Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 5: Best Director and Best Picture

There is a longstanding Oscar tradition of awarding Best Director and Best Picture to the same movie and that makes a certain amount of sense. If the director is credited with shaping the overall look and feel of a movie, then the best directing will often result in the best movie. Only six times in the past twenty-five years have those awards been split, but never two years in a row. That could easily change this year. Last year Argo was named Best Picture, but Ben Affleck was not honored for directing it. He wasn’t even nominated! There is a strong possibility of a split again this year, even though the Best Picture winner is likely to come from one of the films that are also nominated for Best Director. Let’s look at the specifics.

Best Director Nominations

Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity

Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

David O. Russell for American Hustle

Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

Alexander Payne for Nebraska

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Could Win: Steve McQueen

Alfonso Cuarón is the frontrunner and for good reason. Gravity is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking. It is dazzling, a feast for the eyes. So much so that it is almost impossible to imagine Cuarón not winning. However, if the likely does happen, that will mean that the Best Picture category is still anybody’s to win. There seems to be a perception that while Gravity looks great, it is not a complete movie. The blame for that is placed on the story. Notice that it is not nominated for Best Writing. Personally, I liked the story. I saw the entire film as a splendid metaphor for the grief process. I’m not sure that was Cuarón’s intention, but it worked that way for me. Even though I liked the story, I wouldn’t call it the year’s best movie and I’m fairly certain the Academy won’t grant it that honor. They won’t deny Cuarón his statue for directing, but the movie won’t follow suit, thus causing the split.

Even though I greatly enjoyed the work of both Scorsese and Payne, I don’t think either of them has a chance. I absolutely adore American Hustle, but its power is in the acting (and the writing that the actors get to work with). Indeed, Russell’s strength as a director is in the way that he handles actors (look at the number of acting nominations for his last three films). He’s not one to add lots of unique visual techniques, preferring to let the actors provide the fireworks. It is a strategy that is resulting in great movies, but it is not likely to gain him a directing Oscar. So, that leaves only McQueen as a possibility to pull off the upset. He would be well deserving of that recognition. He provided the steady hand that 12 Years a Slave needed for that difficult story to unfold, but also added just enough flourishes to keep the film from becoming too heavy. Although Cuarón’s work is more incredible in terms of filmmaking, the combination of McQueen’s fine work and the desire to recognize 12 Years as an important film could be enough for the upset to happen. If so, that will take all the mystery out of the Best Picture race. In that case there will most definitely not be a split between the two categories.

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Best Picture Nominations

American Hustle    Captain Phillips    Dallas Buyers Club    Gravity    Her    Nebraska    Philomena    12 Years a Slave    The Wolf of Wall Street

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle

Could Win: Gravity

The Dark Horse (if the big three equally divide up that block of votes): The Wolf of Wall Street

This slate of films, with its great variety of styles and genres, is a reminder of what a great year it has been at the movies. Each deserves the recognition it has received, but the general consensus is that this is a three horse race. The general consensus is wrong. As I stated above, Gravity doesn’t have what it takes to claim the big prize, so this comes down to two films. The likely winner is 12 Years a Slave and it is well deserving of that honor. However, I think it will win because voters see it as the most important film of the year, not the best movie of the year. I won’t argue against it being an important movie, but I’m not sure that I buy into the main argument for its importance. It is said that it is the first film to dare to give a realistic portrayal of slavery in America. I think it is the first film to present such a portrayal since last year’s Django Unchained. The presentation of slavery was just as harrowing in Django as it is in 12 Years, but that movie gets no recognition for what it achieved because it is a revenge comedy directed by Quentin Tarantino. That it is, but it no less an indictment against horrors of slavery than 12 Years. Indeed, the two movies aren’t as different as many folks wish to believe. For instance, with ever so slight tweaking, both Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) could have been neighbors to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). I had other issues with 12 Years that diffused some of the movies potential power for me. You can read about them on my 2013 Ratings page. Despite those issues, 12 Years still deserves its likely win.

If I had a vote, however, it would go to the nearly perfect American Hustle. This is the kind of movie that reminds me why I love movies. If you took all that is good about movies and put it in a blender, you would come up with a smoothie called American Hustle. This movie is delightful on so many levels. It is an ensemble acting tour de force. It is dismissed as just a comedy, as if that would be a bad thing, but in reality it is so much more than that anyway. It is comedy and tragedy intertwined. It is about survival and our attempts to reinvent our selves. It is about loyalty and love. And it is about scams and lies, too, most importantly the lies we tell ourselves. I’ve read many complaints that the plotline was confusing. Excuse me, this is a con movie. There is supposed to be deception in con movies and that includes deceiving the audience, too. Not everything was as it seemed at first and at times it was hard to tell just who was conning who, but that is part of the fun. Another key element for a con movie is some kind of twist at the end, but the twist has to feel legitimate, not forced or artificial. Check and check. I loved the ending, finding it both surprising and satisfying. The final test is whether knowing the surprise totally deflates the film for future viewing. Test passed. I loved Hustle even more the second time I saw it and I know I’ll be watching it many more times through the years. It is the best picture of 2013!

Finally, my dream scenario for the Oscars: my ultimate dream would be a sweep by American Hustle, but that surely won’t come close to happening. So, my scaled back and more equitable dream is American Hustle sweeping the act, Alfonso Cuarón winning best director, and 12 Years a Slave winning best picture.

Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 4: Best Actress

Best Actress Nominations

Amy Adams for American Hustle

Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine

Sandra Bullock for Gravity

Judi Dench for Philomena

Meryl Streep for August: Osage County

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Will Win: Cate Blanchett

Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Could Win: Amy Adams

Let’s take a breath and do an easy one before moving on to the highly competitive Director and Picture races. This category belongs to Blanchett and well it should. Her performance in Blue Jasmine is achingly perfect. She presents a character that is completely unlikeable in her narcissism and unredeemed in her brokenness, yet we can’t take our eyes off of her. If there ever was a performance that was a lock for an Oscar, this is it. It is stunning. The one and only thing that could prevent her from placing a second golden statue on her mantel is the Woody Allen controversy, but I don’t think that will be enough to dethrone her. If she did happen to lose, who would take advantage of her misfortune? Hey, look, there looms Meryl Streep and Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. She chews up the scenery in August: Osage County, but adds just enough nuance so that the part doesn’t go completely over the top. I greatly enjoyed watching her, but Julia Roberts gave the best performance in that movie. Add to that the fact that Streep won an Oscar two years ago and it becomes highly unlikely  she will win this one. How about Judi Dench? After all, Judi Dench isn’t simply Judi Dench, she is Dame Judi Dench and she has assembled an incredible body of work in the latter portion of her career. She is as delightful as ever in Philomena, but the role isn’t meaty enough, nor the movie big enough to get her the win. Sandra Bullock gives a fine performance in Gravity, but that movie is not at all about the acting, so she will not win, either. American Hustle is most certainly about the acting and Amy Adams is terrific in it. She is so crafty as the con artist, yet so vulnerable. The way she slips in and out of the English accent depending on what her character is up to is pure magic. If she wins, it will not simply be due to Blanchett’s misfortune. She deserves it for this role and she could pick up a few “it’s time” votes also, this being her fifth nomination in nine years with no wins yet. That could be enough to make this race interesting, but I still wouldn’t bet against Blanchett.

Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 3: Best Actor

Best Actor Nominations

Christian Bale for American Hustle

Bruce Dern for Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor for 12 Years a Slave

Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

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Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win (in alphabetical order): Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey

This category is loaded! Each of these performances, as different as they are from one another, is darn near perfect in its particular context. Thus, each of these actors is worthy of winning the Oscar. However, it is likely that no one other than Matthew McConaughey will be giving an acceptance speech on Sunday evening. His role has Oscar written all over it with the bodily transformation through weight loss, the opportunity to play a wide range of dark emotions, and the transformation from a complete jerk to, well, a less than complete jerk. Like so many others, I have fallen in love with McConaughey’s work over the past three years. It has been quite a run. His performance is strong in Dallas Buyer’s Club, but I’m not convinced that it deserves the lock on the Oscar that it seems to have. Although the Oscar is supposed to be for a single role, if I were to vote for him here it would be for that body of work, including Mud, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, and that one delightful scene in Wolf of Wall Street. Actually, I found his role in Mud to be more interesting than in DBC, but if that’s the movie that brings him the Academy’s honors, I’ll wholeheartedly join in the salute.

Of the remaining four nominees, Ejiofor has the best chance of pulling off the upset, as much because of the movie he is in as for his performance itself. This is not a knock on his work, which was solid, but a win for him certainly depends on the affection many have for 12 Years a Slave and the feeling that it is an important movie. To a certain extent, the constraints the story place on his character actually work against him capturing the Oscar. The movie places a strong emphasis on the fact that slaves had to bury their emotions in order to survive. The genius in Ejiofor’s performance was in burying those emotions deep enough for his character to survive, but keeping them just below the surface so that the viewer could catch glimpses of his turmoil. Glimpses, though, rarely win Oscars.

DiCaprio finds himself on the other end of the emotional spectrum. Wolf of Wall Street was about excess and called for a lead performance that teetered on the edge of going overboard. Leo delivered that performance and it was fascinating to experience…if you weren’t turned off by the movie itself. If 12 Years helps Ejiofor’s cause, Wolf hurts DiCaprio’s. It was a love it or hate it kind of movie, which makes it hard for him to pick up the extra votes he would need to win. He could gain some votes of the “it’s time” variety, finally recognizing his years of fine performances, but in that regard he could be hindered by the perception that he is Leo, the Big Movie Star, rather than Leonardo, the Great Actor. He could also be hindered by Dern’s presence in the category. If there is an “it’s time” vote, it could go to Dern who has been waiting just a bit longer than DiCaprio. Dern, though, faces a challenge similar to Ejiofor’s, in that his character’s emotions have always been buried, not by slavery, but by life itself. Add to that the effects of old age, if not also the onset of dementia, and you have a part that calls for an incredibly restrained performance. I thought his performance was both, restrained and incredible, but not exactly Oscar bait. If he wins it will be a career tribute, not simply accolades for this single performance.

That brings us to Christian Bale. I’ve seen many comments about him stealing the nomination from Tom Hanks or Robert Redford. I wasn’t overly impressed with either of their performances, but regardless of their status, I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that Bale doesn’t belong among the nominees. Beyond that, I think he is as deserving of the Oscar as anyone else in the category. His performance is discounted because American Hustle is “just a comedy,” but it is more than that. It is comedy and tragedy intertwined and I would argue that Bale gives us a wider range of emotion than anyone else in the field (except possibly DiCaprio). The brilliance in his performance is achieved through the combination of what we have come to expect from Bale and what we haven’t seen him do before. We expect Bale to fully embody his roles, included the actual transformation of his body. In the past this has meant losing weight, but for Hustle he gained weight and lost hair, too. This is about more than adding a few pounds, though. He becomes Irving Rosenfeld and that is something new because Rosenfeld is certainly no Batman. Have we ever seen Bale play a part like this before, seen him become this vulnerable? I’m sure I will watch each of the five movies represented here again, but I know I will watch American Hustle over and over again, in part to partake in the delight of Bale’s performance. He gets my vote!

Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 2: Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actor Nominations

Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper for American Hustle

Jonah Hill for The Wolf of Wall Street

Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave

Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club

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Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Jared Leto or Bradley Cooper

Could Win: Michael Fassbender

Best Hollywood Ending Win: Barkhad Abdi

The acting categories are loaded with great performances this year. As evidence, there are at least three supporting actors for whom there was no room: James Gandolfini for Enough Said, Daniel Bruhl for Rush and Jeremy Renner for American Hustle. Gandolfini and Bruhl had the misfortune of doing splendid work in movies that weren’t big enough. Only four of the twenty acting nominees for 2013 were in films that were not nominated for Best Picture compared to six for 2012 and eleven (over half!) for 2011. Those four are from only two additional movies, Blue Jasmine and August: Osage County, with two each in the actress categories. Is there a trend towards placing too much focus on the year’s biggest films? Maybe, maybe not, but it would have been nice to have Gandolfini nominated here rather than Jonah Hill. Renner was in a Best Picture nominated film, but he couldn’t beat out Cooper from his own movie. His part was smaller than the big four actors from Hustle, but his vital role gave that movie its heart.

As for those who did make the cut, a case could be made for any one of four of them walking away with the golden statue. The only one whose win would be a huge surprise is Jonah Hill. Actually, his nomination itself was a bit of a surprise, but shows that there is some love for Wolf in Hollywood. I thought it was great, but my initial impression was that Hill was just adequate in it. After he was nominated I gave his performance more thought, and although his performance was on the wild side, it was wild in just the right way for this movie. That is what actors are supposed to do, isn’t it? So, I’m o.k. with him being nominated, but in this field of candidates he has little to no chance of winning.

Barkhad Abdi’s chance of winning rests on the hope that the voters like a good story. It is a good story: an immigrant from Somalia is discovered working as a chauffer in Minneapolis and is cast in a key role despite having no acting experience. An Oscar would give this story a great Hollywood ending. His performance was one of the best things about Captain Phillips and he did win the BAFTA, so he could pull off a win here, but there are certainly those who take these awards “seriously” who won’t vote for him, seeing his performance as a fluke rather than evidence of acting skill.

As for Fassbender, I wasn’t as impressed by 12 Years a Slave as many people are, and that goes for Fassbender’s performance in the movie, also. I’m still not sure what to think of it. I do think that his chance of winning depends on a sweep of the awards by 12 Years. I don’t think that will happen.

That leaves Leto and Cooper, with Leto clearly the favorite after his numerous wins throughout award season. I was turned off by his Golden Globes acceptance speech and when I subsequently saw Dallas Buyers Club I must confess that I was hoping to dislike his performance. I’m still not sure what to think of Leto himself, but I thought his performance was indeed golden. It’s an Oscar-bait role that could easily have been overplayed, but I thought Leto was perfect, so I’m fine with him winning. However, as good as he was, my vote goes to Bradley Cooper. In a movie where he was both playing the con and being conned he didn’t miss a beat. His performance was absolutely delightful. They say doing comedy won’t win you an Oscar, but what he does here is so much more than comedy. Like Fassbender, though, he probably needs a groundswell of support for Hustle to pull off the upset.

Steve’s 2013 Oscar Predictions, Part 1: Best Supporting Actress

With the Oscars only a week away, it is time to start rolling out my annual predictions. I’ll begin with the acting categories and then finish with Best Director and Best Picture. It was a fabulous year at the movies with many wonderful performances. Although there are clear frontrunners in some of the categories, this year’s Oscars could have a few surprises and with three movies vying as the favorite, along with at least a couple of dark horses, things should remain interesting right up until the end. So, let’s get started.

Best Supporting Actress Nominations

Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle

Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave

Julia Roberts for August: Osage County

June Squibb for Nebraska

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Will Win: Lupita Nyong’o

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

This category is a reminder of how crazy this whole process is. Does it even make sense to offer prizes for artistic endeavors? Certainly every artist should seek to make great art, but do we need a competition to determine whose art is the best? Isn’t there a better way to celebrate great art, and in this case great filmmaking, without having winners and losers? This category has two clear frontrunners, Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lawrence. Both gave absolutely fabulous performances in their respective films, but those films and thus the performances called for are of such different natures that it seems insane to try to compare them, let alone declare one of them the best performance. However, barring a tie, that is precisely what will happen next Sunday, so let me take a shot at it, crazy though it is.

I predict that the Academy will award its golden statue to Nyong’o, in part because 12 Years a Slave is perceived as a more important movie than American Hustle. Nyong’o’s tragic performance as the slave woman Patsey is deserving of that accolade, but Jennifer Lawrence is more deserving for her perfect portrayal of the con man’s wife, Rosalyn, a part at turns comedic, dramatic, and often both at once. When I think about 12 Years, there are only a couple of scenes that come to mind in which Nyong’o was truly captivating. They are brilliant, powerful scenes, but I can still easily imagine that movie being just as great with someone else in the part of Patsey. On the other hand, every scene in which Lawrence appears crackles with energy, with her energy. I simply cannot, nor do I want to, imagine American Hustle without her. She is the best supporting actress of the year.

What about the others? Do they deserve their nominations? All three most certainly do. Sally Hawkins’ strong performance in Blue Jasmine is easy to overlook because it is done in the shadow of Cate Blanchett’s stellar work in the lead role, but in that way Hawkins is the epitome of what it means to be a supporting actress. Great acting cannot be done in a vacuum, it requires real characters to interact with in order to come alive and Hawkins provides that for Blanchett. June Squibb was a hoot in Nebraska and it is wonderful to see her nominated at age 84. Her performance was somewhat one-note, but what a delightful note it was. Julia Roberts gives what may be the best performance of her career in August: Osage County. I’m generally not a huge fan of Roberts, but her work here blew me away. She delivers an incredible range of emotion in a tightrope walk of a part, more than holding her own with Meryl Streep. In many Oscar seasons she would be a favorite to win, but not this year against Nyong’o and Lawrence.

Is there anyone else who should be here? It would be hard to decide which of the five nominees to remove, but if there was an opening, Octavia Spencer would be well deserving of the spot. Her screen time in Fruitvale Station is limited, but she makes the most of every moment that she is given. Many seem to feel that Oprah Winfrey was snubbed regarding her work in Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I thought she seemed too old for the part early in the film, which was distracting, but as the character aged Winfrey did solid work, but I’m not sure it was worthy of a nomination.

Could You, Should You Forgive?: Steve Reflects on Philomena

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. So we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, but are you able to forgive? The answer to that question probably depends on who hurt you and how deeply they hurt you. What if you were hurt by the Church itself, or at least philomenaby those who were representing the Church? What if they not only hurt you, but also did everything in their power to convince you (and anyone else who would listen) that you were in fact the guilty party? What if they heaped shame upon the original abuse? Could you forgive them? Should you forgive them? Is it not possible that their offenses are beyond forgiveness, at least human forgiveness? Those are the issues we are faced with in Philomena.

When I saw Philomena I entered the theater with some trepidation, fearing a movie experience that would become strident as the Church was bashed for its offenses, but I was relieved that the movie had much more to offer than merely holding the Church accountable for its deplorable actions. It does hold the Church accountable, particularly the Irish Catholic Church of fifty years ago, exposing its cruel treatment of young, unwed mothers who were required to work in the harsh conditions of the abbey’s laundry. Even more harsh was the way that at least some of the nuns took advantage of every available opportunity to rub the faces of these girls in their shame, announcing that their suffering was penance for their sins. The worst of that suffering came with the forced adoptions of their children.

The nuns had a point. God had given laws regarding adultery. Had these girls broken those laws? Certainly, they had. Did they need to face the consequences of their actions? Again, the answer is yes. However, this is where we come face to face with a vital spiritual truth. We need the law. We need its guidance and we especially need it to reveal our brokenness, but we even more desperately need the Gospel, the gift of God’s grace, which brings new life. When we get stuck in the law, as those nuns in the Irish Church were, we become nasty and the Church becomes a place of death rather than a place of life. Is it possible to “reprove our neighbor” as the Bible tells us to while at the same time loving our neighbor, which the Bible is even clearer about? Those young women clearly felt the criticism, but did they also experience the love?

Philomena was one of those young women. Having lost her mother at a young age, after an unwise decision she found herself pregnant and abandoned by her father at the abbey. While at the abbey, the nuns essentially steal her son and they try to rob her of her self worth. Both of those abuses will haunt her in the years to come. It would not have been surprising if she had left the Church, but throughout her life both God and the Church remain vital to her. Why would she remain in an institution that had caused her such pain? Was she that naïve? Although the movie portrays her as a very simple woman, she is not naïve. She is able to distinguish between those who hurt her and other nuns who treated her well, especially one young nun who was a messenger of grace. Her faith becomes one of the poles in the dialectic that develops in the movie.

The other pole involves the journalist, Martin Sixsmith, who ends up helping her search for her son. On her son’s fiftieth birthday, she decides that she has kept the secret long enough and she wants to find out what happened to her son. Sixsmith happens to be in need of work. He previously held a high position working for the Labor Party, but was forced out in disgrace, even though he had done nothing wrong. The injustice increases his cynicism and adds anger to it. He considers writing human interest stories as being beneath him, but he needs a project, so he agrees to work with Philomena. On a trip to the abbey, they find that the new administrators add to the sins of the past by giving Philomena the run-around. Sixsmith’s anger gets attached to the Church and increases as each offensive truth is revealed. Finally, his anger explodes and it would be easy to simply side with him. A lesser movie would have done just that. However, as I said, this movie offers us more to grapple with than that. Philomena responds to the revelations in a more complex manner. I won’t spoil the movie by revealing her response, because you simply have to see this movie!

Steve’s Oscar Predictions, Part 6: Best Picture

The Oscars are less than two days away, so let’s get to the big one: Best Picture. If you have read my predictions in the other categories, you should have a fairly clear sense of where I stand and the relative merits of the nominated movies, so let’s get to it.

Best Picture Nominations (odds of winning):
Argo (2 to 1)
Lincoln (3 to 1)
Silver Linings Playbook (7 to 2)
Zero Dark Thirty (9 to 1)
Life of Pi (10 to 1)
Les Miserables (15 to 1)
Amour (20 to 1)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (29 to 1)
Django Unchained (30 to 1)

The nominees in the order I would rank them, from first to last. (I left out Amour because I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing it.)

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Will Win: Argo
Should Win of Those Nominated: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Should Have Been There: Moonrise Kingdom

This is shaping up to be one of the most interesting best picture races in years. When the nominations were announced it seemed that Lincoln was the clear favorite, but that’s no longer the case. Argo has the momentum now after winning best drama at the Golden Globes and overall cast performance from the Screen Actors Guild. However, following that up with an Oscar requires going against historical precedence since Ben Affleck is not nominated for best director. Only three movies have won best picture when the director wasn’t nominated, but this seems to be a year when something unlikely is likely to happen and Argo is the movie that is most likely to do the unlikely. Early on, it seemed that Zero Dark Thirty may have had a shot, but not anymore. Of the movies nominated, Django Unchained has the most panache, but it is too violent and controversial to garner the Academy’s top honor. Les Miserables is the weakest of the movies here, but the fact that it was nominated and also won a Golden Globe means that it has its supporters, although surely not enough to win this (I hope.)

Since the connection between Best Director and Best Picture is historically so strong, let’s look at the various possible scenarios based on who wins the Oscar for directing, beginning with the least likely. If either Haneke or Zeitlin pulls off a miracle win, then you could say that all bets are off for Best Picture. The odds of their movies (Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild) winning would suddenly jump up into a tie with Argo. I say a tie because in these scenarios I still think Argo would have strong shot at winning. If Lee wins, then Life of Pi would pull slightly ahead of Argo as the favorite, but Lee could tell you it would be no sure thing (think Brokeback Mountain at the 2006 Oscars…yes, Ang’s been there before.) If Russell wins, then I would say that Silver Linings Playbook is almost a lock for Best Picture. If Spielberg wins, again I would say it would be about 50/50 between Lincoln and Argo. It’s going to be fun!

As I indicated in the directing category, my vote would go to Beasts of the Southern Wild. Every other movie on the list is a variation on things we have seen before, but Beasts is a unique artistic vision brought to fruition in a most astounding way. Admittedly, when I first saw it, I was impressed, but not deeply moved. However, viewing it a second time I literally sobbed at the end. It is beautiful, despite showing much that is ugly. It is mythic, yet grounded in reality. It is thought-provoking and tear-inducing. In the future, people will know that there was a Hushpuppy!

In Conclusion, A Dream Scenario: Imagine if you will that the Academy did not screw up so royally at the 2011 Oscars. Imagine that Tom Hooper and The King’s Speech did not win those Oscars. In my dream David Fincher won the directing Oscar he so deserved and The Social Network won Best Picture. After his rightful win, Fincher becomes the director of Les Miserables, rather than Hooper, and he gives us the great movie that it should have been. On Sunday night you would hear the people sing (me included) in celebration of Les Mis’ victory at the Oscars. Yes, I had a dream that Les Mis would be so different from the hell that Tom gave us, but now life has killed the dream I dreamed. Hey, Anne, could you sing that for me? But, please wear your Catwoman costume as you do.

Steve’s Oscar Predictions, Part 5: Best Director

Best Director Nominations (odds of winning):

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) (3 to 1)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) (4 to 1)

Ang Lee (Life of Pi) (5 to 1)

Michael Haneke (Amour) (10 to 1)

Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) (20 to 1)

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Will Win: Steven Spielberg

Should Win of Those Nominated: Behn Zeitlin

Should Have Been There: Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino

In this category there has been as much conversation about who isn’t nominated as there has been about which nominee will win. The word “snub” has been mentioned numerous times, sometimes justly, sometimes not. Appropriately, much of that attention has been focused on Ben Affleck. How can Affleck not be nominated when Argo has won every imaginable award and has strong shot at winning the Oscar for Best Picture? If there were snubs in this year’s race, this is certainly one of them. With Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now Argo, Affleck has proven himself to be a surprisingly good director, but, at least this year, surprisingly good wasn’t good enough. It’s hard to say what all the factors were that led to his exclusion, but certainly one of them is that it was a great year at the movies and that means that there were many deserving directors. For those directors who missed the cut, that is bad news, but for those of us who love movies, it is good news, indeed.

Before moving on to those who were nominated, here are a few thoughts regarding a few others who were not. The director I would most like to see on this list is Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom is one of my two favorite movies of the year. (The other is Beasts of the Southern Wild.) I found it to be delightful and deeply moving, as many others did. However, there are others who found it to be pretentious and off-putting. Anderson is that kind of director. You love him or you hate him. The critics generally loved it, but the folks giving out awards sure haven’t. I would say that Ben and Wes are the two true snubs this year. There are other directors who were deserving of the honor, but I wouldn’t call their exclusion a snub. Of those, I would have liked to see Tarantino included. Django Unchained was one of the most entertaining movies of the year, but, again, Tarantino is a love/hate kind of director.

There was a minor uproar when Kathryn Bigelow was excluded, but I agree with that decision. As I mentioned when writing about Chastain in the Best Actress category, something in Zero Dark Thirty rang false for me, as did Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. I’m not talking about factual details here. I recognize that movies will often play with the details to make the storytelling more powerful (certainly Argo and Lincoln did that.) But there is something at the emotional center of Bigelow’s movies that hasn’t worked for me. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, it drew me out of the suspense that was so important to the film.

Among the delusional, there are even some who believe that Tom Hooper was snubbed. In my book, he is the one responsible for making Les Miserables a truly miserable experience. I love director’s with a strong personal style (i.e. Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, among many others), but Hooper’s heavy-handed, claustrophobic direction ruined Les Mis for me. (See more on that in the Best Picture category.) This wasn’t a snub, it was justice!

Now on to those who actually were nominated. Do they deserve to be here, given all those who were left out? I have yet to see Amour, so I can’t give a personal opinion on Haneke, but I would say that the other four are deserving of the recognition. Of those, I think that Spielberg has the best chance at winning, but I think that will be as much due to reputation as it is for his work on Lincoln. It won’t quite be a career achievement award, but it will be close to that. His work here is strong, but not particularly special or surprising. In fact, it feels quite Spielbergian, right down to the use of backlighting whenever possible. The more I consider the film as a whole, the more I think that if he does win, Spielberg should thank Daniel Day-Lewis first and foremost.

Spielberg does face stiff competition, especially in Russell and Lee. I like the gritty style of directing that Russell has developed and I thought it was effective here, helping to add depth to what could have been a fairly typical rom-com, but, other than the occasional use of the camera pivoting around a character, it’s hard to say what was truly remarkable about the direction of Silver Linings Playbook. However, Russell has Harvey Weinstein on his side and Harvey has shown the ability to lead a director and movie to Oscar victory (even if it was undeserved, i.e. Tom Hooper for King’s Speech.) Whatever the reason may be, if Russell does win, he is deserving of it. In contrast to Russell’s earthiness, Lee brought us a spectacle at sea. Although I didn’t find Life of Pi to be quite as magical as it should have been, there is no denying that Lee took on a huge challenge in bringing that book to the screen. He, too, would deserve it if he comes away with the Oscar.

If I had a vote, it would go to the director who is least likely to win, Behn Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild. As a first time director of a full length feature film (he’d done a few short films before), working with inexperienced, local actors, Zeitlin did an incredible job. There is a strong sense of personal style. As much as I’d love to see it happen, he won’t win this year, but he is definitely a director to watch out for in the future.

Steve’s Oscar Predictions, Part 4: Best Actress

Best Actress Nominations (odds of winning):

Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) (3 to 1)

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) (4 to 1)

Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) (6 to 1)

Naomi Watts (The Impossible) (20 to 1)

Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) (40 to 1)

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Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Like Best Supporting Actor, this is a tough one to call. That was true even before the BAFTAs, when it seemed to be a tight race between Lawrence and Chastain. With Riva winning the BAFTA, it may now be a three way race, but I still think it will come down to Jennifer or Jessica. I think (and I hope) that Jennifer will pull it out. She gave the part of Tiffany just the right mix of darkness and light and is a major reason why Silver Linings Playbook rises above being just another rom-com. Like so many others, I fell in love with her acting in Winter’s Bone and I couldn’t wait to see where her career would go from there. Although I thought she did a fine job as Katniss, neither that nor the other roles she’s had since Winter’s Bone have really given her a chance to shine until this one and shine she did. Now that she knows just how good she can be, I’m excited to see how that will affect her work in the final Hunger Game films. She should win here, but if she doesn’t she shouldn’t fret. More nominations are sure to be coming her way in the future.

If I was directing a movie, I would make sure that there was a role for Jessica Chastain. Is there a better actress working today? Since she burst into my consciousness a couple of years ago, I have been enthralled with her work. She was amazing in The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help. She didn’t have a lot to do in Lawless, but she still brought an effervescence to her limited role. That being said, I was not overly impressed with her work in Zero Dark Thirty. Something rang false. At times her reactions seemed out of sync with what was happening in the film. I’m not sure the fault is all hers, though. It may have something to do with Kathryn Bigelow’s directing. My complaint about The Hurt Locker is that it also rang false. So, I would not give Chastain the Oscar for this performance, but if she does win it will not be a travesty of justice.

Does Riva’s BAFTA win mean that she has a legitimate shot at the Oscar? She’s had a long career, but most of it in French films, so a BAFTA win doesn’t necessarily translate to recognition by the Academy. They have shown an inclination in the past to award older actors, but I’d be surprised if they do so in this case. I haven’t seen Amour yet so I can’t speak about my impressions of her performance. That also goes for Watts in The Impossible. The word is that she delivers a great performance in a demanding role, but for many of us all we have to go on is that word. Presumably the members of the Academy have seen it, but with so little buzz surrounding it, I doubt Watts has much of a chance.

The least likely victor in this category is Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest Best Actress nominee ever. As much as I’d like to see Lawrence win, I’d love to see Wallis pull off the upset. Beasts of the Southern Wild is quite possibly my favorite movie of the year and I’d like to see it recognized by the Academy in some way. The first time I saw it I thought that Wallis’ work was quite remarkable for such a young actress with no prior experience. In subsequent viewings, I have been even more deeply moved by her performance. There are those that argue that she shouldn’t have been nominated, that there were brilliant performances by seasoned actresses that were overlooked. Undoubtedly, it is true that there are others deserving nominations this year. It was a good year at the movies and, thankfully, that included good roles for women. The argument against Wallis goes on to say that many of her lines were done as voiceovers and that essentially all she did was pose and stare, simply doing what the director told her to do. There is some truth in those statements; however, there is more to it than that. Good acting always includes following the director’s instructions and Behn Zeitlin certainly deserves credit for drawing this performance out of Quvenzhané. Truly powerful acting requires going beyond merely following instructions in order to deliver an emotional edge that brings a character to life. Wallis delivered a powerful performance. Did she understand what she was doing? Did she do it on purpose? Probably not, but it was wonderful all the same. Will she win? Of course not, but I’d love to see it happen.

Steve’s Oscar Predictions, Part 3: Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actor Nominations (odds of winning):

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) (3 to 1)

Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) (4 to 1)

Robert DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook) (4 to 1)

Alan Arkin (Argo) (15 to 1)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) (20 to 1)

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Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones

Should Win: Christoph Waltz

Should Have Been There: Bruce Willis (Looper or Moonrise Kingdom)

This is a tough one to call. At first it seemed that Jones would easily take this as part of a large haul by Lincoln. That large haul seems unlikely now, but Jones may still ride Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln coattails to victory. His effort in presenting Thaddeus Stevens’ struggle to do what was right, while also doing what was necessary, had both depth and lightness. He is deserving of recognition (for both this and for Hope Springs), but his Oscar is far from a sure thing.

I would love to see Waltz follow his Golden Globe win with another one here. Django Unchained was one of my favorite movies of the year. Tarantino has a good shot at winning Best Original Screenplay, but I would be pleased if an Oscar for Waltz added to the film’s take. The movie has greater moral complexity than it is given credit for and that complexity comes to life in Waltz’ character as he moves from such delight early in the film to registering disgust and despair in response to the treatment of the slaves. Early on it seemed that he had the best chance at beating Jones, but now it seems as though DeNiro is coming on strong. If he wins, it could signal a strong run by Silver Linings Playbook over the rest of the evening. But, then again, it might not.

Arkin’s slim hopes rest on the fact that he was playing a Hollywood character, which may gain him some votes, and, more importantly, he played that part in Argo, which has had a strong showing during the awards season. However, Argo’s success hasn’t translated to wins for Arkin yet and that isn’t likely to change here. As for Hoffman, see what I said about Phoenix in the Best Actor category, because it applies here, too. The Master has been anything but masterful in gaining recognition and I think that is appropriate. I am a huge fan of Hoffman, loving him in a wide range of roles from small to large, so I had high hopes for this one. His performance as Lancaster Dodd felt strained, which is something I’ve never come close to thinking about Hoffman before. Maybe I need to see it again, but I’m not sure I want to!

Rather than being reminded of how disappointed I was with The Master, I wish Bruce Willis was here rather than PSH. I would have been pleased if he was nominated for either Looper or Moonrise Kingdom. Both of those films are in my top five and were virtually ignored by the Academy. Willis was wonderful (in very different ways) in both of them.