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What To Expect Out of This Year’s Oscars

The 85th Academy Award nominations were announced earlier this month, and most of those receiving Oscar nods followed projections, with a few surprises (and snubs) thrown in just to keep things interesting. But making predictions on this year’s winners is a bit trickier than in the past; with roughly a month to go until Oscar night, there are some genuine horse races in progress, unlike recent years, when most of the recipients were pretty much foregone conclusions. So, with that said, here’s what I expect out of the major categories in this year’s competition as of now.

Best Picture

The Field: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Misérables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Zero Dark Thirty”

Who Will Likely Win: “Argo.” This picture has the momentum behind it at the moment, having recently won best picture (drama) honors at the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Awards. It’s also well-represented in the nominations for the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards. And, as an entertaining, critically acclaimed, technically well-made picture that honors unsung American heroes, it’s a popular and politically correct choice, even if it isn’t the best offering in the pack.

Who Should Win: “Les Misérables.” Given the sheer scale of this production, not to mention its stellar performances, director Tom Hooper’s cinematic opus outpaces everything else in the field. It’s already won best picture (musical or comedy) at the Golden Globe Awards and truly deserves to take home top honors at the Oscars.

Possible Dark Horses: Despite the plethora of nominations it received, “Lincoln” realistically has to be seen as a dark horse at best at this point. Its mediocre performance at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards doesn’t bode well, either. The same can be said of “Zero Dark Thirty,” a picture that garnered a lot of early buzz but whose star has faded since becoming embroiled in several controversies involving its content.

Also-Rans: All of the field’s other entries are likely to end up as also-rans, even though they may take home awards in specific categories. “Amour” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” should be grateful just for having been nominated, given their marginal audience appeal. And as for “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Life of Pi” and “Django Unchained,” all of which are audience and/or critical favorites that have achieved varying degrees of excellence and/or acclaim, they’re all almost certain to be outgunned by their more superior competition.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered: I know I’m way out on a limb on this one, but I was seriously disappointed that the reincarnational drama “Cloud Atlas” was overlooked. This incredibly ambitious offering merited much more recognition than it received from audiences and critics alike, not to mention the annual awards competitions. I also was disappointed that “The Dark Knight Rises” was ignored (though, given the unfortunate stigma lingering over this picture, its snubbing does not come as a surprise). The heartwarming independent films “The Sessions” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” would have made fine nominees in this category as well (certainly much more deserving than the vastly overrated, utterly pretentious “Beasts of the Southern Wild”).

Best Actor

The Field: Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”; Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”; Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”; Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Who Will Likely Win: Daniel Day-Lewis. Day-Lewis has been a prohibitive favorite for this honor even before awards season began. He’s a virtual lock in this category, especially in the wake of his wins as best actor (drama) at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards.

Who Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis. As admirable as the other nominees are in their performances, none of them can approach the caliber of Day-Lewis’ outstanding portrayal of the nation’s 16th President.

Possible Dark Horse: If any dark horse emerges, it would be truly shocking. However, if I had to select one, I’d most likely choose Hugh Jackman, who recently captured the Golden Globe Award for best actor (musical or comedy). Nevertheless, despite this win, I believe his chances are so slim at this point that the possibility is barely worth discussing.

Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered: The biggest snub in this category was the exclusion of John Hawkes for his outstanding portrayal of handicapped writer Mark O’Brien in “The Sessions.” Hawkes’ performance, easily the best of his career, was much more deserving of a nomination than Joaquin Phoenix’s overwrought portrayal of a misguided drifter in “The Master.” Other contenders who would have made admirable nominees (but who obviously didn’t make the cut) were Bill Murray for “Hyde Park on Hudson,” Anthony Hopkins for “Hitchcock,” Tommy Lee Jones for “Hope Springs,” Jean-Louis Trintignant for “Amour” and Frank Langella for the quirky “Robot & Frank.”

Best Actress

The Field: Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”; Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

Who Will Likely Win: This is basically a two-horse race between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. At this point, I’d give the edge to Chastain, partly because of the weightier, more demanding nature of her role and partly because of her wins as best actress (drama) at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards. As commendable as Lawrence’s performance is, and despite her wins as best actress (comedy) at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, I don’t believe there’s enough substance to her character to surpass her more serious counterpart.

Who Should Win: Emanuelle Riva. By far, too. This is easily the most demanding role of the five lead actresses, and Riva certainly rises to the occasion, despite the fine performances of her fellow nominees.

Possible Dark Horses: Since a win by Jennifer Lawrence would not come as a totally unexpected surprise, it’s probably not accurate to characterize her as a dark horse in this category. That role would more likely go to either Emmanuelle Riva or Quvenzhané Wallis, but, since neither of their films was widely screened, their nominations should probably be considered their awards. The timely release of “Amour” right before the start of voting could work to Riva’s favor, though foreign language films rarely produce winners in the acting categories.

Also-Ran: Regrettably, the fine performance of Naomi Watts is the one most likely to become lost in the ether, given the popular portrayals turned in by Chastain and Lawrence and the novelty of the nominations given to Riva and Wallis (as the oldest and youngest actress nominees, respectively, ever named by the Academy). One might also argue that Watts’ nomination this year in part is intended to make up for the egregious snub of her positively stellar work in “Fair Game” (2010), a feeble attempt at making amends for a performance that easily could have won her an Oscar.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered: The biggest oversight in this category was the exclusion of Marion Cotillard for the edgy French romance, “Rust and Bone.” Some also would have liked to see Helen Mirren receive a nod for her performance in “Hitchcock,” though I can’t say I’d agree with that recommendation, despite being a big fan of her work.

Best Supporting Actor

The Field: Alan Arkin, “Argo”; Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”; Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”; Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”

Who Will Likely Win: The early money in this category was on Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I’d say he still probably has the edge, especially in light of his win at the Critics Choice Awards. However, Christoph Waltz’s win at the recent Golden Globe Awards may represent a shift in the momentum. I’d still give the advantage to Hoffman, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Waltz overtakes him in a photo finish. Whoever wins at the upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards will probably determine definitively who takes home the Oscar.

Who Should Win: Picking a worthy victor in this category is indeed difficult, since most of the nominees are truly deserving. If pushed to pick a winner, I’d also probably go with Hoffman, though I’d certainly be very pleased with victories by Alan Arkin or Tommy Lee Jones as well.

Possible Dark Horse: Despite a win not that long ago, Alan Arkin could slip in as a dark horse, especially if “Argo” continues to gain momentum in the overall awards race. I don’t think that outcome is likely at this point, but it’s not outside the range of possibility, either.

Also-Rans: It almost seems sacrilegious to think of Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones as also-rans, but, despite their commendable performances, I believe their portrayals are overshadowed by their competition here. Arkin may end up falling victim to the same fate, though I believe the strength of his performance may keep him more in the running than either De Niro or Jones.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered: Limiting the list of nominees here indeed had to be challenging since there were so many worthy contenders this year. Some of the others who merited consideration include Sacha Baron Cohen for “Les Misérables,” Javier Bardem for “Skyfall,” Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson for “Django Unchained,” Michael Caine for “The Dark Knight Rises” and Josh Brolin for his superb (and very underrated) performance in “Men in Black III.”

Best Supporting Actress

The Field: Amy Adams, “The Master”; Sally Field, “Lincoln”; Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”; Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”; Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Who Will Likely Win: Anne Hathaway. As the tragic heroine Fantine, Hathaway gives a powerful performance that outstrips all of her competitors, and, with wins at both the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards, she’s just about cemented her lock on this category.

Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway. Without a doubt, she sets the standard for this category in this year’s competition, despite fine performances by her fellow nominees.

Possible Dark Horses: If for some odd reason Hathaway should fall out of favor between now and the time of the Oscars telecast, Sally Field, Helen Hunt and Amy Adams (in that order) could all step up to take her place. All three turned in excellent performances, and in any other year (without the formidable competition from Hathaway) any of them would have easily been capable of taking home the top prize in this category.

Also-Ran: The tide that swept Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro into their nominations for “Silver Linings Playbook” was likely strong enough to sweep Jacki Weaver into contention for her performance. However, despite an excellent career track record and a capable effort in this offering, her portrayal is easily the weakest in this year’s category, and her exclusion from it would have opened the door for several other more deserving nominees, as noted below.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered: As with the supporting actor category, it had to have been challenging to limit the list of nominees for supporting actress. A number of other performers would have made worthy nominees, including Helena Bonham Carter and Samantha Barks for “Les Misérables,” Ann Dowd for “Compliance,” Judi Dench for “Skyfall” (or “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) and Maggie Smith for “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (or “Quartet”).

Best Director

The Field: Michael Haneke, “Amour”; Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”; David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”; Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”

Who Will Likely Win: At the moment, the director’s award field is fairly wide open since the winner in this category in this year’s prior competitions, Ben Affleck for “Argo,” wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. The exclusion of such other heavy hitters as Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty” and Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables” makes the front runner among the actual nominees a lot less obvious. In light of that, then, I’d have to say that there’s no clear-cut leader at this point, though I’d probably give a very tenuous edge to Steven Spielberg, given that his heavily nominated film is the most popular and most acclaimed among those created by this year’s director nominees (though I believe that advantage is anemic at best).

Who Should Win: I’m not overly enthused about any of the nominees in this category, though, if I had to choose someone from among the choices, I would probably go with Michael Haneke, though with some reservations. If, however, I had to pick a winner regardless of nomination status, I would opt for Tom Hooper for the same reasons that I would choose his film as best picture.

Possible Dark Horses: Essentially, everyone on the list (except Spielberg) would qualify here, though, I’d probably pick David O. Russell as the leading contender among the pack of dark horses. Giving Russell the award may be a way of rewarding the film with at least one statuette in this year’s competition, since it’s very possible that it may lose in the other categories in which it’s nominated.

Also-Rans: Essentially, everyone on the list (except Spielberg and possibly Russell) would, strangely enough, qualify here, too. Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin in particular should consider their nominations as their awards.

Who Else Should Have Been Considered: For the reasons noted above, I believe Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables” clearly should have been named a nominee. Strong cases could also be made for popular contenders like Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained” and Ben Affleck for “Argo.” However, it would have been nice to see the Academy think outside the box a bit, too, by including such other choices as Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings for “Cloud Atlas,” Christopher Nolan for “The Dark Knight Rises” and Ben Lewin for “The Sessions.”

The Oscars will be presented on February 24, live on ABC-TV. Check back with this page after the ceremony to see how I did. In the meantime, be sure to check out more about some of the nominated films, as well as some that didn’t make the cut, including their web sites and trailers and my reviews, at the following links:

Amour”: web site, trailer, review

“Argo”: web site, trailer, review

“Flight”: web site, trailer, review

“The Impossible”: web site, trailer, review

“Les Misérables”: web site, trailer, review

“Life of Pi”: web site, trailer, review

“Lincoln”: web site, trailer, review

“The Master”: web site, trailer, review

“The Sessions”: web site, trailer, review

“Silver Linings Playbook”: web site, trailer, review

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: web site, trailer, review

“Cloud Atlas”: web site, trailer, review

“Compliance”: web site, trailer, review

“The Dark Knight Rises”: web site, trailer, review

“Hitchcock”: web site, trailer, review

“Hope Springs”: web site, trailer, review

“Men in Black III”: web site, trailer, review

“Quartet”: web site, trailer, review

“Robot & Frank”: web site, trailer, review

“Rust and Bone”: web site, trailer, review

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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