We’re less than two weeks out from the Oscars, and with just about all the major precursors out of the way now (only the Writers Guild left to go, and given their annual host of non-qualifying titles, they’re not that reliable anyway), it’s officially time to roll the dice. As I’ve been saying throughout the season, this year will be exceedingly hard to predict – a large slate of beloved, relevant films has resulted in unusual snubs and mixed signals from the guilds. Many of the major categories – Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, both Screenplay categories – seem totally up for grabs. For once, being able to read the season’s trends aren’t going to help much; it really is guesswork this year.
Which is probably great news for all of you, because once again I’m opening up the Outguess Ethan contest to my loyal readers. If you want to win a free DVD, all you have to do is FILL OUT THIS FORM. If, come Feb. 24, one of you can outscore me on this ballot (using my custom point system), I will buy that lucky winner a DVD of their choice ($20 or under). The person with the highest score wins in the event of multiple entries beating mine.
And, in the name of transparency, here are my own predictions. Think you can do better?
Best Picture: Argo
After Ben Affleck failed to get a Director nod, the entire narrative of the season suddenly switched to “whoops, let’s fix this.” With the entire trio of major guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA) in its pocket, “Argo” is set to make history no matter what – either the first film since “Driving Miss Daisy” to win Best Picture without a corresponding director nomination, or the first film since “Apollo 13” to LOSE after winning all those precursors. I’m going for the former; it just feels like that kind of year, and “Argo” is clearly loved by broad swath of the industry, which, as we’ve seen the last few years with “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech,” is the crucial element. Plus, seriously, Hollywood loves a movie about themselves; do we need to talk about “The Artist” again?
Best Director: Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
The absence of Ben Affleck, who has scooped up the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, DGA and BAFTA for this category, leaves us with almost a total vacuum here. Since their films had the most total nominations, Lee and Steven Spielberg make the most sense. “Lincoln” wasn’t as flashy on the directorial end as Spielberg’s films normally are, but the Academy could decide to reward him for that very reason, for trying out something a little different. But I think Lee’s more obvious vision will play better here for groups like the actors and writers, who might think the credit for “Lincoln” should go to their own peers.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Done deal. Day-Lewis will join the very selective list of three-time Oscar-winning actors, joining Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn and Walter Brennan; and, near as I can figure, only the second after Hepburn where all of those wins came for leading roles.
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Even detractors of “Zero Dark Thirty” have praised Chastain’s performance; but one gets the feeling that the general turmoil around the film has dragged her campaign down. That, to me, leaves Riva and Jennifer Lawrence. The Academy clearly loved “Silver Linings Playbook” (see: somewhat unexpected Director, Supporting Actress and Film Editing nods), so Lawrence is still absolutely a possibility. But “Amour” clearly has a passionate fan base as well, and I think they won’t be able to resist the feel-good story of this beloved foreign actress becoming the oldest lead Actress winner ever (she won at the BAFTAs, a great sign that people have seen the film, which was her main roadblock). Lawrence is young and they’ll clearly have more opportunities to reward her. For Riva, this is it. Don’t underestimate that thinking.
Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
If they go for Riva in Actress, voters will almost certainly be looking to reward David O. Russell’s film elsewhere. And while De Niro hasn’t won much in the way of precursors, word is he’s been working the circuit like crazy the past few weeks, going to endless interviews and parties, making sure to hit every red carpet. His main competitors, Christoph Waltz and Tommy Lee Jones, can’t say the same. Waltz hasn’t lost any award he was nominated for yet, but it just feels like too soon after his previous win for “Inglourious Basterds,” and for too similar a role. Meanwhile Jones picked up the SAG, but he was a no-show and didn’t get the chance to wow with a speech.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
Another one of our locks. None of the other nominees have traction.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, “Argo”
This category is a clusterfuck of quality work, but without the opportunity to reward “Argo” in the Director category, it seems logical that voters will go for it here instead. Tony Kushner’s work on “Lincoln” was the best screenplay that Spielberg’s had in ages, though, and I wouldn’t totally count out David O. Russell and “Silver Linings Playbook.” This one will be down to the wire.
Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke, “Amour”
Mark Boal’s unfairly embattled work has made “Zero Dark Thirty” a non-viable candidate here. Tarantino is a strong possibility (he picked up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA), but again I’m thinking I should roll with the unexpected love in the nomination stage for “Amour.” Screenplay is one of the few categories where Oscar voters have been known to reach for foreign films (see: Pedro Almodovar’s win for “Talk to Her”), and the generally divided state of affairs works to Haneke’s advantage.
Best Original Score: Mychael Danna, “Life of Pi”
First-time nominees do remarkably well in this category, and while I haven’t seen the film, Danna’s work certainly had the most room to shine in his film. Unless they unexpectedly decide to reward the long-frustrated Thomas Newman, I think Danna’s the most sensible option.
Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph
The Academy will probably want to reward a strong “comeback” year of sorts for the House of Mouse. “Frankenweenie” and “Brave,” the studio’s other offerings, are both strong possibilities as well, though.
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
As clear as things ever get in this category.
Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
This category generally either goes with crowd-pleasing, entertaining options or hard-hitting “issue” films; that would make it either “Sugar Man” or “The Invisible War,” but given the South African film’s success on the critical and awards circuit so far, I don’t think Academy voters will be able to resist bringing Rodriguez to the stage for yet another chapter in his incredible life story.
Best Original Song: “Skyfall,” from “Skyfall”
Adele was suitably adorable at the Golden Globes, and let’s be real, the song itself just blows all other contenders out of the water. If “Suddenly” were more memorable it might have a shot, but the older”Les Mis” tracks clearly dwarfed it within the film. Can you believe that, even with classics like “Live and Let Die” and “Nobody Does It Better” under its belt, this is the first time the Bond series wins this category? Given that the show will also feature a 50th anniversary tribute to 007 on film, this is just too good a moment to pass up.
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Ugh. This pains me. A victory for Claudio Miranda (deserved though it may be) will mean Roger Deakins, the greatest living cinematographer, will fall short for the 10th time. But as gorgeous as Deakins’ work on “Skyfall” was, Academy voters have recently fallen head over heels for painterly, effects-driven camerawork (“Avatar,” “Hugo”). The cinematographer’s guild went for “Skyfall,” but I think the majority of Oscar members will go for the more obvious spectacle film. Sigh.
Best Production Design: Anna Karenina
It will be a travesty if they pick anything else. Whatever its narrative flaws, Joe Wright’s film was a design marvel, and voters will notice that.
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Likewise. A small possibility that they recognize the late Eiko Ishioka’s final, bonkers work on “Mirror Mirror,” but I think the nomination was the reward there.
Best Film Editing: Argo
William Goldenberg had a spectacular year, getting totally deserved nominations for both “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” The streamlined, energetic pacing is a big part of what makes “Argo” tick, and the voters are going to want to check the film off in a couple places besides Best Picture.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables
But really, I have no clue here. Any of the three nominees seem possible. “Hitchcock” did the beloved trick of turning a well-known actor into another well-known public figure, but it didn’t do the aging effect that voters are also fond of. “Les Mis” did, along with some nifty work during Fantine’s rapid decline and the bloody student revolution sequence. I’ll go with that, although the time-consuming task of creating thirteen separate dwarves could take it by sheer quantity.
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Again, it’s a prestigious, effects-driven film, and its craft elements were clearly admired.
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Musicals often do well in this category (“Dreamgirls,” “Ray,” “Chicago”) and whatever you may think of the film overall, mixing the actor’s live singing with a pre-recorded soundtrack is a considerable technical achievement.
Best Sound Editing: Skyfall
This is one category where it’s OK to vote for your favorite action blockbuster, and that was clearly the critically acclaimed Bond adventure this year.
Best Live Action Short: Curfew
Best Documentary Short: Inocente
Best Animated Short: Paperman
Again, the contest form is HERE. You can only submit it once, so choose carefully! Good luck!