I always get annoyed at this time of year, as everyone, their cat and the cat’s veterinarian insists that they know better than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy consists of filmmakers, writers, producers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, make-up artists, production designers, sound engineers, visual effects artists and so on, yet any random blogger or Facebook poster somehow knows better than they do. The Academy members have opinions like the rest of us, and are possibly better informed about what counts as “good” cinematography, editing or sound mixing than lay people. But if they do not, I hardly think my opinion or that of any one else is superior to that of AMPAS. The awards presented are based on the opinions of the voters, so they are only opinions like any other. You may disagree, which is fine, but that doesn’t make your opinion better. I am not so arrogant, so I offer no position on who should win, but on who I believe will win, and why. On a similar note, here is an example of how an actual Academy member has voted.
Right, rant over. The critics awards, the Golden Globes, the PGA, the DGA, the BAFTAs and the WGA have come and gone. On 24th February the 85th Annual Academy Awards take place, so it’s time to get predictions in. The votes have all been cast so the decisions are made, and results kept under security comparable to that of nuclear missile launch codes. The presentation of other awards can indicate the way the Oscars will go, so here are my predictions for the 85th Annual Academy Awards.
Prediction – Argo
A month ago I would not have believed it, but if the Oscars follow the other awards, as they usually do, Argo will be the first film to win Best Picture that is not nominated for Achievement in Directing since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. Based on its track record, I predict Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov will add to their collection this Sunday.
Of the nine nominees, I have seen seven, and they are all strong films. Les Misérables is a fine musical, but its strengths seem to mostly derive from the music, its cinematic elements working less effectively. Django Unchained is a strong story, firmly directed, that takes an interesting approach to screen violence, but is overlong and indulgent. Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi are the lighter films though both deal with serious material. Silver Linings Playbook presents people with mental illness in a way that is neither indulgent nor patronising, not asking for our sympathy yet generating it anyway, which is impressive. Life of Pi is a meta-fictional bonanza with extraordinary technical accomplishments, but perhaps a little whimsical for the Academy members’ taste. Lincoln is an impressive “important” film, that presents its worth themes as a cracking political drama. Argo is a great comedy thriller, balancing many disparate elements and promoting international co-operation, and it’s based on a true story, which the Academy love. Zero Dark Thirty is a fantastic thriller that had me clenched in my seat as the events unfolded, which is impressive as the end result was of course known. Like Argo, ZDT is based on a true story, but a much darker one and the controversy around the film has likely hurt its chances. It’s a shame that arguments other than cinematic quality influence Academy voters, but on the other hand it demonstrates social awareness, which not a bad thing.
In several ways, Argo fits the bill for a Best Picture winner – positive true story; America gets to be a hero without doing anything nasty; it’s politically correct as the film does not present the Iranian revolution nor Iranians in a negative light; and it pokes fun at Hollywood itself. A win for Argo will prove that Hollywood does have a sense of humour about itself!
Achievement in Directing
Prediction – Ang Lee
This is the hardest category to predict, because the obvious contender isn’t nominated. Ben Affleck has won the Golden Globe, the DGA and the BAFTA, and all well deserved. Unlike his previous directional efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck did not write Argo and it is not about his hometown, so Argo proves that he can handle different material and, with such a range of tones and concerns in Argo, the film is a triumph of direction. But AMPAS have not nominated him, which means the field is fairly open. Not completely, however. Michael Haneke is a long shot, especially as Amour is very likely to win Foreign Language Picture. First time nominees do occasionally win, so Benh Zeitlin has a chance, but a very small one considering the weight of the other nominees. David O’Russell has a slightly better chance, since Silver Linings Playbook is a very honoured film, the first film since Reds in 1981 to be nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Screenplay and in all four acting categories. Furthermore, SLP has superb direction, generating pathos and bathos with excellent balance, judgement and pace. A win for O’Russell would be well deserved.
However, I think this category comes down to the two previous winners. Steven Spielberg won Achievement in Directing in 1993 for Schindler’s List and again in 1998 for Saving Private Ryan. Interestingly, Saving Private Ryan, unlike Schindler’s List, did not win Best Picture. Similarly, Lincoln is unlikely to win Best Picture, so it could be a repeat performance of 1998. That said, Spielberg might pull an upset and pick up both a third Directing Oscar, and a Best Picture win as well. If I had a vote, it would go to Spielberg.
However, I think it more likely that Ang Lee will win a second Oscar. He previously won in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, which missed out on Best Picture. The reason I think he is likely to win over Spielberg is simply that Life of Pi is a more directed film than Lincoln. Spielberg himself has said that he took a backseat and let his camera record the actors’ performances of Tony Kushner’s script, rather than employ the range of directorial tricks he has developed over an illustrious career. Life of Pi, however, is a very mobile film, directed to within an inch of its life. It uses 3D in a remarkable way, creating depth of field and utilising different planes within the frame, and this was clear to me even though I saw it in 2D. A great assembly of visual effects, both seascape and character, combined with a meta-fictional story about storytelling, which can appeal to all ages, adds up to a film that is a remarkable achievement in directing. Therefore, I predict that Ang Lee will pick up his second Oscar.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Prediction – Daniel Day-Lewis
No contest really. If Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t win this after his success at the Golden Globes, the SAG and the BAFTAs, the sound of jaws hitting the floor will drown out the applause for the surprise winner. If there were a runner-up prize, I’d predict Hugh Jackman. But let’s be honest, Day-Lewis has this in the bag.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Prediction – Emmanuelle Riva
This is another tough one, as the results have been varied. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain picked up Golden Globes, but the BAFTA went to Emmanuelle Riva. Chastain also picked up the SAG, which might give her a slight edge as most of the acting members of the Academy are also guild members. Of the two I’ve seen, I would pick Chastain because of the steady change her character goes through over the course of Zero Dark Thirty, from brittle to steely to drained. But age could be a factor here. Riva is the oldest Best Actress nominee in the history of the Academy, and at the age of 85 is unlikely to be nominated again. And it was only a few years ago that Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for Ma Vie en Rose, so being in a foreign film is no embargo either. Furthermore, Riva is playing a character suffering from a disability, which the Academy loves (see previous winners Cotillard, Jamie Foxx, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kathy Bates, Anthony Hopkins). I have not seen Amour, but based on age and type of performance, I predict that Riva will be the recipient of Best Actress this year. And I certainly hope she does, as February 24th will be her 86th birthday, and there could be no greater gift than that.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Prediction – Christoph Waltz
A two-horse race, but a very fine set of performances from some very fine actors. Everyone here has at least one award (and De Niro has two), so who is going to add to their collection? Based on awards already given, Tommy Lee Jones received the SAG award, while the Golden Globe and the BAFTA went to Christoph Waltz. I predict the Academy will follow suit, and Waltz will be thanking Quentin Tarantino again come Oscar night.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Prediction – Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway has won every award available for her stunning performance in Les Misérables, and there is no reason to suspect that will change at the Oscars. Hopefully her laryngitis will have cleared up by the time she has to make her speech.
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Prediction – Quentin Tarantino
A fistful of impressive screenwriters, and the only non-contender is John Gatins. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola have an outside chance, as do Mark Boal and Michael Haneke. It’d be interesting for Amour to pull off some upsets, but I predict this will go to Tarantino. Three years ago, Tarantino and Boal competed for this award, and Boal was victorious for The Hurt Locker. This time, I think QT will get his second award, eighteen years after winning for Pulp Fiction.
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Prediction – David O’Russell
Benh Zeitlin is doing well, having this nomination as well as various others (shared, obviously). That said, I think he’ll have to make do with the nomination, as there are some very strong contenders in this category. Much of Argo’s power comes from its screenplay, which details the complex events without getting bogged down in detail. Life of Pi was touted as unfilmable, so to have made a screenplay out of it is a feat in itself. Lincoln has attracted a lot of admiration, but of all the awards Silver Linings Playbook is up for, this is its best chance to win. David O’Russell has already won the BAFTA, although the WGA went to Chris Terrio. SLP has many great features, but its screenplay may be its best element, delicate yet harsh, warm and witty but filled with pain and suffering. It seems unlikely that a film nominated in all the major categories will leave with nothing, so I predict Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, will got to David O’Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Prediction – Brave
Pixar’s reign over animation looks set to continue, as Brave picked up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. I predict it will receive the Oscar as well.
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
War Witch (Canada)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Prediction – Amour
Anything can happen, but I expect Amour will get some amour from the Academy.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Prediction – Life of Pi
Roger Deakins is long overdue an Oscar, and with Skyfall he did something remarkable with digital cinematography. But in this extremely technical category, I predict the Academy voters will reward the latest advance in 3D cinematography, Life of Pi. 3D may not be the next big thing in cinema, but it is a major development in cinematography and, like Avatar and Hugo in previous years, I anticipate this award going to the major 3D movie, Life of Pi.
Best Achievement in Editing
Prediction – Argo
It is a common pattern that the winner of Best Picture also wins Achievement in Editing – note all of these nominees are up for Best Picture as well. Since Argo is the frontrunner to win Best Picture, I predict it will also win Editing. Furthermore, much of Argo’s tension and humour is generated by its editing, so it is fitting that it should win this award.
Best Achievement in Production Design
Prediction – Les Misérables
Tough call, as the production design on all of these is impressive. Period films often pick up this award, so Lincoln, Les Misérables and Anna Karenina are all possibilities. It is hard to draw a line between visual effects and production design in Life of Pi, so that is less likely. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a good chance, as the design of Middle Earth is breathtakingly realized. It could go many ways, but I predict Les Misérables.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Prediction – Anna Karenina
Another one that often goes to costume dramas, unsurprisingly. I predict Anna Karenina.
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Prediction – Les Misérables
Les Misérables pulled off the remarkable feat of making the impossibly gorgeous Anne Hathaway look ugly, so I see it attracting an award here as well.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Prediction – Skyfall
I so want Skyfall to win awards that I don’t care what they are. John Williams’ score for Lincoln is masterful, but I barely remember the music of Argo or Life of Pi. Thomas Newman has already won a BAFTA, and I predict he will win the Oscar as well.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Prediction – “Skyfall”
And Original Song should be a no-brainer – Skyfall again.
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
Prediction – Les Misérables
At the Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards, Life of Pi picked up sound editing, music in a feature film and sound editing, dialogue and ADR in a feature film. Its chances of picking up awards on Oscar night are pretty good. That said, Les Misérables picked up the BAFTA, and pulls off the impressive feat of balancing live-recorded singing with the other parts of the soundtrack. Could go either way, but on the night I pick Les Miserables.
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Prediction – Life of Pi
I pick Life of Pi for this award.
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Prediction – Life of Pi
Life of Pi, easily, because it uses its effects in a rich and immersive manner. Ang Lee’s film has already won other awards for its effects, and I predict it will continue its winning ways.
Best Documentary, Feature
Going out on a limb, because it has won some awards already, Searching for Sugar Man.
Best Documentary, Short Subject
Best Short Film, Animated
I’d be very pleased if The Simpsons picked up an award, so I’ll speculatively predict that it will.
Best Short Film, Live Action
If I’m right, Life of Pi and Les Miserables will be the big winners this year, each potentially winning four awards. If Ang Lee wins Directing, that will put him in the unenviable position of having won Directing twice, but neither time having his film win Best Picture. Conceivably, upsets could be pulled and Pi might have a big sweep, collecting Adapted Screenplay and Picture as well, or I might be very wrong and Lincoln sweeps the board, collecting Supporting Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Picture. I think this unlikely, but then again, this is Hollywood, where, as we all know, nobody knows anything.