Oscar nominations come out on Thursday morning (7:30 CST for our loyal local readers), a couple weeks earlier than usual. Since I have spent way too much of my life reading, writing, and thinking about this annual race to milquetoast immortality it seemed prudent for me to create a little pre-nomination primer. I’ll check back in after nominations are announced and again closer to the ceremony in February because I nerd over this like Travis nerds over baseball hall of fame ballots. I’ll go over Best Picture in detail and then just post my prediction for the other major categories (acting, directing, and writing).
The “Major Contenders” Group:
Zero Dark Thirty
Les Miserables (requisite UGH)
These four movies are the major threats to win Best Picture, and each should get somewhere between 7-12 Oscar nominations on Thursday mornings. They have the requisite combination of critical acclaim (well, Les Mis excepted), box office success (Zero Dark Thirty is eventually expected to haul in somewhere around $100 million, though it has only a few million in the bank before it expands this weekend), and that ineffable “respectability” which precludes crazier, more experimental, or lighter fare from winning.
Lincoln seems to be in poll position right now due to its box office haul, bevy of critics awards, and generous nominations from the “precursor” guild awards. Even if it cannot win Picture in the end, Daniel Day-Lewis would seem to have his third Best Actor award wrapped up and Tony Kushner should soon have a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar to join his Pultizers and Tonys. Honestly, awards fatigue concerning Lincoln‘s creative team may be its biggest roadblock.
Zero Dark Thirty is the consensus critics’ choice for Best Picture, racking up wins from such major groups as the New York Film Critics’ and the National Board of Review. Its combination of political relevance (Glenn Greenwald’s ranting before even seeing the film was an odious thing to behold) and bravura filmmaking has made it a potent force, and lead actress Jessica Chastain could be in line for an Oscar even if the film doesn’t win it all. In much the same boat is Ben Affleck’s Argo, which has picked up a number of critics awards itself (though no big ones), and seems to be the coming out party for the erstwhile Daredevil star’s re-birth as a “serious” filmmaker. Should Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty stumble Argo would be a safe, crowd-pleasing winner that looks daring without exciting controversy like its more critically esteemed rivals.
Finally, there’s the lurking presence of a bunch of sad, singing French people. Despite being an absolute turd of an adaptation of the wildly acclaimed mega-musical, Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables remains a force to be reckoned with in the Oscar race because some voters just can’t be helped. Les Mis is the type of huge, costume-laden historical epic that the Academy ate up like catnip 10-15 years ago, and the back-to-back wins of The King’s Speech and The Artist proves that such tendencies aren’t gone for good. The film is a huge box office hit, has one of the most talked-about performances of the year from Anne Hathaway, and still carries the stage show’s enormous emotional impact for many viewers (yours truly is most definitely excepted). The Director’s Guild, which is usually the best predictor of the Picture race, nominated Tom Hooper for its annual award, so the film itself is definitely still in the hunt.
The “Also-Ran” Group:
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
These are the movies which are assured of a Best Picture nomination in the expanded field (anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees, if you don’t recall), though I don’t see a path to the win for any of them. All have performed well , but are lacking that je ne sais qua that would make them a real contender. Life of Pi has done remarkably well at the box office and critics liked it, but no one seems to love it enough to call it the best of the year. Silver Linings Playbook is in much the same boat, albeit with less box office pull. The Weinstein Company has held its theater count down, waiting for the Oscar nominations to provide a boost for expansion. This may work out for its final take, but it has also served to stunt the film’s buzz, so a Best Actress win for Jennifer Lawrence may be its best chance to win something. Django Unchained might have more buzz than any movie in the country right now ($100 million in grosses in 10 days for a 2.5 hour Spaghetti Western about the moral outrages of slavery is something to fucking talk about), but its peaking a bit late. Most Oscar voters sent in their nomination ballots nearly a month ago, when Django was still being slapped into shape for its release. So an underwhelming number of nominations due to a rushed production and campaign is not out of the question. Plus, the average Oscar voters is a 75-year-old white man, sooooo…this movie may not play to them all that well.
The “Just Happy to be Nominated” Group:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
At this point my predictions get dicier. The seven films I mentioned before should be assured of a nomination (if not…watch out), but I am predicting these two films based on little more than a hunch. Both were indie hits from last summer, which are riding a lot of critical acclaim (though neither has won many Best Picture awards) and a good deal of (relative) box office success towards a potential date with Oscar. Neither film has many shots at other nominations and they have no shot at winning Best Picture. But, any film that gets more than 5% of the #1 votes in the nominating round will land a nomination. Since these two little films both seem to have a sizable and devoted cult among film critics and within the industry I am betting that they will make the final cut.
The “Just Missed” Group
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
All of these films will receive a smattering of nominations on Thursday morning, and one of them could even sneak into the Picture race (PLEASE let it be The Master), but I am predicting that they miss. None has picked up enough major critics’ awards, guild accolades, or box office money to guarantee a slot at the table. The same might be true of Beasts and Moonrise Kingdom, but they seem to be more beloved than this quintet to me. Don’t be stunned if any of these show up, though.
[ASIDE – It’s re-goddamn-diculous that Les Mis will get somewhere around 10 Oscar nominations while The Master ekes out a small handful. Those two are galaxies apart in terms of quality, and it’s the better film that will be shafted. Again. Ugh. Why do I love this frustration so much?]
So, that’s how the Best Picture race looks to me. The rest of my predictions for the major categories follows. The numbers denote what I think their current standing in the respective races is. Please don’t mock me too badly when they are eventually wrong.
01. Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
02. Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
03. Ben Affleck, Argo
04. Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
05. Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Best Actor in a Leading Role
01. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
02. Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
03. Denzel Washington, Flight
04. Hugh Jackman, Les Mis
05. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Best Actress in a Leading Role
01. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
02. Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
03. Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
04. Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
05. Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
01. Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
02. Alan Arkin, Argo
03. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
04. Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
05. Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
01. Anne Hathaway, Les Mis
02. Sally Field, Lincoln
03. Amy Adams, The Master
04. Helen Hunt, The Sessions
05. Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy (I have NO IDEA how this is happening, but apparently it is)
Best Writing (Original Screenplay)
01. Zero Dark Thirty
02. Moonrise Kingdom
03. The Master
04. Django Unchained
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
02. Silver Linings Playbook
03. Beasts of the Southern Wild
05. Life of Pi