Oscar Predictions: Round 5 - The Circus

Like the socialites in Anna Karenina, we watch the great ones fall.
Here we are stepping into the second ring of the award season circus. It’s strange to observe the early prizes when your favourite contenders are not in the running. (Two of my top three films aren’t even eligible, as noted by the Academy’s list of films up for 2012’s awards.) It baffles me that few intelligent critics/moviegoers recognize the innovation of Anna Karenina, but in a year as strong as 2012 one can only take note of the prizewinners with a sense of acceptance and a hint of disappointment. On the other hand, some prize-givers can bring a worthy contender back to life, much as they did for Nicole Kidman’s gutsy turn in The Paperboy, which was unfairly trounced by many critics. Kidman’s nominations show that award season doesn’t have to be the place where brave original work comes to die.

Is this a more accurate snapshot of the awards race?
It nevertheless disappoints me that Anna Karenina has been snuffed out like a candle, but heavy support for the other players doesn’t guarantee Oscar gold for anyone. It happens every year that early some critics groups miss the mark with Oscar, so I don’t think we can really take the critics' prizes too seriously, although we certainly can't ignore them, either. For example, I half-jokingly asked on Twitter if anyone had consulted Sally Hawkins lately on the importance of precursor awards. If you will recall, Hawkins was a Best Actress hopeful in 2008 for Happy-Go-Lucky and she seemed like a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination at this point in the year. She won the prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics, the New York Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics, and then she scooped the Golden Globe. Despite this rarity of four major critics’ prizes (and some smaller ones), Hawkins was shut out come Oscar time. It seemed strange, at least for me, that the samplings of awards voters failed to yield a similar result as the Academy. It happens in elections, too, so some early polls just report differently from the final voters.

It feels a bit different this year with the critics’ prizes, however, thanks to the new level of transparency given to the votes via social media. On one hand, it seemed like the critics were trying to engage with the public and embrace the awards frenzy; on the other hand, some critics gave the sense that they were more concerned in upping their Klout ranking than in acknowledging the best work of the year. I don’t want the online antics of an unprofessional few to tarnish the important exposure that awards can bring to quality work, but it’s hard to look the other way when people are trading votes like baseball cards. “I’ll swap you Emmanuelle Riva for Denis Lavant,” teased the buzzmakers. I would never sell out Anna Karenina to Argo (as much as I like Ben Affleck's film) simply to avoid giving Spielberg another prize, but that’s just me. I don't have strong feelings against Lincoln, so observing the race from a detached perspective makes the whole process seem bizarre. (What are people trying to prove?) I thought the point of these annual affairs was to champion the films you love, not to squish the films you didn't like.

The obvious advocacy and one-upmanship of the critics groups looked especially thin once the main nominations of the year were unveiled with the Critics’ Choice Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Golden Globes all presenting their nominations last week. Lincoln dominated the field by setting a record for Critics’ Choice nominations and by earning SAG and Globe nominations in every category in which it was eligible. (It could have nabbed an extra supporting actor citation or two, but Tommy Lee Jones is such a heavy favourite to win that one can hardly say the film came up short.) The early critical favourite, Zero Dark Thirty, also did well with four Golden Globe nominations, a slew of Critics’ Choices, and a SAG mention for leading actress Jessica Chastain. Some speculation has been made that Zero Dark Thirty is in trouble since it missed the SAG category for Best Cast, but the film was reportedly sent to voters quite late, so the fact that Chastain still managed to get in bodes well. I also didn’t expect it to win a cast prize, since there are many ensemble driven films this year. (I correctly predicted the five SAG casts—Argo, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lincoln, Les Mis, and Silver Linings Playbook—but I can’t say the same for my Golden Globe guesses…)
The Master bides its time.
If any other films received a boost in the early rounds, they were Django Unchained (which barely started screening until crunch time), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Silver Linings, Les Mis. They only major thing that the latter two missed was a Best Director nomination at the Globes. Ang Lee earned that spot for Life of Pi, as I guessed in my Globe predix, but he could be the odd man out come Oscar time since he has a better track record with the Globes than with the Oscars. If any films missed out with the early bird prizes, they were Anna Karenina, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Hobbit. (All three were shut out aside from the odd arts/craft category.) If any films are sitting level at this point, they are The Sessions and The Master. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt showed that they have many fans of their work in The Sessions even if the film itself isn’t winning any top votes. (It could earn a screenplay nomination, too.) The Master admittedly took a bit of a hit at the SAG since Philip Seymour Hoffman was nominated but leading man Joaquin Phoenix and supporting actress Amy Adams were snubbed. All three were nominated at the Globes and at the Critics’ Choice, though, and the film did get in with the critics, so I think it can hang in until the very end as Tree of Life did when it missed many of the early awards. Finally, Michael Heike’s Amour looks to be the wild card of the season, since it’s making astrong showing on Top Ten lists and in critics’ prizes. I think that Amour and The Master appeal to a similar crowd, namely those whose taste tends to wander outside of the mainstream (although I say this without having seen Amour), and I think they will duke it out throughout the season.

A few weeks ago, I thought that the votes could go as such:

The Drama: Argo, The Impossible
The Drama-plus: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained
The Big Movie: Les Misérables, Life of Pi, The Hobbit, Skyfall,
The Crowd Pleaser: Silver Linings Playbook, The Sessions
The Art Film: The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, Anna Karenina, Amour

This table of taste buds is based on the Academy’s history, not on the bipolar fanfare of the precursor circus. (I.e.: candy apples for the HFPA, French-speaking clowns for the critics.) However, the prizes show some inkling of preference (and effective campaigning), so I revise it as such:

The Drama: Argo, The Impossible
The Drama-plus: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained
The Big Movie: Les Misérables, Life of Pi, The Hobbit, Skyfall
The Crowd Pleaser: Silver Linings Playbook, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,  The Sessions
The Art Film: The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, Amour, Anna Karenina

I would be most comfortable with predicting Argo to win at this point. I would put Lincoln close behind, but I'm a big Bigelow fan and I hope to get behind her film when I can see it. (PS: have you seen the exciting new trailer?) Argo seems like a default second choice for many voters, and it’s been one of the few films to make it through the season without entailing much backlash, disappointment, or resentment. It’s entertaining, well-made escapism and its politics don’t seem to bother anyone aside from a handful of Canadians. Likewise, it’s been such a strong year for independent movies that support might be scattered among films that were less widely seen. It still feels too early to predict anything, really, since the season can turn once the Globes are handed out and the other guilds weigh in during the trapeze act of ring two.
Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea
As for performers, the races seem to be playing out as expected, aside from the snubbing of Keira Knightley and the revival of Rachel Weisz.  Perhaps the costume drama crowd just preferred The Deep Blue Sea to Anna Karenina. (I love Rachel Weisz, so there are no hard feelings... she was criminally overlooked last year for her work in The Whistleblower.) It’s hard to read too much into the actress race since Beasts of the Southern Wild was deemed ineligible for SAG awards because it used non-union actors. (Has an actress ever received so much press for not being eligible for an award?) However, SAG nominees Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible) showed up at the Globes and the Critics’ Choice, so they appear to be the leaders of the pack. Helen Mirren (Hitchcock) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) seem to be kicking around, too, but I think that Q-Dubs will overthrow her elders unless she finds herself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea of established contenders.  The actor race seems clearer, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead and with John Hawkes and Denzel Washington seeming safe, and with Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman joining them on all the major lists. Joaquin Phoenix might have missed with the SAG, but he’s earning far more shout-outs on year-end lists than most of the other leading men of 2012.

The supporting categories are more entertaining thanks to the appearance of Nicole Kidman. It wasn’t until last year’s SAG announcement that Demian Bichir became a legitimate contender for A Better Life and, like The Paperboy, his film wasn’t widely seen, nor especially well liked by those who saw it. ( still can’t help but wonder if The Paperboy would have had a better life if it premiered in Toronto instead of in Cannes. 

The Paperboy shows that it’s important not to write off a film’s chances this early in the season .It’s not yet time for anyone to yell “Ar-go f*ck yourself!” to the voters, though, since Oscar nomination ballots are due before any of the awards are handed out for the major prizes. The magic tricks of the critics’ groups are really just a distraction from what’s going on behind the scenes. My main caveat with all the Oscar buzz is to include a clause that says, “If Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close can be nominated…” Therefore, if the Academy can nominate a film that missed with the critics, bombed at the box office, and was ignored by most of the industry, we can conclude that any film is still a contender.

New predictions

Best Picture
Django Unchained*
Les Misérables
Zero Dark Thirty
Alt: Amour

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
David O’Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
 Alt: Michael Haneke, Amour; Tom Hooper, Les Misérables; Ang Lee, Life of Pi; Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained*

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis,  Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Alt: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild 
Naomi Watts, The Impossible*
Alt: Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina*; Helen Mirren, Hitchcock; Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea*

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo*
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained*
Alt: Javier Bardem, Skyfall; Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained*; John Goodman, Argo; Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Alt: Judi Dench, Skyfall; Ann Dowd, Compliance; Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy*

Best Original Screenplay
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola 
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
Alt: Looper, Rian Johnson; Middle of Nowhere, Ava DuVernay; Ted, Seth MacFarlane*

Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo, Chris Terrio
Life of Pi, David Magee*
Lincoln , Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O’Russell
Alt: Anna Karenina, Tom Stoppard*; Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlan & Lucy Alibar; The Sessions, Ben Lewis

Best Editing
Argo, William Goldenberg
 Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Les Misérables, Chris Dickens
 Zero Dark Thirty, William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor
Alt: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Crockett Doob and Affonso Gonçalves, The Hunger Games, Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling; Looper, Bob Ducsay; Skyfall, Stuart Baird;

Best Cinematography
Les Misérables, Danny Cohen*
 Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
 Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins
Zero Dark Thirty, Grieg Fraser
Alt: Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey; Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ben Richardson*; The Master, Mihai Malaimare Jr.

Best Production Design
Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood
Les Misérables, Eve Stewart
 Lincoln, Rick Carter
Moonrise Kingdom, Adam Stockhausen
Prometheus, Arthur Max
Alt: Cloud Atlas, Django Unchained, The Hobbit

Best Costumes
Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran
Django Unchained, Sharen Davis
Great Expectations, Beatrix Pasztor
Les Misérables, Paco Delgado
 Lincoln, Joanna Johnston
Alt: Snow White and the Hunstman, Colleen Atwood

Best Score
Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli
Brave, Patrick Doyle*
Cloud Atlas, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek
Life of Pi, Mychael Danna
 Lincoln, John Williams
Best Foreign Language Film
Amour – Austria
Fill the Void – Israel
Kon-tiki, Norway*
Lore – Australia
Rebelle – Canada
Alt: Blancanieves (Spain)*, The Intouchables (France), A Royal Affair (Denmark)

Best Documentary
The House I Live In
How to Survive a Plague
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Alt: The Imposter*, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry*
(Full Shortlist)

Best Hair and Make-up
The Hobbit
Alt: Hitchcock, Les Misérables*

Best Visual Effects
The Hobbit

Best Animated Feature
 Rise of the Guardians
Wreck it Ralph
Alt: Le tableau, The Rabbi's Cat

Best Song
Everybody Needs a Best Friend” by Norah Jones, from Ted*
Learn Me Right” by Mumford and Sons from Brave*
Skyfall” by Adele & Paul Epworth from Skyfall
Suddenly” by C.-M. Schönberg, A. Boublil, H. Kretzmer from Les Miserables
Touch the Sky” from Brave 
Alt:Breath of Life” by Snow White and the Huntsman*;Dull Tool” from This is 40*

Best Animated Short
(reviewed: Dripped, Fresh Guacamole)

Best Live Action Short
(Reviewed: The Factory)

Best Documentary Short