A note on this year's predictions - I am a new father as of three days ago and will be watching tonight's ceremony from a hospital room. I had a draft of this mostly done but it still needed to be finished. I decided to go without pictures this time and I also omitted the writing categories this year. I hope you still find it enjoyable and I expect next year will be more typical.
Best Animated Feature
The Pirates: Band of Misfits
Who Will Win: We've got a whopping three stop-motion animated films competing this year, but I think the trophy will go to one of the CGI films - Brave or Wreck-It Ralph. Brave was widely considered average by Pixar's famously high standards but it's been doing well in some of these pre-Oscar competitions. Ralph was more acclaimed and took home a boatload of Annie Awards. It's close but I think Ralph is gonna wreck it in the end.
My Choice: I thought Wreck-It Ralph was a fantastic movie and I would be delighted to see it win. Still, I've got a soft spot for ParaNorman, an underdog nominee about underdogs.
Best Supporting Actress
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
Who Will Win: This one was over around the time people starting seeing Les Miserables. Specifically, the scene where Hathaway, covered in grime and tears as doomed mother Fantine, belts out "I Dreamed a Dream" while the camera sits still for the entire shot. When that song ended, so did the suspense for this category. She's gotten a lot of hate on the internet for obnoxious acceptance speeches, but that kind of petty stuff rarely has any impact on the actual vote.
My Choice: It's not a huge or showy role, but Jacki Weaver did great work as one of the only relatively stable characters in Silver Lining's cast of eccentrics.
Best Supporting Actor
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
Who Will Win: Not a slam dunk, but I'm predicting Jones will take it for his hilarious, blistering performance as the anti-slavery Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. His closest competition is Robert De Niro, whose role in SLP is one of the meatiest he's had in many years. It's been decades since a film has gotten a nomination in all four acting categories and I figure it will win at least one...but I think that one is Best Actress.
My Choice: Jones, De Niro, Waltz...I'm good with all of them. All five of these men have won in the past so there's nothing particularly high-stakes about this year's outcome.
Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
Quevenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts in The Impossible
Who Will Win: A highly competitive category. Lawrence has done best in the playoffs, followed closely by Chastain. However, I think Lawrence's biggest competition is not her but Riva, a veteran French actress who may pull a Marion Cotillard and take this trophy out of nowhere. She's 86 years old and has had a remarkable career...but I can also see a scenario where nine-year old Quevenzhane Wallis wins for her already legendary performance. Watts is probably the least likely, just because The Impossible came under heavy criticism for turning the story of the tragic South Asian tsunami into a story about how a bunch of white people had their vacation ruined. I'm going with Lawrence based on her wins leading up to this, but I'm far from certain.
My Choice: Naomi Watts is one of my favorite actresses and I really hope one day she pulls this off. She should have won for Mulholland Drive back in 2001, but I know she'll show up here again soon, hopefully for a stronger film.
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
Who Will Win: By contrast, this one is NOT competitive. Daniel-Day Lewis is about to become the first man to win Best Actor three times. The rest of them might as well just stay home.
My Choice: Anyone who has seen Lincoln knows that Day-Lewis has hit the level cap when it comes to acting. Still, I kind of want Jackman to win. He really held that movie together and some of those high notes...damn.
Michael Haneke for Amour
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Who Will Win: This is usually one of the easier categories to predict. This year, it's been so unpredictable that it's had serious ramifications for the Best Picture race (more on that in a bit). It started when Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, the directors of two of the most discussed films of the year, were left out. Bigelow's case is understandable - her Zero Dark Thirty has gotten excoriated repeatedly for its implication that torture contributed to the location and assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Although it sounds more like a writing problem rather than a directing one and screenwriter Mark Boal is a nominee. Perhaps Bigelow's win for The Hurt Locker three years ago is still too fresh. Affleck's case with Argo was more of a surprise and has been taken as mean-spirited by most of Hollywood, with people asking how long the poor guy was gonna be punished for the era where he was married to Jennifer Lopez and acted in a string of terrible films. But he's become an awesome director and the industry has rallied around him. He even got the Director's Guild of America award, which is often an oracle for this category but won't be this time for obvious reasons.
The irony is that I'm not sure Affleck would have even won had he been nominated. But he would have at least had that acknowledgement of his work and the lack of that acknowledgement is what's driving the backlash. With him out of the running, I would say Spielberg has the best chance (would be his third), but I could also see scenarios where Lee or Haneke upset. Russell's film isn't heavy enough and Zeitlin's nomination is a vote of confidence in his future work. So my tentative prediction is Spielberg but watch this one closely cause it will be suspenseful right up until the end.
My Choice: This category has been such a blindside I heaven't really given much thought to who I actually want to win. How about Zeitlin? That movie really did have a unique vision...and it was his first feature!
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Who Will Win: Let's knock off the outliers. Zero Dark Thirty, briefly a front-runner, has been totally sunk by the ongoing controversy. Amour's premise (old people dying slowly for two hours) alienates too many potential viewers - it will have to settle for the consolation prize of an easy win in the Foreign Language film category. Life of Pi seems to be viewed as mostly a technical achivement, with its support mostly confined to those categories. A movie as provocative and badass as Django Unchained has no chance. Beasts of the Southern Wild has done well to get this far but it won't go the final distance.
Now for the stronger contenders. Les Miserables has its fans but also some pretty ardent detractors, making it too polarizing for the Academy's preferential ballots to work in its favor. Silver Linings Playbook is clearly popular among the Academy members but it's also at least kind of a comedy and those almost never win Best Picture. So it comes down to the final two. Lincoln was the front-runner for a while and still leads in terms of nominations. Under normal circumstances, I'd call it a shoo-in...but those are not the circumstances we're seeing this year. Argo director Ben Affleck's lack of a nomination was so scandalous that the movie has swept the guild awards of the last several weeks. Those awards, much more so than the Golden Globes (although Argo won that too), are a good indicator of how the Oscars will go. It also doesn't hurt that the film casts its Hollywood characters in a highly positive light. Argo's looking good for the win, which would make it the first film since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 to win the top prize without even a nomination for Best Director. Lincoln may come back, but it doesn't seem likely.
My Choice: I really enjoyed Argo, but I thought Django was a spectacular movie and very relevant to the times we live in. I would love to see it win, but it's just too edgy.
That's that. The ceremony starts in a few hours!