Oscars are tomorrow! So it's time once again for Oscar predictions. This year is exciting, because there are a couple of races that look like sure things, but some that are wide open.
I take what I call a "Resource Allocation" approach to the Oscars. I start with the idea that there are some movies for which the nomination itself is the award; those probably won't win anything. Some of these are nominated in the technical/craft categories, like sound effects or music. Some are nominated for the "big" categories. The director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin, was nominated for Best Director. He's a very long shot to win, but the fact that he was nominated at all is a huge deal for him. These movies are generally very good, but not great.
But there are some movies that, at least in my opinion, SHOULD win something. These are the movies that either are great movies in and of themselves, or some aspect of them is great. For this year, these are the movies that I think should win at least one Oscar:
Life of Pi
There are a couple of movies that are on the fence: they probably should win something, but it's as clear as the others:
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
I would like to put Zero Dark Thirty in the first category, because I think it was a fantastic movie, but the torture controversy has weakened its chances. My feelings about the torture scenes in ZD30 are that if you were opposed to torture before, a movie will probably not change your mind. If you were in favor of torture before, this movie might confirm your opinion. But I don't think it's the responsibility of the filmmakers to take a position, and I think they handled it well.
Then I move on to which movies are most likely to win SOMETHING. This year, there are two virtual locks: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. I haven't followed the technical awards shows very closely, but there's a fairly good chance that Life of Pi will win at least one technical award, probably visual effects. I completely bought the idea that Richard Parker, the tiger, was real. So let's assume Life of Pi wins for visual effects.
That leaves Argo as the one movie among the "should" list that we aren't sure about. It's possible that Alan Arkin will win for Best Supporting Actor, but not a sure thing by any means. His performance was good, but his performance is not the reason it's a great movie. There are two other possibilities: Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The screenplay awards are sometimes a "second place" award for Best Picture or Best Director, particularly if the director is also one of the screenwriters. See Tarantino, Quentin, for Pulp Fiction. But Ben Affleck didn't write the screenplay. And Argo has been sweeping up all kinds of awards that suggest it will win Best Picture. So Argo looks like it's got an excellent chance of winning Best Picture.
In the "might" category, Amour might, and probably will, win Best Foreign Language. The categories that we don't know are:
Best Supporting Actor
Best Original Screenplay
Best Adapted Screenplay is also somewhat up in the air. Best Director comes down to Spielberg vs. Ang Lee. While I liked Life of Pi, and I think the technical aspects are amazing, the end of the story didn't grab me. I haven't read the book, but I've heard many times that it was considered unfilmable, because of the depth of the spiritual/religious concerns addressed. For me, the technical achievement overshadowed the story; I was blown away by the CGI, but the spiritual aspects of the story, while nicely done, didn't impress me as all that substantive. In terms of story, I think Spielberg did a more interesting job in Lincoln. Just taking on telling the story of one of the most famous men in history is an impressive feat. I felt like I learned something about how Lincoln actually got things done and how the American political process worked, which was wonderful. So Best Director to Spielberg.
Best Actress is a tough one, because there are two strong contenders, Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. Lawrence's performance was much more showy, and she showed a lot of maturity for an actress of her age (she's 22). Chastain's performance was much more restrained, but it's one hell of a role. My gut tells me that a lot of the women in the Academy would like to see more roles for women that are highly accomplished, very gutsy professionals. Also, I personally feel that, although Silver Linings Playbook is a very good movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, Zero Dark Thirty is close to a masterpiece, and a better movie that Silver Linings. Using my logic of a great movie deserving at least one Oscar, this could be the only one that ZD30 wins. So my pick is Jessica Chastain for Best Actress, because ZD30 should win something, and the fact that a female CIA agent is at the core is one of the things that makes it unusual.
We're left with Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. Screenplay comes down to Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained, although Amour has a shot as well. The writer of ZD30, Mark Boal, is also a producer, so this would be a good way of awarding that movie second place for Best Picture. Quentin Tarantino is the writer and director of Django Unchained. He wasn't nominated for Best Director, and he doesn't have a producer credit, so Best Original Screenplay would be the only way to recognize him directly for this movie. It's a very good script, but it's also very much a Quentin Tarantino script. Mark Boal told a story for which the audience not only knew the ending, but were very familiar with it. But it's still fascinating. Tarantino came up with a clever idea and executed it well, but I think Boal had the harder job, particularly given the level of secrecy surrounding the specifics. So I think Boal and Zero Dark Thirty win Best Original screenplay.
Which leaves us with two movies - Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook, and one category, Best Supporting Actor. I thot De Niro did a good job, but it didn't feel like a particularly meaty role for an actor of his caliber. He hasn't been nominated in a long time, but that's partially because he hasn't chosen a great role in a while. Tommy Lee Jones was very good in Lincoln, but he was playing a crusty old man, and we've seen him in that role before. Christoph Waltz has already won an Oscar for being in a Tarantino movie, and this isn't really a supporting role - he's in basically every scene until he's no longer in the movie, and he has far more dialogue than anyone else (at least it feels that way). But he carries the movie brilliantly. It's a very demanding role, and he pulls it off beautifully. Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor.