By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
And you thought political campaigns were bad. This year’s Oscar race has been a gross spectacle of full-page ads and tearful talk-show appearances, along with allegations that historical films might not be entirely factual, which I’m sure comes as a shock to us all.
Most of this media noise can be easy to ignore, which I hope you have. But it all has an impact on the winners of the Academy Awards, because voters are notorious for swaying with the prevailing breezes, especially because they don’t actually have to see the movies themselves to be able to vote.
This year’s prognostication is difficult, in part because of this. Even though the year has what should be an obvious front-runner — “Lincoln” pushes all the right Oscar buttons — we’ve been told it’s a wide-open race, which is why the studios are spending huge amounts of money to impress the academy members.
Best picture is a puzzler, especially. Conventional wisdom holds that “Lincoln” no longer leads because it’s a little too wordy and serious. More importantly, the much-loved “Argo” did not get a nomination for director Ben Affleck, and there is now a sympathy vote developing for “Argo” because of that.
Could be: Affleck and “Argo” have been hauling in those sub-Oscar awards. How can you not have sympathy for someone rich and handsome and famous and married to Jennifer Garner? Poor guy.
But wait, “Zero Dark Thirty” was hailed as a great film, at least until it was rumored that the movie approves of torture. Of course, that didn’t stop the Oscar win for “Chicago.” (Kidding! That movie was merely an enhanced interrogation.)
Plus, “Zero” director Kathryn Bigelow didn’t get nominated in her category, either. Meanwhile, watch out for “Silver Linings Playbook,” a movie that’s been putting on a full-court press in recent weeks, positioning itself as a film about mental illness in order to get some of the Oscar weight it needs.
That’s because Oscars don’t go to comedies, which “Silver Linings Playbook” most certainly is. Wonderful movie, and in fact it does some very nice things around the subject of mental illness, but this is shameless campaigning for Oscar gold.
Nevertheless: Once a year, we must predict the winners. Why? Because we can’t help it, because it’s fun and because some of us have been compulsively doing this since the age of 9 or so.
So let’s welcome Seth McFarlane to the hosting duties, and settle in for the 85th annual Academy Awards.
Don’t bet the farm, but here are the picks from here. As always, these aren’t my preferences, but my guesses about what and who will actually win:
“Argo.” Everybody seems to think the momentum is behind this enjoyable account of a hostage escape from Iran, although it’s very unusual for a movie to win this award without its director being nominated (last time it happened was 1989 for “Driving Miss Daisy”).
“Lincoln” has a strong shot at the prize, and so does “Silver Linings Playbook.” “Zero Dark Thirty” is out for the stated reasons, “Django Unchained” (which also depicts torture, you know) is a little too wild for Oscar prestige, and “Les Miserables” has a few too many negative reviews in its column to strike gold.
“Life of Pi” is an Oscar kind of movie, but didn’t ignite audiences, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” fulfills the indie slot but no more than that, and the French “Amour” has to be given at least an outside shot at winning.
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook.” A terrific turn, and commentators seem to be leaning toward her, although 86-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”) has won a few awards of late.
I thought Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) was the one to beat a month ago, but not so much now. Also in: Quevenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”).
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln.” I still don’t understand why they left out the vampire hunting, but Day-Lewis’ turn as the 16th president is eerie and indelible. This one’s probably a lock, but some serious consideration should go to Joaquin Phoenix’s frightening work in “The Master.”
Also in there: Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Hugh Jackman (“Les Miserables”), Denzel Washington (“Flight”).
Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables.” That seems to be the consensus, thanks to her takedown of the show’s big song. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Sally Field snuck in and grabbed her third Oscar for her excellent work in “Lincoln,” however. The others: Amy Adams (“The Master”), Helen Hunt (“The Sessons”), Jacki Weaver (“Silver Linings Playbook”).
Best Supporting Actor
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook.” Everybody in this category has already won an Oscar, and De Niro did his best work in years.
Pretty stiff competition here: Tommy Lee Jones tore it up in “Lincoln,” Christoph Waltz has scored a few awards for his work in “Django Unchained,” and Philip Seymour Hoffman actually gave a leading-role performance in “The Master.” Only Alan Arkin (“Argo”) is really out of it.
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln.” The category’s up for grabs, but Spielberg would be a logical choice if “Argo” gets the top prize.
A close vote could tip the balance toward David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” if that movie has the mojo, or even toward the respected Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke (“Amour”).
Can’t see it going to previous winner Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”) or newcomer Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”).
Best Original Screenplay
“Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Boal. A consolation prize for a strong film.
“Django Unchained,” by Quentin Tarantino, is floridly written, and this is the kind of category in which a foreign film (namely “Amour,” by Michael Haneke) has a legit chance to win.
Probably out: “Flight” (John Gatins) and “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola).
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Lincoln,” Tony Kushner. It would be a deserving award, but if it’s an “Argo” night then maybe Chris Terrio wins.
Next logical choice would be David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”; less likely are “Life of Pi” (David Magee) or “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin).
Best Animated Feature
“Wreck-It Ralph.” I actually have no sense of the front-runner here, so I’m going with the warmest, most likable nominee. The other titles are “Brave,” “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”
Best Foreign-Language Film
“Amour,” Austria. With its other nominations, this study of an elderly couple dealing with the realities of age would seem to be a prohibitive favorite to win. Also up: “Kon-Tiki” (Norway), “No” (Chile), “A Royal Affair” (Denmark), and “War Witch” (Canada).
“Searching for Sugar Man.” It’s almost impossible not to love this movie, but Oscar voters tend to lean toward important subjects, so perhaps the others will actually have an edge: “How to Survive a Plague,” “The Invisible War,” “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers.”
“Skyfall,” from “Skyfall.” Right? Or will it be the new song written for “Les Miserables,” “Suddenly” (there’s a long tradition of adding new songs to established musicals just so they’ll get an Oscar nomination in this category)?
And “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” from “Ted,” has lyrics by Oscar host Seth McFarlane, so maybe that’s an edge. But it probably won’t be “Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi,” or “Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice.”