Oscar Predictions: Round 6 - 'And We Will Stand Tall and Face It All Together.'

Oscar nominations: 'We will stand tall / and face it all together.' (With Skyfall?)
"This is the end
Hold your breath and count to one
Feel the the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again.."

The Oscar nominations are just a few days away! Are we in for a surprise? There is bound to be some excitement of who’s in/who’s out come the morning of January 10th. Some level of clapping and grumbling can almost be guaranteed with the Academy’s wonky voting system. (It’s still better than the arcane model used by the New York Film Critics, if you ask me.) It’s hard to tell what will happen this year since a few variables make Oscar predictions especially tricky: an early announcement date, a crop of late releases, and an unusually strong field of contenders. Additionally, the group of Best Picture candidates has rarely been so financially successful. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, some of the ever-vital bellwethers—the guilds—have never been so unreliable due to announcement dates that mute their influence or due to a high level of ineligible contenders that shaped their nominees. With all these things in mind, though, something unexpected is bound to ride a wave of #1 votes to the Dolby Theatre.

"For this is the end
I've drowned and dreamt this moment..."
To simplify matters before we proceed, I drew up my imaginary ballot to help explain:

*You will not the absence of Stories We Tell and We Are Wisconsin since they are not on the Academy’s reminder list of eligible titles. (Votes for them would simply be eliminated) I have also not yet seen Zero Dark Thirty or Amour.

My Personal Ballot:

Best Picture:
1. Anna Karenina
2. Quartet
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Rust and Bone
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Director:
1. Joe Wright, Anna Karenina
2. David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
3. Dustin Hoffman, Quartet
4. Jacques Audiard, Rust and Bone
5. Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Actor:
1. Christopher Plummer in Barrymore
2. Tom Courtenay in Quartet
3. Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
4. John Hawkes in The Sessions
5. Matthias Schoenaerts in Rust and Bone

Best Actress:
1. Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina
2. Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
3. Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed
4. Meryl Streep in Hope Springs
5. Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
(Suzanne Clément is not eligible.)

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
2. Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
3. Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
4. Garrett Hedlund, On the Road
5. Jude Law, Anna Karenina

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Pauline Collins, Quartet
2. Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
3. Helen Hunt, The Sessions
4. Judi Dench, Skyfall
5. Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

The Academy's Ballot?

Academy ballots rank choices from one to five, with votes moving down the ballot as less popular contenders are eliminated. The gist of the nomination process (explained here) is that the number of votes determines a percentage that is required to secure a nomination. If a contender meets that required number, it becomes a nominee. If no contender has the required percentage, then the nominees with the fewest number of #1 votes are eliminated; consequently, the ballots that ranked these contenders in their top choices then submit their second choices. If any nominees have the required number of votes in the second round, they secure a nomination, etc. Voting continues until the number of nominees reaches ten or if the remaining films do not receive at least five percent of the total votes cast. (If anyone wants to add to that/correct my simplified explanation, please do.) For example, my Best Picture ballot goes 1. Anna Karenina 2. Quartet 3. Silver Linings Playbook. The vote would presumably go to SLP once the two Brit Pics could be knocked out early.

It should be noted that once nominees are secured and voting moves to the next round, then the magical percentage changes accordingly. Likewise, ballots cannot double dip. Once a ballot is used to secure a nomination, then the lower rankings on said ballot do not affect the race. For example, the only one of my ballots that would probably be cast in the first round is the one for Philip Seymour Hoffman. I could not then cast an additional vote for Ezra Miller if voting continues.
"Where you go I go / Where you [p]ee I [p]ee..."
My other ballots would probably end up casting votes for David O. Russell, Bradley Cooper, Marion Cotillard, and then either Nicole Kidman or Helen Hunt. The latter vote is probably the most noteworthy, since it really depends on how big of a favourite Anne Hathaway is in that race. If she dominates the ballots, then a love it/hate it performance like Kidman’s might do better than a collectively admired performance like Hunt’s. Hathaway’s popularity, not to mention that of Sally Field, could also be a big boost for Best Supporting Actress hopeful Ann Dowd (pictured) who has been campaigning quite aggressively (on her own dollar, I should note) for some recognition that could change her career. On the other hand, many people dislike The Paperboy and Compliance, so Kidman and Dowd aren’t as likely to benefit from multiple rounds of voting as Hunt is. How can anyone make a case against the performances in The Sessions? I wouldn’t call Kidman or Dowd surprises, but they’re not safe bets, either. 

Surprise nominations for (mostly) strong performances can break through the precursor kerfuffle and acknowledge work that was worthy, but had been relatively overlooked by other groups. So long as voters are watching the films with buzz, they can take note of some award-worthy work that has slipped under the radar. I can remember seeing Crazy Heart when it opened in Ottawa the weekend of the Golden Globe awards: I went in to be marvelled by Jeff Bridges but came out wondering why nobody was talking about Maggie Gyllenhaal. Lo and behold, Maggie was nominated come Oscar time because there is always the chance that films considered for one purpose can also be appreciated for another. Gyllenhaal probably received little notice throughout the season, though, because everyone (including me) was talking about Mo’Nique. It seems like one can slip by when there is a heavy favourite dominating the discussion. For example, you can note in previous years when a top dog has made room for an underdog (or a dog like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close):

Year: Surprise (heavy favourite)
2011: Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Christopher Plummer)
2010: no major surprises
2009: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart (Mo’Nique)
2008: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road (Heath Ledger)
2007: Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah (Daniel Day Lewis)
2006: no major surprises (unless you count Letters from Iwo Jima or the Nicholson snub)
2005: no major surprises (except for, you know, Crash)
2004: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby (Jamie Foxx)
2003: Fernando Meirelles, City of God (Peter Jackson, Return of the King)
2002: Pedro Almodóvar, Talk to Her (Marshall/Scorsese/Polanski)

(It should be emphasized that I am not trying to make any claim of judgement/worth/merit by labelling a performance as a surprise. I simply mean that a nomination was not generally expected.)
"Of your loving arms keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand and we'll stand..."
There doesn’t seem to be as clear a runaway this year as we have seen in the past, although Daniel Day-Lewis is winning Best Actor races galore in a landslide similar to There Will Be Blood. Everyone’s shedding tears for Anne Hathaway, but she’s hardly steamrolling the completion à la Mo’Nique. Best Picture winners, finally, seem to be as inconsistent as my sister’s cooking. You never know what will be served up, unlike last year’s awards season of “The Artist, The Artist, The Artist, The Artist, The Artist, and The Artist.” Will something surprise, then, if there’s no gap to leave some wiggle room? Alternatively, are the random samplings simply leaving room for a big surprise?

Will it be The Master? (Maybe) Will it be The Dark Knight Rises? (Probably not) Or will it be Holy Motors? (When pigs fly) 

Best Picture:

"Let the sky fall, when it crumbles / We will stand tall..."
We can expect DGA/ PGA/Globe nominees Argo, Les Mis, and Lincoln to be announced Thursday morning. I would also excuse Zero Dark Thirty’s absence from the SAG ensemble, since it wasn’t really pitched as an “ensemble piece” while The Best Exotic Hotel certainly was. (The prize is, after all, for Best Performance by a cast, not for Best Picture.) Zero Dark Thirty is also in the midst of a volatile controversy due to allegations of pro-torture stances, apologist politics, and creative license in the guise of factual reportage; however, the allegations against the film are so sensational—and often baseless—that they’re hard to accept. Like many of the critics against Bigelow/Boal, I have not yet seen Zero Dark Thirty, but I have stopped reading The Guardian altogether because its level of professionalism has dropped to that of The Ottawa Sun. Controversy aside, many people who are willing to engage with Zero Dark Thirty have seen the film as a provocative interpretation of recent events. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal recently defended their film when they accepted the top prizes at the New York Film Critics’ Awards, and their willingness to stand by their work has been praised by the film community. Hollywood also tends to swing to the left, so I doubt think that Zero Dark Thirty will lose too many votes due to unfavorable political readings.

In addition to the aforementioned four films, Life of Pi is almost a certainty with its Globe/PGA/WGA/DGA nominations and popular appeal. Ditto Silver Linings Playbook, which took a hit when director David O. Russell failed to make the list offered by the Directors Guild. Silver Linings Playbook might be a film whose direction goes undetected thanks to its snappy performances and sprightly script unlike, say, Lincoln or Life of Pi where one can see the director’s hand all over the film. (Not for the worse, I should note.) I think that David O. Russell still has a fighting chance on Oscar night, though, since Silver Linings Playbook has many passionate supporters.

That makes six. The Academy, however, allows for a flexible five to ten.

Which films could therefore have enough top votes on the first ballot? I think The Master could. It might be a polarizing film (it’s the Paperboy of the Best Picture race), but members can’t vote against a film they dislike. (They may simply throw support to something else.) The Master might not appear on many ballots, but it will appear at the top when it does. Ditto Moonrise Kingdom, which isn’t a love it/hate it film, but quirky independent comedies haven’t often found a home at the Oscars. On the other hand, Django Unchained and Beasts of the Southern Wild certainly have some #1 votes and they probably stand a better chance of gaining votes when other films are eliminated. They will hang in and round out the ten unless Amour finds love outside the Best Foreign Language Film category. If that happens—and it could—then I am going to have a terrible batting average this season.

With such a healthy crop, few other films seem likely. Except for Skyfall. Skyfall has been garnering support as the season continues, including a nomination at the Producers’ Guild Awards. However, I don’t think that James Bond will be a Best Picture nominee. If one looks at the history of the PGA, one sees that their tastes tend to verge on the mainstream; however, if a PGA-nominated film misses out with Oscar, it’s usually a blockbuster or major studio film. Just look at last year where Bridesmaids, The Ides of March, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were nominated at the PGA, but were replaced by Tree of Life and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Likewise, look at past years:

Year: PGA nominee (Oscar nominee)
2010: The Town (Winter’s Bone)
2009: Invictus, Star Trek (The Blind Side, A Serious Man)
2008: The Dark Knight (The Reader, which was far more deserving!)
2007: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Atonement)
2006: Dreamgirls (Letters from Iwo Jima)
2005: Walk the Line (Munich)
2004: The Incredibles (Ray)
2003: Cold Mountain and The Last Samurai [there were 6 nominees] (Lost in Translation)
2002: Adaptation, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Road to Perdition (The Hours, The Pianist)

These differences are why I think that The Master or Amour might net that slot over Skyfall. Skyfall is bound to earn a bunch of technical nominations, but the film itself doesn’t strive for any higher meaning—and I say this as someone who had it on his Top Ten list of the year—so I doubt it will earn the necessary top votes. I think that a fitting acknowledgement for Skyfall would be an Oscar win for Adele’s theme song. The Bond franchise has consistently defined the importance of theme songs in the movies, yet the series has never caught a win for one of its iconic ditties. Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” wasn’t even nominated. The last nominee from the franchise was Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only,” which was preceded by nominees “Nobody does it Better” (from The Spy who Loved Me) and “Live and Let Die.” Skyfall is certainly a contender, though, and I’ll cheer for it if it’s nominated for Best Pic.


"Swept away I'm stolen..."
What about the acting races? It’s important to add that a major frontrunner doesn’t guarantee a surprise. For example, in 2006’s race, Helen Mirren was such a heavy favourite to win for The Queen that Vegas bookies stopped taking bets on her category and pre-emptively paid out winnings before the Oscars were even handed out. In spite of Mirren’s sizable lead, though, the Best Actress race stayed constant that year with Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Meryl Streep, and Kate Winslet clapping for Mirren at every award show. Perhaps a big surprise nominee needs both a heavy favourite and a relatively weak field of competition, which helps explain why the Best Picture race is not too likely to throw a curveball.

We’ve already discussed Best Supporting Actress, but Anne Hathaway’s popularity amidst a skimpy field could offer the Maggie Gyllenhaal of the year. Could it be indie darling Rosemarie DeWitt for Your Sister’s Sister? It would be nice if people who went to see The Impossible (pictured) for Naomi Watts took note of the work by Geraldine Chaplin and nominated her for one great scene. Ditto voters who pop in a screener of The Master and notice Laura Dern’s strong work when they’re making notes on Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.

Best Supporting Actor might be the race to yield a surprise, since Philip Seymour Hoffman and Krusty the Klown are heading for a photo finish. Could Samuel L. Jackson, the fun novelty (and obvious supporting player) of Django Unchained be eating white cake on Oscar night? On the other hand, maybe even Ezra Miller will earn the nomination he should have celebrated last year.
"Put your hand in my hand  / And we'll stand..."
Best Actress, on the other hand, is as crowded and unpredictable as races come. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence will probably get through on the first ballot, which could bode well for, say, Emmanuelle Riva or Quvenzhané Wallis, both of whom have vocal supporters. Ditto Rachel Weisz, whose fate depends on the number of people who actually made it through The Deep Blue Sea. The rankings might hurt Helen Mirren in Hitchcock, since few people seem especially passionate about this performance. Everyone seems to like Mirren’s work, though, so she could ride some safe votes through rounds two and three. Maybe Oscar will grant the pleasant surprise of showing us that Anna Karenina is not a fallen woman. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Best Actor feels like both the most predictable and the least predictable category since Daniel Day-Lewis is once again dominating the field. However, who else will join him? There are only six real contenders for Best Actor, so it’s simply a matter of numbers who misses out: Cooper, Hawkes, Jackman, Phoenix or Washington. The small field could even allow a fake “supporting role” like Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained to squeak in. It’s all a guess, really, with each of the actor’s having a fair share of support. I think that Cooper could miss the nomination he deserves and leave Silver Linings Playbook without recognition for its leading man, much like the fate that befell Paul Giamatti and Sideways. Alternatively, Joaquin Phoenix might have lost some votes to Daniel Day-Lewis, whose commanding method approach seems far more natural. Daniel Day-Lewis, however, is always a reckoning and the last time he trounced the competition a worthy nominee like Tommy Lee Jones came back from the dead.

So now we proceed to the nominations. I’m predicting a full ten nominees for Best Picture. In addition to the usual nominees and alternates (contenders who might appear instead), I’m adding a possible surprise nominee in the top six categories. Regardless of how Thursday goes, we will stand tall and face it all together. Right Mr. Bond?

Who do you think will make it in?


Best Picture
Zero Dark Thirty
Alt: Amour,
Spoiler alert: Skyfall*

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

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
Spoiler alert: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained*

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: Helen Mirren, Hitchcock; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour*
Spoiler alert: Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea

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
Alt: Javier Bardem, Skyfall; Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained; Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Spoiler alert: Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained

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
Spoiler alert: Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister

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; Flight, John Gatins (ew)*

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 Zeitlin & Lucy Alibar; The Sessions, Ben Lewin

Best Editing
Argo, William Goldenberg
 Lincoln, Michael Kahn
Les Misérables, Chris Dickens
 Zero Dark Thirty, William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor

Best Cinematography
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
 Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
The Master, Mihai Malaimare Jr.*
 Skyfall, Roger Deakins
Zero Dark Thirty, Grieg Fraser

Best Production Design
Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood
Django Unchained, J. Michael Riva*
Les Misérables, Eve Stewart
 Lincoln, Rick Carter
Prometheus, Arthur Max

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

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
Kon-tiki – Norway*
A Royal Affair – Denmark
No – Chile*
Rebelle – Canada
Also eligible: Beyond the Hills (Romania), The Deep (Iceland), The Intouchables (France), Sister (Switzerland)

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

Best Hair and Make-up

Best Visual Effects

Best Sound Mixing
  Alt: Lincoln, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Editing
Zero Dark Thirty
  Alt: Lincoln, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises

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

Best Song
Freedom” from Django Unchained*
 Learn Me Right” from Brave
Skyfall” from Skyfall
Suddenly”from Les Miserables
Touch the Sky” from Brave 
       Alt:Breath of Life” from Snow White and the Huntsman*; Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted*

Best Animated Short
(reviewed: Dripped, Fresh Guacamole)

Best Live Action Short
(Reviewed: The Factory)

Best Documentary Short