The 85th annual Academy Awards will be presented this Sunday, and that means that there are a lot of very nervous people both in and outside of Hollywood.
The nominees, the presenters, the performers, and most of all, the pundits.
Why do the pundits top the list for Oscar anxiety? Let’s put it this way. The nominees are generally only worried about their own categories. The presenters and performers have only a few minutes on stage to humiliate themselves if their sequences go terribly wrong. But for the pundits who make predictions in all 24 categories, there are three hours of sheer agony as the envelopes are slowly opened one by one. Will we get sound editing right? What about documentary short subject? And how about live action short picture?
You get the picture.
But there’s one pundit who is especially nervous this year: yours truly, Fox’s Dr. Oscar. last year, I correctly predicted winners in Oscar’s nine major categories, including the far-from-certain wins by Best Actor Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” and Best Actress Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady.” In fact, FOX 411 was one of the only major entertainment news entities to get the big ones all right.
This year, I’m determined to make sure that we do it again. And I’m going to try and call a number of surprises. No guts, no glory.
So whether you’re taking part in a fiercely competitive office Oscar pool or just want to impress your family and friends while you watch the show, allow me to give you what I hope will be the most accurate predictions in the cybersphere for the nine major award categories. As Bette Davis so accurately put it in 1950’s “All About Eve,” fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
1. Best Picture: "Argo"
Nominated: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Zero Dark Thirty”
When the nominations were announced last month and Ben Affleck was excluded from the Best Director lineup, it looked like “Argo” might suddenly be dead in the water. That’s because over the past 75 years, only one film (1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy”) has won the top Oscar without reaping a bid for directing. Amazingly enough, Affleck’s snub seemingly turned his film into this year’s awards sensation. “Argo” has thus far won virtually every major pre-Oscar prize: the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild and British Academy trophies have gone its way. The film is well-liked in the industry and has done remarkably well at the box office. The Academy knows that an “Argo” victory means that Affleck still goes on stage and accepts the Oscar as a producer (alongside fellow producer George Clooney, no less.) It’s just unfathomable that it could lose. Earlier in the season, it appeared that “Lincoln” might be the film to beat. With a leading twelve nominations including that key directing citation, it seemed to have the edge. However, as much as the film is generally respected, it just isn’t loved. It’s been criticized for being too long, too boring, and perhaps even a bit hokey at times. It’s performed rather poorly at the precursor award ceremonies. In short, “Lincoln” won’t survive in Oscar’s Dolby Theatre on Sunday, thanks to an “assassin” by the name of “Argo.”
2. Best Director: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi”
Nominated: Michael Haneke for “Amour,” Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”
This is truly one of the strangest directing competitions in Oscar history. Normally, the Directors Guild of America winner also takes the Oscar. And usually, the Best Picture champion also claims the directing award. But with Ben Affleck shamefully out of the running for helming “Argo,” the race is completely wide open. I had written earlier on FOX 411 that this was Spielberg’s race to lose. With “Lincoln” extremely unlikely to win the top Oscar, this is a logical place to give him some serious recognition. The film is up for more awards than any other, including three acting categories and most of the major technical fields. Spielberg is seen as Hollywood’s most prominent director and it’s been 14 years since his second and last win for “Saving Private Ryan.” So why do I see him losing? As I explained earlier, there’s little excitement behind “Lincoln” and the biopic has its detractors. While the film is certainly an impressive accomplishment, it doesn’t really break any new ground for modern movies. That’s unlike Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” based on a novel which many people considered impossible to film. Lee cast an unknown non-professional actor in the lead role, worked with water, animals and visual effects, and ultimately created the most visually stunning and intellectually stimulating cinematic experience of the year. It’s true that “Pi” failed to earn any acting nominations, but it was never expected to. The Academy’s technical branches recognized it in almost every category, giving it a surprisingly strong 11 bids. I have a hunch that when most members are looking at their ballots, they’ll realize that Lee’s vision was unquestionably the year’s greatest achievement in directing. That means that “Life of Pi” gets Lee the slice of Oscar over Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”
3. Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln”
Nominated: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” Hugh Jackman in “Les Miserables,” Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master,” Denzel Washington in “Flight”
There’s really little that needs to be said here. Ever since “Lincoln” was first screened back in the fall, the general consensus has been that Day-Lewis would earn his unprecedented third Best Actor Oscar. (He previously won for both 1989’s “My Left Foot” and 2007’s “There Will Be Blood.”) Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest living actors, he completely disappears into his role of President Abraham Lincoln. Every word, every mannerism and every expression seems to capture the giant historical figure so perfectly. It’s almost frightening to watch. Day-Lewis has been given all of the major precursor awards as expected, and delivered the same gracious acceptance speeches as always. The other nominees are all superb; in another year any one of them could probably prevail. But this is kind of like an election year, and it’s Day-Lewis’ portrayal in “Lincoln” that gets inaugurated as Best Actor.
4. Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour”
Nominated: Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour,” Quvenzhane Wallis in “Beast of the Southern Wild,” Naomi Watts in “The Impossible”
The popular choice seems to be Jennifer Lawrence, yet I firmly believe that she will NOT win the Oscar under any circumstance. Sure, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a terrific film which the Academy really likes. And yes, she’s won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, which generally translates to Oscar success. However, I just don’t see this being an Oscar-caliber performance. How much of a stretch was this? Couldn’t a number of other actresses have played the part just as well? At just 22, Lawrence (hopefully) has a lifetime of great performances ahead of her. The Academy will wait to reward her when the time is right. Meanwhile, the time IS right to honor veteran French actress Riva, who turns 86 on Oscar Sunday. As an elderly retired music teacher whose health quickly deteriorates after a sudden stroke, she is the only one in the category charged with true high difficulty acting. The film begins with her being in a most vibrant state, and ends with her in a vegetative condition. Few actors of any age can pull off a feat like this. Riva has been hailed by many of the US critics groups and recently won the British Academy Award. Her French-language “Amour” is nominated for a remarkable five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. I have absolutely no doubt that come Sunday, the talented Riva will be saying “bonjour” to the Oscar.
5. Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Nominated: Alan Arkin in “Argo,” Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln,” Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained”
This is possibly the most competitive category of them all, with every nominee here being a previous winner. The various pre-Oscar awards have been spread out, with Hoffman, Jones and Waltz being the main beneficiaries. So why am I going with the onetime “Taxi Driver” star? There are a few reasons. First, it’s the perfect Best Supporting Actor performance: a large role, a sympathetic character, and a combination of big dramatic scenes with quieter emotional ones, as well. Next, while De Niro already has two Oscars, his last victory came more than three decades ago, for 1980’s “Raging Bull.” How exciting will it be to see him back on Oscar’s grand stage? And finally, this is the best place to honor “Silver Linings Playbook” in a major category. As popular as it is, there’s no way that it can win Best Picture or Best Director. I already explained why star Jennifer Lawrence won’t win. With fellow nominees Bradley Cooper and Jacki Weaver out of the running due to fierce competition, this is the only place for voters to turn. Even if the film loses all of its other bids, a De Niro victory will be a true silver lining for “Silver Linings Playbook.”
6. Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables”
Nominated: Amy Adams in “The Master,” Sally Field in “Lincoln,” Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables,” Helen Hunt in “The Sessions,” Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Hathaway was declared the Oscar frontrunner the moment the “Les Miz” trailer was unveiled last summer. Astonishingly, she’s maintained that lead until now. Award after award has gone her way, giving her the chance to rehearse for the speech that she’ll inevitably be giving on Oscar’s big night. While her appearance in the movie musical is brief, its impact is anything but. She begs, screams and she sings her heart out in the classic “I Dreamed a Dream.” Hathaway has probably been dreaming of Oscar for a good part of her life. In a matter of days, we’ll undoubtedly get to see her dream come true.
7. Best Original Screenplay: “Amour”
Nominated: “Amour,” “Django Unchained,” “Flight,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Zero Dark Thirty”
I had a very tough time with this category, making my final decision just a week before the ceremony. It was pretty much by process of elimination. “Flight” is just along for the ride. “Zero Dark Thirty” is too controversial and not “original” enough. “Django Unchained” is considered too violent, racially insensitive and just plain long. “Moonrise Kingdom” failed to earn any other nominations and has unfortunately fallen off of most people’s radar. That leaves the critically praised “Amour,” which seemed to have peaked just as voting began. It’s a dialogue-driven film, even though the language is not in English. With director Michael Haneke expected to lose in the helmer’s race, voters can give him a consolation prize by rewarding his script. I’m not ruling out an upset, but for now I’ll say that the “Amour” screenplay is about to get some major Oscar love.
8. Best Adapted Screenplay: “Argo”
Nominated: “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook”
The Best Picture winner typically takes one of the screenplay awards, meaning that “Argo” has the edge here. It’s further helped by Affleck’s directorial snub. Since voters can’t reward the film there, they’ll want to vote for it in at least one other major category. It’s a tight script which weaves together multiple storylines with both foreign dialogue and important action sequences. It also just won the key Writers Guild of America prize. In other words, the writing is on the wall for another victory by “Argo.”
9. Best Animated Feature: “Wreck-It Ralph”
Nominated: “Brave,” “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman,” “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” “Wreck-It Ralph”
In recent years, critically and commercially successful animated films like “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” have made this category very easy to call. This year, it’s a different story. All five of the nominees were generally well-received, and there’s no clear-cut favorite. “Frankenweenie” was the choice of both the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics groups. “Brave” won the Golden Globe and British Academy Award. But it’s “Wreck-It Ralph” which has the two most important precursor prizes: the Producers Guild of America Award and the prestigious Annie Award. (The latter honors the best achievements in animation by individuals who work in the field.) So while “Ralph” may not be a sure thing, it’s perhaps the best way to avoid wrecking your Oscar scorecard.