Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

If Ben Affleck was nominee here, I would tick the category off my list of things  to worry about without a second thought. As is, this is arguably the weirdest Best Director field in Oscar history, with two nominees whose films probably wouldn’t have made the Best Picture slate in a year of five, and no frontrunner in sight. General wisdom says Spielberg, but I’m not so certain. The guy is a legend, to be sure, but he’s also won this award twice before, and both times were for films stronger than Lincoln (Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, respectively). The second victory came in a year where Spielberg’s film lost the Best Picture award, so a similar thing could happen here. But I don’t think so.

In any case, Haneke and Zeitlin are just here to watch the fireworks. The category gets interesting though, when we look at the other two nominees. By all rights, Ang Lee should win. He’s won before—for Brokeback Mountain, which also lost the Best Picture prize—but his film this year is a technical marvel, among the most beautiful cinematic experiences to ever play out on the screen. And the Academy certainly likes Life of Pi, judging by the ten nominations they gave it a month and a half ago. With that said, there’s no chance of the film going home empty handed: its technical sweep will earn it three or four trophies in the production craft categories, probably making it the most decorated film of the night. But if voters want to give Lee something major for his accomplishment, this is the only category where they can do so.

Silver Linings Playbook, on the other hand, is currently standing on shaky ground. The film could conceivably lose in all four acting categories, while a win in the Best Adapted Screenplay field feels even more suspect. In that case, Best Director would be the only place left to award the film, and while the idea of David O’Russell triumphing over giants like Lee and Spielberg sounds off on paper, stranger things have happened. I’m not going to predict it, in other words, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Will Win: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Alt: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Well I don’t need to waste a lot of text mulling this one over. Daniel Day-Lewis will deservedly become the first actor to ever win this category three times, and that’s really the end of it. Even if Lincoln somehow loses every other award it’s nominated for—which is distinctly possible—DDL cannot possibly miss here.

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress

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

There was a time when Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence were neck-in-neck in this category, both of them promising young actresses with a colossal couple of years under their belts. But Zero Dark Thirty has been so beaten down for the political statements it makes (or doesn’t make) that Chastain, at this point, will be no more than a footnote on the awards season. So does that make Lawrence a surefire winner? Maybe, but Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest Best Actress nominee in history, has a lot of good will and momentum in her corner as we barrel into the weekend. Lawrence won the SAG, normally a good indication of Oscar support, but the same indication proved false last year when Meryl Streep toppled The Help’s Viola Davis. And Riva, with a BAFTA win to her name, can’t be forgotten.

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Alt: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour

Best Supporting Actor

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

I can’t recall the last Oscar category where literally any of the nominees were potential victors, let alone the last acting category, but that up-in-the-air situation is definitely the case with this year’s Best Supporting Actor slate. Again, general wisdom says Tommy Lee Jones, but after his unflattering curmudgeonly display at the Golden Globes and his no-show at the SAG Awards—where he won—I’m not so sure voters are going to want to throw him another prize. Academy voters love a crowd-pleasing acceptance speech, and Jones just seems disinterested this season.

But if Jones, once the category’s supposed frontrunner, can’t convert his early buzz to a victory, then who is the beneficiary? That’s hard to say. Each of these gentlemen already has an Oscar—or in De Niro’s case, two—so there’s little feeling of anyone being “overdue.” I want to say Christoph Waltz has a good shot here, since he gave my favorite performance of the year and was able to nab trophies at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. But he’s also the most recent victor, having won this very category just three years ago, and I’m not so sure the Academy is ready to give him his second Oscar just yet. Waltz’s performance is also arguably a lead, but the practice of “category fraud”—where actors campaign in a more open field in hopes of landing a win—is almost as old as the Oscars themselves.

Also blurring the lines between lead and supporting is Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master. The film was greatly praised in the critical community, but its certainly a divisive piece of art—hence its absence from the Best Picture field—and I think that level of inaccessibility will leave Hoffman out in the cold here. The odds are better for De Niro, a once-towering presence in the film community who has spent the better part of the last two decades phoning it in or servicing mediocre scripts. With Silver Linings Playbook though, De Niro is finally back with a solid piece of work, and the Academy may see fit to celebrate that—especially if Lawrence loses Best Actress.

But if Argo starts steamrolling the competition on Sunday night—if it wins a sound category or two, for example—look for Alan Arkin to win here. He’s a likable guy giving a likable performance, and this is one category where all bets are off.

Will Win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Alt: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master
Sall Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Here’s another safe bet. While some pundits have been trying to argue that Sally Field could pull a come-from-behind victory here, Lincoln is simply not strong enough as an awards player to pull off that kind of upset. The Oscar belongs to Anne Hathaway, who anchors Les Mis with a single emotional tour-de-force  scene. The film has its detractors, but after witnessing the raw, emotional intimacy of Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” I find it difficult to believe that anyone would deny her this prize.

Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Alt: Sally Field, Lincoln

Best Adapted Screenplay

Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Lincoln
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook

Here’s another pretty major challenge. For a long time, it seemed like this category was locked and loaded in favor of playwright Tony Kushner’s elegant work on Lincoln. But the awards season love for Argo has trickled down so far now that screenwriter Chris Terrio might be poised to steal here. Argo won awards from both the USC Scripter and the Writers Guild this past weekend, perhaps anointing it as the new frontrunner here.

Neither film, however, has escaped criticism in the screenwriting realm, Lincoln for glossing over historical elements and Argo for fabricating them in pursuit of Hollywood electricity. If such questions of historical accuracy should overwhelm the field, then is David O’Russell a potential spoiler for his funny and poignant work on Silver Linings Playbook? My money’s on Argo, but Lincoln and Silver Linings have fair shots at winning too.

Will Win: Argo
Alt: Lincoln

Best Original Screenplay

Amour
Django Unchained

Flight
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

Again, we have a category whose odds have shifted markedly since the beginning of the year. Once thought to be the property of Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal, questions of the script’s journalistic accuracy and its stance on torture derailed the film’s Oscar chances, which means Boal will almost certainly go home empty-handed here. In that case, does the award go to Tarantino, who lost to Boal in 2009 when Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker duked it out in the same category? That’s my hope, though Amour, I think, will prove the victor.

Will Win: Amour
Alt: Django Unchained

Best Cinematography

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained

Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

It’s a bit unfortunate that this year’s category boasts two of the most visually stunning films in history and can only reward one of them. If the choice has to be made, there’s little doubt tAdd an Imagehat the Academy will opt for the dizzying scope of Life of Pi over the sleek, digital work on Skyfall, but either would be a deserving winner.

Will Win: Life of Pi
Alt: Skyfall

Best Costume Design

Anna Karenina
Les Miserables

Lincoln
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman

Reception was decidedly mixed for the sweeping period drama that is Anna Karenina, but the production elements were rightfully praised, and in the costuming category at least, the film is the clear standout.

Will Win: Anna Karenina
Alt: Les Miserables

Best Film Editing

Argo
Life of Pi

Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Film Editing, like Best Director, is a category traditionally linked to the Best Picture winner, so the safe money here is on Argo. The film is also riding on a recent win from the American Cinema Editors, so it shouldn’t have much trouble here. At one point, I would have called the category in favor of the tension-building cuts in Zero Dark Thirty, but again, the film has fallen quite a bit and shouldn’t pose much of a threat here.

Will Win: Argo
Alt: Life of Pi

Best Make-up and Hairstyling

Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Les Miserables

I don’t have much to say here. The Hobbit might feel like the winner, given the showy work necessary to make each actor look like a citizen of Middle Earth—and given the success enjoyed in this category by The Lord of the Rings. But the filth, aging, battle wounds, and period trappings of Les Miserables will ultimately prevail. Next.

Will Win: Les Miserables
Alt: The Hobbit

Best Original Score

Anna Karenina
Argo

Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

I’m not sure what to think here. Skyfall and Life of Pi both have a number of prizes under their belts from throughout the season, while Argo can’t be counted out on the strength of its Best Picture chances alone. And Lincoln’s score is one of John Williams’ finest. My guess is Pi, though, for how thoroughly it relies on its score throughout a large portion of its runtime.

Will Win: Life of Pi
Alt:
Skyfall

Best Original Song

Chasing Ice
Les Miserables

Life of Pi
Skyfall
Ted

The producers of this year’s Academy Awards show were smart enough to get Adele signed on to perform her James Bond title song, “Skyfall,” on the telecast. Voters aren’t going to miss the opportunity to have her onstage for an acceptance speech as well. “Skyfall” is also a terrific song, though, and one of the best in the Bond series, so the win will be justified.

Will Win: “Skyfall”
Alt: “Suddenly,” from Les Miserables

Best Production Design

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit

Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

Formerly Best Art Direction, this category is, again, a wide open one. Anna Karenina would be my pick, just because its theatrical conceit is a stunning and innovative one that gives an otherwise mediocre adaptation its gravitas, but Life of Pi, with all its visual splendor, is certainly a player, and Les Mis earns points for adapting a stage show into a living, breathing world. Or it could be Lincoln. Your guess is as good as mine.

Will Win: Anna Karenina
Alt: Les Miserables

Best Sound Editing

Argo
Django Unchained

Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

The delicate sonic touches in Life of Pi are almost as important as its visual elements, so I’m guessing it’s the winner here. But Skyfall is the kind of explosive action film that has stolen the category in the past, and Argo–a film strong across the board in the craft categories–could be a surprise spoiler.

Will Win: Life of Pi
Alt: Skyfall

Best Sound Mixing

Argo
Les Miserables

Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Hollywood musicals have a tradition of winning in this category, so there’s little reason to doubt Les Mis here–especially given its much-ballyhooed “live singing” gimmick. But if not, Skyfall is a decent pick to have in the alternate spot. The acclaimed James Bond film could very well win both sound categories, en route to becoming the second or third most awarded film of the night. It’s just hard to call this year.

Will Win: Les Miserables
Alt: Skyfall

Best Visual Effects

Life of Pi
The Avengers

The Hobbit
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

As a general rule for this year’s Oscar show, if the category has something to do with the visual components of film composition, then Life of Pi is going to win.

Will Win: Life of Pi
Alt: The Hobbit

Best Animated Feature

Brave
Frankenweenie

ParaNorman
Pirates Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

This category has seen a good bit of upheaval throughout the year, moving from supposed early frontrunner Frankenweenie, to a period of glory for Disney’s in-house triumph Wreck-It Ralph, and finally to a revival of buzz for Pixar’s Brave. The first one seems to be out of the conversation, but between the other two, you might as well just flip a coin.

Will Win: Brave
Alt:
Wreck-It Ralph

Best Documentary Feature

5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers

How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

The inspirational music doc that is Searching for Sugar Man has been the crowdpleaser and frontrunner in this category all year long, so there’s no reason to think it won’t continue the streak with the Oscars.

Will Win: Searching for Sugar Man
Alt:
The Gatekeepers

Best Foreign Language Film

Amour
War Witch

No
A Royal Affair
Kon-Tiki

Amour landed a Best Picture nomination; the rest of these nominees didn’t. Enough said.

Will Win: Amour
Alt: Kon-Tiki

Documentary Short Subject

Inocente
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart
Redemption

I respect all kinds of filmmaking, but I sometimes feel like the short film categories exist only to derail my Oscar predictions. I know nothing about any of these films, but pundits are picking Inocente, so I’ll go with that.

Will Win: Inocente
Alt: Mondays at Racine

Animated Short Film

Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole

Head over Heels
The Longest Daycare
Paperman

Paperman, which screened in theaters with Wreck-It Ralph, was another piece of a really terrific year for Disney, and I expect the Academy will reward that in this category.

Will Win: Paperman
Alt: Adam and Dog

Live Action Short Film

Asad
Buzkashi Boys

Curfew
Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
Henry

See my prediction for Documentary Short. I have no idea about these, so take them with a grain of salt.

Will Win: Curfew
Alt:
Buzkashi Boys

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