Oscar Circuit – Music vs. History

With two (really one) contender left to be unveiled, this is the most exciting awards race I’ve covered in all my years of Oscar prognosticating.  Every category is competitive and with races like this, anything can happen.  Along with updating the official Oscar Predictions, I’ve updated the major precursors such as the Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

As New York gets ready to lift on Monday, which I’ve attempted to take a stab at, the National Board of Review and Los Angeles Film Critics will start the chain reaction of the awards season.  Before anyone knows the winners, I’m seeing this as a three-horse race between Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and Ben Affleck’s Argo, more particularly the first two films.  Currently I’m foreseeing Hooper’s film to lead the way on Oscar nomination morning with 13 nominations, assuming lead Hugh Jackman and standout Eddie Redmayne can plow through some of the veterans in their categories.

Lead Actor still has Daniel Day-Lewis from Lincoln and Joaquin Phoenix from The Master at the top of the heap.  Unless John Hawkes picks up the lion’s share of awards during the precursor run for The Sessions, those Day-Lewis and Phoenix will battle it out for the win.  There are pundits that believe that Jackman poses a huge threat to take the statue home but as history shows, musical leads don’t win very often.  The contender that’s starting to look vulnerable at the moment is Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight.  The film did well at the box-office and he is Denzel Washington for God’s sake, but as Bradley Cooper grows in estimation and his film’s buzz elevates, he may be able to surpass the two-time winning, veteran actor.

With the leading ladies, it’s already shaped itself to be a race between Jessica Chastain from Zero Dark Thirty and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.  The former is absolutely magnetic in the film as the beautiful, strong “Maya” and as you watch the film, she gracefully leads the audience through the tough picture.  I’m still remaining strong on the fact that Lawrence’s performance throttles the line between lead and supporting, which could ultimately lead to her loss.  Not to mention, there are others out there, including myself, who believe Lawrence’s performance was over-praised from Toronto and its initial opening.  I’ve started to feel the pulse of the season as screeners go out and the Academy attends their awards screenings, Emmanuelle Riva’s chances get better and better by the day.  Michael Haneke’s Amour has received outstanding notices by critics and alleged standing ovations at screenings.  I haven’t remained consistent in thinking that two foreign language performances can make it in the same category.  As it sits today, Riva and Marion Cotillard in Rust & Bone are both currently predicted with Naomi Watts in The Impossible rounding it out.  As Fox Searchlight campaigns strongly for the entire arsenal this year, Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild has felt less and less likely to show up on ballots.  Her nomination would be unprecedented, becoming the youngest Best Actress and African-American nominee in history.  There are many with gripes regarding the performance as more of a directorial achievement and not her acting abilities.  She also has to do battle with other previous nominees Keira Knightley from Anna Karenina, Helen Mirren from Hitchcock, and even Judi Dench from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  All three are more famous but what puts the ball in Wallis’ favor is their films were either nearly panned or mixed with critical reception.

In the Supporting categories, Anne Hathaway has all but given her Oscar speech for heartbreaking turn in Les Miserables.  Her only competition at this point seems to be Helen Hunt in Ben Lewin’s The Sessions, a performance playing extremely well with AMPAS voters.  With four spots taken in the category by Hathaway, Hunt, Amy Adams from The Master, and Sally Field from Lincoln, Maggie Smith is currently predicted to round out the five unless Samantha Barks impresses enough voters with remarkable number in Les Miserables.  I’m still keeping an eye on Ann Dowd whose performance in Compliance still stands as one of the year’s best.  If enough people can pop in their screeners and sit the whole way through, Dowd might be able to bring some last-minute traction.  A SAG nomination would be critical.

With the first early words coming in for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it’s hard to believe the grotesque violence will have enough people on board to reward presumed frontrunner for the year, Leonardo DiCaprio.  Co-star Samuel L. Jackson and Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz are said to steal the show anyway.  Perhaps, it’s not Leo’s year…yet.  If not him, then who?  Tommy Lee Jones is currently sitting at #1 for his work in Lincoln with Philip Seymour Hoffman behind him for The Master.  As Argo grows as a Best Picture contender, I’ve decided to drop the boys, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, from the lineup.  The latter because he’ll likely split with himself in Zemeckis’ Flight and the former because of the lack of depth in comparison to the other contenders.  Robert DeNiro has moved up and looks like he’ll be back to the Oscars as a nominee since Cape Fear in 1991.  It’s a deserved return since his work in Silver Linings Playbook is one of his best in years.  Thinking about how John C. Reilly “stole” a nomination from Dennis Quaid back in 2003 for his work in Chicago, I’m assuming Eddie Redmayne, purely on the song, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” should find his way into the race.  I’m still aware of Michael Pena’s existence in David Ayer’s End of Watch, a performance that many championed upon its release.  With his Independent Spirit Award nomination, perhaps he’s more of a threat than we think.  I’ve also haven’t stopped wishing on a star for Dwight Henry’s powerful turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild.  If there’s one performance Oscar should recognize, his is it.

The Directing category is heating up as Tom Hooper, Steven Spielberg, and Ben Affleck secure spots in the lineup.  Since his inception to the club for The Fighter (2010), David O. Russell could have some goodwill left over.  Michael Haneke rounds out the predicted five but Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), and Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master) are still on the table.

Original Screenplay still has Paul Thomas Anderson in front but don’t be surprised to see Mark Boal leap in front in the coming weeks as Zero Dark Thirty and its likely success is mostly due to Boal’s intense research and writing.  Adapted Screenplay has Tony Kushner at #1 for the first time as Lincoln continues to trump critics and audiences.

The technical races have also been updated including the Foreign Language, Documentary Feature, and the short categories.

Make sure to look through all the predictions and include your own in the comment section.  Welcome back to the race people!