2013 Oscar Predictions
I’ve watched every Academy Awards presentation since 1972.
And without any doubt, I can say this is the very worst year for movies in more than four decades. Nonetheless, I’m still going to be watching and cheering come Sunday night.
Here are my picks and preferences for each of the major categories:
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
WHO WILL WIN — Sally Field doesn’t deserve a nomination. But I expect she’ll win a tight race because several factors are on her side. First, Field has been around forever and has more than paid her dues with peers. She won her first of two Oscars for Norma Rae some thirty years ago, made even more memorable for delivering that endearing, “You like me, you really like me” speech. This year, I expect some in Hollywood will throw a few extra votes her way for a role she worked so hard to get (and was initially rejected for because she was too old), in a film with real substance. I also think the “age thing” is a bit of a wild card with many people, who could be more sympathetic to the prospect of an older actress playing someone younger (which almost never happens). This appears to be a two-actress race, with Anne Hathaway as the chief rival, and she could certainly take home the golden statue for the first time. But Field has a lot of friends in Hollywood and it won’t hurt that she appears in a highly-praised Spielberg film. Look for Field to possibly edge out the far more deserving Hathaway. Nobody else in this category has a shot.
WHO SHOULD WIN — Anne Hathaway should blow everyone else away for what she accomplished in Les Miserables. Already widely liked and highly respected as an actress, Hathaway nailed a tough role demonstrating an extraordinary range of talent requiring pitch-perfect vocalization, physical stamina, and the skills/guts to gamble on a part that could have been an embarrassment had she not smacked it out of the park. The trouble for Hathaway is, her movie did not perform well at the box office and there also seems to be some resistance to stand-out performances in musicals — notwithstanding West Side Story and Chicago dominating the Oscars the years they won. I’ve loved Hathaway’s work for years, and hope she wins. But I think she falls just short in votes this year. I’m predicting an upset.
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
WHO WILL WIN — Robert De Niro will probably get the nod among a stellar lineup of previous Oscar winners. I wasn’t much a fan of De Niro’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook (or the entire movie for that matter), but there’s no one in this group who delivered enough of a stand-out performance that makes me shy away from my wager on De Niro. Moreover, the one performance I did like (see below) performed so poorly at the box office, I’m not sure it has any chance to deliver a win in any category. Tommy Lee Jones appears the most likely challenger to the two-time Oscar winner De Niro — but all I saw from him in Lincoln was Tommy Lee Jones playing himself (he’s the only Pennsylvania senator in history with a Texas accent). The other viable threat is the marvelously evil Christoph Waltz for his work in Django Unchained. But I suspect his win for a very similar role (Inglorious Basterds) will hurt Waltz this year in the same way supporting actor Joe Pesci missed out for his excellent work in Casino, simply because he won two years previously for a similar character part in Goodfellas. Oscar voters have a strange way of holding back on repeat winners within a short time frame (unless it’s Meryl Streep, of course).
WHO SHOULD WIN — Philip Seymour Hoffman typically plays each performance with just the right balance of intensity and subtlety. Here’s a perfect example, with Hoffman cast as the religious guru in The Master. This was another film I despised. But standing amidst the rubble of a horrendous script and poorly contrived story, Hoffman rose high above his lackluster surroundings and made the most out of the role. Hoffman won’t win. But he should get his second Oscar for what was undoubtedly the most challenging of any of the five-film roles nominated in this category.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
WHO WILL WIN — Jennifer Lawrence was the single best thing to come out of the dull and mediocre movie Silver Linings Playbook, which inexplicably became a huge hit. She stole every scene she appeared in (overwhelming poor Bradley Cooper, who was hopelessly outclassed in talent), bringing just the right personality to a challenging role that required both toughness and tenderness. I have no problem with Lawrence winning the Oscar for a performance reminiscent of so many strong-but-flawed female characters who won Oscars in the past — whether it was Liz Taylor for Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, or Kathy Bates in Misery, or Faye Dunaway in Network. Wacky women are often worth their weight in Oscar gold.
WHO SHOULD WIN — Emmanuelle Riva’s performance hasn’t been seen by many people, including Oscar voters (I’ve yet to see Amour and haven’t met anyone that’s seen it). But given what I know of her previous work and all the intangibles of this performance and demands on her as an actress, this is probably the most deserving choice — with all due respect to Lawrence. First, Riva is 86-years-old, making her the oldest actress ever to be nominated in this category. Next, she plays a role that must be extraordinarily personal and even difficult — which is someone at the very end of life. The clips I have seen of Riva are heartbreaking, especially if you are familiar with her wonderful work in French cinema during the 1960s. A sentimental choice here, made stronger by the French having done well at the Academy Awards in recent years. So, she’s certainly got a shot.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
WHO WILL WIN — Daniel Day Lewis is as close to a lock as anyone who’s ever been nominated in this category. Not since Marlon Brando’s legendary portrayal as The Godfather (1972) has an actor in a leading role so perfectly brought the totality of a character to film. Lewis is virtually assured of winning the golden statue for the third time for playing the title role in Lincoln. With a string of memorable but completely different roles in films such as Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, and now Lincoln — Daniel Day Lewis now belongs in the same acting pantheon as the greatest film actors of all time — including Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Lawrence Oliver, and perhaps only a couple of others.
WHO SHOULD WIN — No surprise here. This is Daniel Day Lewis’ year. And to list Bradley Cooper among these other four — including Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix, and Hugh Jackman is laughable unless Cooper is shining their shoes.
WHO WILL WIN — Steven Spielberg probably edges out the competition this year for yet another strong effort in an extraordinary film career. I’ve heard some backlash against Spielberg citing Lincoln isn’t exactly his best work, which is undoubtedly true. Then again, no one will ever match Spielberg’s master craftsmanship in Schindler’s List. So, these kinds of comparisons are terribly unfair. The only viable threat to Spielberg appears to be Ang Lee, for his marvelous work on Life of Pi. But when handicapping which director is likely to win, I haven’t sensed much enthusiasm for Lee or his film in either of the top two categories. I expect many voters will simply opt for the safe choice this year, and Spielberg is as safe as it gets, even though he unforgivably butchered what should have been the masterpiece of The War Horse last year, about which I’m still bitter.
WHO SHOULD WIN — I didn’t care for either of Ang Lee’s two previous highly-celebrated achievements (Crouching Tiger/ Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain). But his work on Life of Pi epitomizes what great film making should be all about — which is taking bold risks, confronting serious issues, and getting the very most out of the story and bringing it all to life. Lee’s sense of direction in this movie is astoundingly obvious. All the moving parts fit together perfectly in this film, which was a difficult task merging traditional storytelling with high-tech special effects and images. Lee faced some serious challenges with this complex story of survival on the high seas and the bar of expectation was set high. But even though Life of Pi remains a flawed movie, there were enough brilliant moments on the screen to warrant a trip to the stage for Lee. With respect to Spielberg, little about Lincoln required hands-on direction, visually speaking. Spielberg could simply let Daniel Day Lewis do his thing and the scene would shine. By comparison, Lee had to construct a visually entertaining experience from the same scene set out on a life raft day after day. He managed to exceed anything of this genre that’s ever been done before on film. I’d go so far to say Life of Pi is arguably the most stunning visual feast for the eyes since many of the classic battle scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Apocolypse Now.
WHO WILL WIN — That Argo is even nominated in such a prestigious category shows what a horrendously disappointing year this has been for movies. In a year with few standout cinematic achievements — save for Daniel Day Lewis’ epic lead performance and Ang Lee’s direction — picking a “Best Picture” winner from this brood of mediocrity has little to do with celebrating originality. Rather, it’s about politics and popularity. Indeed, here’s the perfect illustration of an Oscar race where the popular choice and personalities will probably win. Since vastly overrated actor-director Ben Affleck was snubbed in the minds of many in Hollywood, being left off the “Best Director” list (actually — that’s one thing the Academy got right, this year), support seems to have rebounded strongly in support of Argo. No doubt, this is a decent film, but nothing memorable. Unfortunately, each of the remaining nominees has serious baggage — Lincoln drags, Life of Pi is too surreal, Zero Dark Thirty is a remake of The Hurt Locker, Silver Linings Playbook is too light to be taken seriously, Les Miserables bombed at the box office, Django Unchained is yet another tireless sequel in Tarantino’s ceaseless encyclopedia of violence of the absurd, Beasts of the Southern Wild is way too un-Hollywood and low budget and Amour makes you want to blow your brains out. Argo has won just about every award (Screen Actor’s Guild, Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards) leading up to this moment. I’m not sure anything can stop the momentum of Argo being the favorite. All of this makes Argo the ideal lead vehicle crossing the finish line first, amidst a field of cinematic clunkers.
WHO SHOULD WIN — Nobody. That’s right. No film should win. Whoever opens up the gold-sealed envelope on Sunday night should rip it open and find total air. He should then announce, “No film deserves to win this year,” and leave the stage. Look at the memorable masterpieces that have graced this category over the decades — Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, Schindler’s List, and so forth. Now, we’re going to stick a film like Argo next to those stunning cinematic achievements? Do you think anyone’s going to be talking about Argo five years from now? No. As an acceptable compromise, I could certainly live with Lincoln winning the statue. At least Lincoln winning doesn’t poison the well. Another film I could give a nod to is the flawed but sporadically brilliant Life of Pi — a remarkable story and a bold creative vision filled with magical moments. In short, I could swallow either Lincoln or Life of Pi getting the Academy Award without too much indigestion.
That said, here’s the final scene I’d love to see at the end of the night, which happened the very first time I remember watching the Oscars some forty years ago.