Last Friday, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences submitted their nomination ballots for the 85th annual Academy Awards. The resulting Oscar nominations will be announced bright and early this Thursday (Jan. 10), but which films will wrack up the most attention and whose names will be coming out of the envelopes? Read on to find out.
In the annals of Oscar history, few Best Picture races have been more wide open than this one. Ever since the Academy changed the rules of the category in 2009 (opening it up for ten nominations rather than five) and then altered them again last year (allowing for anywhere between five and ten films, depending on vote distribution), the lead-up to nomination day has had an “anything can happen” atmosphere about it. This year, with a field of films twice as strong as usual and no clear frontrunner emerging, that unpredictability counts for double. In a year of five, the nominees would be easy to guess. Those films are, in alphabetical order, Argo, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty, and aside from Silver Linings, which has failed to leave a substantial mark on the season, each of them has a shot at walking away with the big prize on Oscar night.
Beyond those films however, things start looking a little more interesting. General wisdom says that Ang Lee’s visual tour-de-force, Life of Pi, will land one of the extra slots; the same has been said about Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, especially following a strong opening and even stronger word of mouth. But do things stop there? Do we end up with seven nominees? I think not: last year, in a markedly weaker field, the Academy nominated nine. This year, with an embarrassment of riches to select from, I think we are going all the way to ten.
So what squeezes into those last three slots? Early critical darlings like Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild feel like safe enough bets, but if there are ten nominees, then the battle for the final slot is a vicious one. Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master landed at the top of many “best of the year” lists, but will the divisive and challenging film sneak into the Oscar field? Foreign language films have a notoriously difficult time getting Best Picture nominations, but some pundits believe that Michael Haneke’s artful Amour could break that streak. And the Ewan McGregor/Naomi Watts starring The Impossible has seen a late surge of critical love, but will it be too little, too late for the film to become a player?
In my mind, all three fall short in favor of Skyfall, the latest James Bond flick. The film has a wealth of prestigious names carrying it along, both in front of the camera and behind it, as well as near-universal acclaim, a billion-dollar worldwide gross and support from the Screen Actors and Producers Guilds. Add in the fact that Skyfall perfectly fits the profile of the kind of film the Academy was trying to recognize in expanding the Best Picture field (a crowd-pleasing, populist blockbuster), and its nomination almost feels pre-ordained.
This category is often the easiest one to predict, primarily because of how much it leans on the big players in the Best Picture race. In that regard, the locks are Ben Affleck (Argo), Tom Hooper (Les Misérables), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty). The final slot could easily fall into the lap of David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), though Tarantino is threatening (with Django Unchained), and Ang Lee (Life of Pi) may get in for the sheer technical sweep of his work. My money’s on Lee, but I wouldn’t be surprised (or disappointed) with either of the others.
Five spots and six possibilities, here. Daniel Day-Lewis (so exceptional in Lincoln) has cleaned up the critics awards and is a lock for a nomination (and for the eventual win), but Hugh Jackman (exercising his musical theatre chops in Les Misérables) and Bradley Cooper (giving his best performance to date in Silver Linings Playbook) are the runners-up. Joaquin Phoenix, once thought to be a frontrunner in the category for his work in The Master, lost a lot of steam after trashing the concept of the Oscars last fall. Now, after missing out on a nomination from the Screen Actors Guild, Phoenix will have trouble building enough traction to make the field, something that widely respected thespians Denzel Washington (Flight) and John Hawkes (The Sessions) will likely benefit from.
The race for this trophy is between Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), and both would be deserving victors. The rest of the field, though, has never been so up in the air. My predictions include Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone), Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and the young Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), but past winners (Helen Mirren, Hitchcock) and critical favorites (Emmanuelle Riva, Amour) could easily complicate matters.
Best Supporting Actor
For whatever reason, the Best Supporting Actor category is often the most illustrious field in the Oscars, and that is certainly the case this year. Possible nominees such as Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) and Javier Bardem (Skyfall) have all won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the past, while another, Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) won Best Actor in 2005. Meanwhile, the other possibilities (Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, both for Django Unchained) are looking to convert years of Academy respect into victories. My fear is that the three actors from Django will split voter support to such an extent that none of them land nominations. In that case, Bardem is a worthy substitute, but the other four are safe bets.
Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway will inevitably win here for her raw, emotional performance in Les Misérables, but expect for Sally Field (Lincoln), Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Amy Adams (The Master) to come along for the ride. Possible spoilers include Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy), Ann Dowd (Compliance) and Hathaway’s Les Mis cast-mate Samantha Barks, but my vote would go to Judi Dench, for her motherly presence in Skyfall.