Hollywood is aflutter with anticipation (and in some cases anxiety) over the impending nominations for the 85th Academy Awards. At 5:30 tomorrow morning, the ubiquitous Gangster Squad star Emma Stone and irreverent Oscar host Seth MacFarlane will reveal who’s still in the race and who’s left to try again next year. While Hollywood’s biggest stars fret, the rest of us fervent fans will pass the time playing the guessing game. We’ll take you through the six major categories so you won’t be left in the dust in your Oscar nomination pool.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Spoiler: Moonrise Kingdom
The Big Category comes with an aggravating bonus challenge for pundits like me – predicting not only which films will make the cut, but how many films will be on the ballot! By the Academy’s recent rule change, anywhere between five and ten films can be nominated, depending on how many films receive 5% of all first place votes. Thus, my nominations reflect both last year’s number of nominees (an infuriating nine) as well as the number of films I think could garner that crucial 5%. There are six locks – Argo, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. These six films have divided and conquered awards group all across the land in what is perhaps the most exciting Best Picture race in a decade. Sure, only Life of Pi and perhaps Zero Dark Thirty are invested with any substantial amount of originality – but for the first time in quite a long time, it’s anyone’s guess as to who the frontrunner may be. I’d say that, as of now, it’s looking like a three-legged race to the podium for Argo, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty. All this indecision over what’s a consensus choice and what isn’t paves the way for lower percentages for each of the six frontrunners, and more room for worthy also-rans.
With those six surefire nominees, it looks like only six additional films are still in the running. There are two blockbusters – a dark and reinvigorating 007 outing, Skyfall, and a violent Quentin Tarantino spaghetti western-slash-slavery drama, Django Unchained. The Academy most recently honored Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds with a Best Picture nomination, and I’m willing to bet several of my best steeds Django Unchained will slip onto the ballot. With one buzzy action flick already honored, it’s hard to imagine they’d honor Skyfall, which is already deeply embedded in the Franchise Film Ghetto. The remaining slots, if there are any, are left for the year’s most talked-about art and indie films. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a magical look into the life of a young girl in Louisiana’s post-Katrina, post-apocalyptic wasteland, while Amour is the latest in a line of dark, disturbing, and utterly brilliant psychological studies directed by Michael Haneke. The Academy has only ever nominated eight foreign-language films in the Best Picture category, and as much as we all wish that would change, it appears Beasts will win out over Amour.
The final slot in my nine-film ballot will undoubtedly go to an Anderson. Wes Anderson’s delightful Moonrise Kingdom was everyone’s favorite quirky indie of the year, and it’s quite certainly on the tail end of most ballots this year. In contrast, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master drew intense, polarizing reactions from crowds, and as such may be the most disseminated film of the year. Though it has more detractors than Moonrise Kingdom, what cult followers The Master does have will likely place it as their number one vote. Much like last year’s The Tree of Life, I’m predicting scattered love for The Master will defeat widespread but less intense support for Moonrise Kingdom.
Ben Affleck, Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Spoiler: Tom Hooper, Les Misérables
Many are calling 2012 the best film year of the new decade (so far), and it’s easy to see why. An outrageous number of established pantheon filmmakers have released major new films this year, including Ben Affleck, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Kathryn Bigelow, Michael Haneke, Tom Hooper, Peter Jackson, Ang Lee, John Madden, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell, Ridley Scott, Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant, the Wachowskis, Joss Whedon, Joe Wright, and Robert Zemeckis, to name a few. The year also saw the rise of several invigorating young filmmakers in the likes of Stephen Chbosky, Nicholas Jarecki, Rian Johnson, and Benh Zeitlin. With this many names in contention, Best Director will inevitably end up as the category with the most snubs.
Sifting through the list above must be daunting for Academy voters, but it’s generally agreed that Affleck, Bigelow, and Spielberg’s respective films are frontrunners for Best Picture, and therefore safe bets for Best Director nominations. Life of Pi may be quietly distancing itself from the likes of Argo and Lincoln, but it’s generally agreed that Life of Pi featured some of the best cinematography and visual storytelling of the year – which means Ang Lee will most definitely take up the fourth Best Director slot. The Director’s Guild has also nominated Tom Hooper for his work in Les Misérables, but recent snubs and directorial derision from critics with both positive and negative takes on the film leave me wary of calling him a safe bet. Les Miz may racket up the second-highest number of nominations (after Lincoln), but the Academy’s director’s branch is generally more artsy and elitist than the all-inclusive Director’s Guild. The same tide of cult love for The Master, I’m guessing, will carry Paul Thomas Anderson into the year’s left-field slot.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Denzel Washington, Flight
Spoiler: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Best Actor is a curious conundrum of a category with six sure things and only five slots. The lock of all locks is Daniel Day-Lewis for his layered performance as the Great Emancipator in Lincoln – with a historical role patting progressive American politicians on the back supplemented by a genuinely great performance, it’s safe to see Day-Lewis is on track to win his third Academy Award. The excitement in the category, like Best Supporting Actress, is not so much held in the winner but the nominees. Trailing a long way behind Day-Lewis pant John Hawkes (nudity and illness!) and Denzel Washington (drugs and drunkenness!), while Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman – both of whom are seeking their first nominations – have quietly gained steam over the last few weeks. Jackman’s nomination is largely dependent on how widespread support is for Les Misérables outside of Anne Hathaway, while Cooper is hoping to ride the wave that may carry Jennifer Lawrence all the way to the podium.
The only two actors who even have a shot of unseating any of these five are Richard Gere, for his slick performance as a Wall Street bigwig in Arbitrage, and Joaquin Phoenix, as a disturbed Naval veteran seduced by a Scientology-esque cult in The Master. Phoenix was once the leader of the pack, but his comments lambasting the frivolity of Oscar campaigns have seriously hurt his chances. While many – including the equally vocal but less lauded Anthony Hopkins, who’ll sit out the ceremony for his role as the other Master in Hitchcock – sympathize with his indignation, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of Academy members, especially those in the bloated acting branch, have never been nominated.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Spoiler: Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Like Best Actor, this is a category with six major contenders, one of which is bound to top the perfunctory lists of snubs sure to hit the web Thursday evening. Whoever that may be, it won’t be Jennifer Lawrence, for her virtuoso performance as a washed-out young widow in the heartwarming Silver Linings Playbook, or Jessica Chastain, for her restrained turn as a calculating CIA analyst in Zero Dark Thirty. The major awards of the season have thus far been split between the two young actresses, both of which were nominated for the first time in the past three years, and one of them is destined to take home the Oscar. All hopes for tsunami drama The Impossible seem to rest entirely on the raw intensity of Naomi Watts, and she’s also a safe bet for a nomination.
There were hopes for Helen Mirren’s performance as Hitchcock’s long-suffering wife Alma in the creatively titled Hitchcock, but they largely faded when the film underperformed both critically and commercially. Thus the list is whittled down to Riva, Wallis, and Cotillard. Of the three, I’m willing to bet popular acclaim for indie darling Beasts of the Southern Wild will manifest itself in a nomination for Wallis. Wallis, who would be the youngest ever Best Actress nominee, has the advantage of Beasts‘ early release and long gestation period in voters’ minds. Both Riva and Cotillard are equally worthy of nominations, but the Academy is notoriously xenophobic, and it’s unlikely they’ll honor two foreign-language performances. The truncated voting period may mean less voters were able to see Rust and Bone, and I’m betting that the critical knockout of Michael Haneke’s Amour will secure Emmanuelle Riva her first nomination.
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Spoiler: Javier Bardem, Skyfall
In a wild inverse of the lead acting categories, both supporting categories are wide open for surprises to muscle their way in last-minute. Best Supporting Actor has four locks whose names have been popping up together fairly regularly. Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Tommy Lee Jones have all won before, and all have given what have been heralded as career-best performances with acerbic line readings. Philip Seymour Hoffman lead the pack early on for his role as a cult leader in the role of L. Ron Hubbard, though the polarizing taste The Master left in many viewers’ mouths may force them to turn to Tommy Lee Jones, who’s overdue for a second trip to the podium.
Three character actors in juicy, much-discussed villainous roles are competing for the final nomination. Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson are each drawing praise for their roles in Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western Django Unchained, while Javier Bardem may wriggle his way onto the Oscar ballot much the same way eventual winner Heath Ledger did four years ago for his similar turn as a sociopathic supervillain. Ultimately, Jackson’s role may be too small and Bardem’s previous win in the category too recent for either to gain enough traction. A healthy dose of Leo love and variety’s sake will likely catapult DiCaprio into the final slot.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Spoiler: Ann Dowd, Compliance
Like Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress has four sure things. Anne Hathaway is not only a lock for a nomination, but her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” has united Les Miz lovers and haters alike in a unanimous campaign for the gold. If anyone can steal the gold away from Hathaway, it’s two-time winner Sally Field for her majestic and fierce role as the President’s troubled wife in Lincoln. Expect the daring Helen Hunt – who won Best Actress for As Good as It Gets, another film in which she appeared nude – and Academy favorite Amy Adams – who’s been nominated in the category three times in the last seven years – to appear alongside Hathaway and Field on the ballot.
Unlike Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress has no clear pool of contenders ready to take the fifth slot. There are very, very low rumblings for Les Misérables costars Samantha Barks and Helena Bonham Carter, and Nicole Kidman has been getting bizarre nominations for her turn in the critically panned The Paperboy. There’s been a grassroots – and largely last-minute – campaign to get Ann Dowd’s fearless work in Compliance recognized, but I’m placing my faith in the always solid Jacki Weaver. Like The Help last year, it’s clear that Silver Linings Playbook is the actor’s film of the year, and fans may jump at the chance to secure the film’s ensemble nominations in all four categories.
Share your predictions in the comments, and check back tomorrow to see how our predictions fared!