Oscar Circuit – The Calm Before the Storm (No Pun Intended)

Writing this LIVE in the middle of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, what’s a better time to talk about Oscar Predictions than now.  As we enter the leg of the season this November, some categories start to look more clear and less of a mystery.  Some films also emerge as the ones to beat.

This past weekend Ben Affleck’s Argo took the #1 spot at the Box Office with the word-of-mouth spreading, the film, at this point, looks like the one to beat in Best Picture and Best Director.  In response to the acting possibilities, some think that Affleck could show up like Clint Eastwood did in the year of Million Dollar Baby (2004) in Best Actor.  It’s hard to imagine Daniel Day-Lewis, John Hawkes, and Joaquin Phoenix missing out on nominations with Denzel Washington in a comfortable fourth spot.  Affleck and about fifteen other leading hopefuls are fighting for the fifth spot.  Richard Gere’s goodwill charm and the lack of Oscar nominations to his credit may catapult him forward to his first mention in his forty-year career in Nicholas Jarecki’s Arbitrage.  The film itself could follow the way of last year’s Margin Call, which surprised with an Original Screenplay mention on Oscar nomination morning.

The Weinstein Company has lots of important choices to make with the slate they have in their arsenal.  The two favorites, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, both look as though they would have a hard time winning the top prizes.  Do the Weinsteins look the way of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained or Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly to get them more wins?  Likely not because both are said to be insanely violent and AMPAS doesn’t look kindly on those type of genres.

Warner Brothers has an impressive slate on their hands with The Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas opening this past weekend.  With such divisive reviews, the film will need a core group in the Academy to make a Best Picture lineup like The Tree of Life last year.  The studio also has Ben Affleck’s Argo to push substantially and with a sure-fire bet on an Oscar nomination, they’ll put their money heavy to pull it through the season.  Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey are on their rosters as well.  The former may fall in line with a few technical nominations while the latter has many pundits skeptical on its quality chances.

Dreamworks and Disney will have their pony, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, in the most high-profile spots for the remainder of the year.  Its scheduled showing at AFI, along with dozens of Academy screenings occurring, the film is a serious threat to win a large amount of accolades during the critics’ awards.  I find it very hard to see any of the three mentioned performers, Day-Lewis, Sally Field, and Tommy Lee Jones winning their third and second Oscars respectively.  Spielberg will have a hard time himself attempting to take a third directing Oscar for himself in less than twenty years.

Universal Pictures is letting the mystery surrounding Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables accumulate until they decide to pounce on its chances in early December.  My predictions game plan is to hold on to Richard Gere until I see Les Miserables and feel incline to replace him with Hugh Jackman, an actor who isn’t as bad as he’s been given credit for in his career.  One thing that the writers and I spoke about on this week’s Power Hour was if Hooper’s film were to disappoint and take itself out of the running, who would replace Anne Hathaway as the frontrunner in Supporting Actress?  Would the Weinsteins push Amy Adams harder or would they allow someone like Kerry Washington from Django Unchained or Jacki Weaver film Silver Linings Playbook to take the reins?

The big talk of the town this past week was the “almost” set decision of Sony Pictures to push Jessica Chastain in the Lead Actress category for Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty.  For weeks, I’ve haven’t been comfortable with calling Jennifer Lawrence the one to beat in the role of Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook.  If Chastain is as good as we hope she can be, a lot of good will left over from her nomination from The Help could place her front and center for her first Oscar.  Early word also suggests that Jennifer Ehle and Jason Clarke are two supporting standouts in the film.  We’ll have to wait to see if those rumors are in fact true.

Fox Searchlight’s slate seems to no longer have the sure bets it once had.  Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild has a very early release date and with AMPAS screeners just received this past weekend, will there be enough buzz to keep it above water the rest of the season?  Especially with its disqualification from the SAG Awards.  With Chastain going Lead, Quvenzhane Wallis holds on to the fifth spot by a thread.  Naomi Watts from J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible, Emmanuelle Riva from Michael Haneke’s Amour, and Keira Knightley from Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina are all in the hunt for consideration.

According to reports, Frances McDormand will be campaigned Lead for her role in Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, a film I’ve backed off considerably on these round of updates.  Though Focus Features will place a campaign behind the film, Anna Karenina and Moonrise Kingdom may be safer and more viable contenders for them to push.  Not to mention, even though it did receive poor reviews out of festivals, Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson along with Bill Murray and Laura Linney are names that could pop up periodically throughout the season.

Paramount Pictures has a slate full of deserving yet longshot contenders.  While Denzel Washington is more than assured for his work in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, co-stars John Goodman and Kelly Reilly are both worthy citations from the film that may have a hard time gaining traction.  Goodman has Argo and Reilly is virtually unknown.

Although I didn’t care for the film, David Chase’s Not Fade Away has its admirers especially for lead John Magaro and James Gandolfini.  Both are likely to be forgotten.  I have become smitten with the screenplay of the Duplass Brothers and the performance of Jason Segel in Jeff, Who Lives at Home.  Both are likely to not even get a Las Vegas Critics nomination this year but every year we seem to have worthy contenders that get left off.  Just another day at the office.

When looking at the longlist of contenders in each category, I’m looking for films, performances, and technical achievements that we may be underestimating as we go into the heart of Phase I of the awards season:

  • John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may have pundits still looking for Maggie Smith but what of a surprise inclusion for Judi Dench.  A Lead Actress race that is anything bu t exciting, Fox Searchlight could put her in conversation without even trying.
  • Word and reviews have suggested that Pauline Collins gives the only worthy performance in Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet.  Could a British voting body come to her aid?
  • I spoke about this earlier in the season but if Leonardo DiCaprio turns out to be nothing to write about in Django Unchained, who would win Best Supporting Actor?  Could we really see Philip Seymour Hoffman winning a second Oscar right now?  Same goes for Tommy Lee Jones and Alan Arkin.  Assuming I’m right, would John Goodman become the favorite this late in the season with Arkin stealing votes away in a more showy and substantial role?  A veteran cloud come across the Academy and we may find William H. Macy in contention for his first Oscar in The Sessions.  If Hawkes and Hunt are as secured as they seem for The Sessions, it may be easy to go with Macy too.
  • Could small films get their due?  Melanie Lynskey has been an up and coming actress for years and blazed onto the screens almost twenty years ago in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.  Her work in Hello I Must Be Going has been praised and loved by critics alike.  A carefully placed SAG nomination could give her the boost needed to make the Best Actress lineup.
  • Crossing our fingers for Alexandre Desplat to win an overdue Oscar for one of his many compositions this year or Jonny Greenwood to finally be deemed “qualified” for his stunning music in The Master.  Im looking towards a fifth(I can’t believe he hasn’t won yet) nomination for Danny Elfman in either Frankenweenie or Hitchcock.  The former being his great work of his career.

You can take a look at all the categories from the Oscar Predictions page.  You can also use the space down below to include your own predictions as well.