Oscar 2013: Will Win/Should Win (Mike)

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Argo
Can Argo cross the finish line?

(The annual “Will Win/Should Win” of the Awards Circuit has been our most popular yet most challenging series where each writer let’s their final thoughts be known on the Oscar categories.  Each writer will reveal their choices everyday leading up to the Oscar ceremony.  Think you can do better?  Let your final thoughts be known in the comment section or by joining our Oscar Pool. -CD)

The most wide-open and unpredictable Oscar season in modern history is set to twilight in less than 100 hours and perhaps the biggest surprise Oscar has in store for us is that there will be no surprises. An anti-climactic ending would be fitting to a season that, for one year at least, has rewritten so many of the hard and fast rules we Oscar pundits and prognosticators have come to rely on in making our predictions.

Like so many of us, once Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone took their bows and exited stage left, I crossed off the names Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained and Les Miserables off the Best Picture list, since the Academy’s Director’s Branch looked away from Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino, and Tom Hooper, respectively. It appeared that Lincoln, with a robust 12 nominations, Life Of Pi, with a Hugo-esque 11 nods and the unexpected announcement of 8-time nominee Silver Linings Playbook turned the race into a Spielberg/Weinstein rematch from 1998 – the year Shakespeare In Love upended Saving Private Ryan and placed in stone The Weinstein Brothers legend as successful Oscar campaigners. Many started to speculate that Ang Lee was hanging around the periphery of that ring, waiting to strike like his charismatic CGI-tiger Richard Parker and have Life Of Pi steal the show when his iconic and groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain came up short a few years previously.

Oh, we thought we knew how this would go. People got mad at Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke, as if they had something to do with barricading Affleck and Bigelow from being nominated for Best Director. People looked at the tepid 5 nominations for Zero Dark Thirty and began to uncover ugliness and backdoor smearing from Academy voters, imploring other members to not vote for “The Pro Torture Film.” Much was written about the queasiness that unfortunately had to be addressed with Kathryn Bigelow’s absence in the Oscar race, when her film, which many have praised as a better film than her Oscar winning The Hurt Locker, found itself left behind in many high profile and lower profile categories many were predicting would fall the film’s way.

We were frustrated about the goofiness of the 9 Best Picture nominees, but on Awards Circuit Power Hour podcasts, you heard fantastic, insightful, and rancorous debate as to the validity and lack thereof of the nominated films. Rightfully so, category by category, the AC staff in words – both written and verbalized, have torn apart and pieced back together 24 categories, 122 nominees, and after all of that – we still are questioning many, if not all, of the winners we are predicting come Oscar night.

Does Argo fulfill an unlikely road to Oscar, the likes of which have never been seen before in the precursor era? Does Lincoln face the sting of 12 nominations and just 1 or 2 wins? Does Amour do what foreign films rarely do and win outside its niche Foreign Language Film category and take home potentially 3 Academy Awards? What if Argo loses Film Editing? Where else does it win? The silence has been deafening for Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi, but can it amass some technical stunners like Hugo that makes the Best Picture race seem in doubt?

This Oscar race is unparalleled and anchoring it all for you has been the most dedicated and passionate group of individuals I have ever had the privilege to work with, anywhere, in any profession.

Clayton, Terence, Joey, and Mark have been your podcast anchors week in and week out, with Joseph joining frequently as well. Anna remains passionate about the films she loves, Tiff and Nicole continue to offer great expertise and insight and Robert, when his schedule allows, has been thoughtful and commanding in stating his opinions.

What binds us all together is that we are movie fans first and foremost and while I may not contribute nearly as much as I desire to, I am right here with all of you – reading Awards Circuit every day, listening to the rich and diverse voices that populate our little corner of the Internet, and remaining continually impressed by how much time and effort this community shares with one another on a daily basis.

Thank you to Clayton and  everyone at Awards Circuit for allowing me to have a seat at the table, but thank you to YOU – the readers and growing community, of which, there can be no Awards Circuit.

My “Should Win” selections are based on the category’s nominees and do not include snubs I would give an Oscar to personally.

Best Picture:
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Have Been Nominated: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Thoughts: In my Top 10 films of the year, I have Zero Dark Thirty #1 and Argo #2. So, I have no problem watching Argo amass all of these awards. I still will not believe Argo wins the Oscar here until I see it – partially, because I love stats and history, but also because there is more than enough reported “secret” ballots that speak to the film underwhelming some voters. Watching it again last night, I find the film is easily the most seamless of the nine nominees and technically, it is hard to find many flaws with it. That damn Affleck snub for Directing, even more confusing as we inch closer to Oscar Sunday, has undoubtedly made people overly embrace the film, but sadly, that snub overshadows what may have been a foregone conclusion all along.

For one film to dominate is something of a shame when this is a strong and deeply affecting slate of nominees. Lincoln  did everything right and lost this race probably once the Academy realized what happened with Ben Affleck. Zero Dark Thirty, it turns out, never had a chance with voters once it started cleaning up critics awards and things got ridiculously political. Silver Linings Playbook overachieved and four acting nominations have created something of a backlash against the film’s Best Picture chances, while Beasts of the Southern WildAmour, and Django Unchained are likely picks of selective factions of the Academy.

And for Life Of Pi and Les Miserables, one film is viewed as a stunning technical achievement with a wobbly-kneed screenplay, and without a directing or editing nomination, Les Miz, the “158-minute song” as a friend described it to me recently, is simply too divisive and problematic in total to galvanize voters.

Lastly, shame on voters for not watching The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, the finest teen drama since The Breakfast Club and a film that is so much more moving, lasting, meaningful, and affecting than several of these nominees. Saddled with being branded as a movie for kids, Perks should be in the list without a doubt in my mind.

Best Directing:
Will Win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Should Win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln (of the nominees…)
Should Have Been Nominated: Ben Affleck. Kathryn Bigelow

Thoughts: I’ll pound the incessant drumbeat of Affleck and Bigelow not being nominated one last time, since they are responsible for delivering what I felt were the two finest films of 2012. Realistically, the Bigelow snub makes me more angry and the true reasons which might lie behind her being left behind make my stomach hurt. Of this slate, I have long been a huge fan and fervent defender of Michael Haneke’s work, and understand why he and Benh Zeitlin are here. For Zeitlin, his nomination speaks to ambition, a renegade fearlessness, and talents as a composer, screenwriter, and visionary that should keep him around for years to come. I admire how Ang Lee pulled the unfilmable Life Of Pi together into a moving and evocative piece on faith and survival. Time has shown us that David O. Russell’s Silver Linings is far more a personal work for him and his cast than anyone was aware of. And yet, I continue to return to  Steven Spielberg’s laser-sharp focus, precisioned resolve, and impressive skill when it comes to Lincoln. I think he lands a third directing Oscar Sunday night.

Best Actor:
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Should Have Been Nominated: John Hawkes, The Sessions

Thoughts: For me, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in Lincoln is easily one of the most remarkable things I have ever witnessed as a moviegoer. I also said the same thing a couple of months earlier watching Joaquin Phoenix’s unsettling and discomforting turn in The Master. Seeing Day-Lewis praise Phoenix every time he gets in front of a microphone is telling I think that Phoenix’s performance gets votes, no matter what he popped off and said in the media about Oscar season. Bradley Cooper’s performance validates everyone who said that he had “it” and Denzel Washington’s turn in Flight looks richer and more complex upon subsequent viewings. Hugh Jackman’s journey as Jean Valjean is extraordinary and he was clearly born to play that role. However, his buzz seems to have waned and Daniel Day-Lewis is simply too strong, too bold, and too unforgettable in Lincoln to be denied here.

Personally, I could swap out Denzel Washington for John Hawkes, whose missing here for The Sessions seems to speak to Academy members just not liking the film all that much. Wish he was here though.

Best Actress:
Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Should Have Been Nominated: Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone

Thoughts: Along with Directing and Supporting Actor, I have no confidence in this pick whatsoever. Jessica Chastain seems to have been relegated to an also ran in this category, but having just watched Zero Dark Thirty again this week, I have no idea why. Maya is revelatory and Chastain’s measured, layered, and steadfast creation of a character is as good as anything we have seen all year. I am not a Jennifer Lawrence hater at all, and her performance in Silver Linings is a performance that, believe me, hits far more closer to home than many care to acknowledge. I still have not seen Naomi Watts’ turn in The Impossible as of this writing and while I am smitten with the arrival of  Quvenzhane Wallis like most, I still would not have nominated her, unable to see a distinction between her performance and Benh Zeitlin’s direction.

My vote goes to Emmanuelle Riva for striking me directly in the heart and reminding me and placing me back in a difficult experience I had to go through recently. There is truth and uncomfortable realness in her performance that transcends storytelling and haunts me to this day. I will never forget that work. And yes, Cotillard for Wallis in a second and if you want to go one further, watch Rachel Mwanza’s jaw-dropping performance in War Witch if you want to discuss a breakout young actress in a leading role (note – she was not eligible this year).

Best Supporting Actor:
Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Should Win: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Should Have Been Nominated: Ezra Miller, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Thoughts: Throwing darts in the dark and hoping to hit a target, at this moment I settle in on Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln. I could make a case for all five of these gentlemen winning, except Alan Arkin, who I find to be the least worthy of these former winners because I have just seen this performance win an Oscar a few years ago. And as everyone shouts out Christoph Waltz’s name for that same reason, I would mention that Waltz is playing a far different character in Django than in Inglourious Basterds, just delivering the lines with the same rhythm, cadence, and charisma he did previously. Robert De Niro is a tough nut to crack because I wonder if the Academy considers his recent emotional vulnerability in interviews and featurettes to be campaigning or true honesty. I love the Hoffman performance and find him every bit up for the challenge as fencing partner of Joaquin Phoenix. So, for now, I take the grumpy old man to win a second Oscar, but will not be shocked by anyone winning this…except Arkin.

Again, had they watched their Perks screener…

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Should Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Should Have Been Nominated: Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas

Thoughts: I  am no fan of Les Miserables, liking portions and recoiling from the film as a whole, but watching the film just last night, I could not hide the waterworks when Hathaway kills the room with “I Dreamed A Dream.” What is clear to me though is that Hathaway’s performance is so much more than that one song. She builds to the moment expertly, her scenes as Fantine accelerating into that downward spiral are stunning. Backlash be damned, Hathaway wins this easily, as she should.

Three of the other nominees are great in their performances. Helen Hunt is memorable in The Sessions. Sally Field gives Lincoln some emotion and heart the film sorely needs in key moments, and Amy Adams truly is the heart and soul of a challenging and unpredictable film; arguably the Master in her own right. Jacki Weaver is fine in Silver Linings, but while I like her, I have to adhere to my befuddled reaction on nomination morning and the reactions more and more people have when they watch the film and realize that somehow enough voters thought she was worthy of a #1 slot on their ballot.

I would opt to nominate Doona Bae, Ann Dowd, Emma Watson, Samantha Barks, Judi Dench, and Kelly Reilly over Jacki Weaver but I cite Bae because in an obtuse, overwrought and dense science-fiction film, she provided a heartbreaking and powerful turn that stands far out in front of any memories I have of the difficult Cloud Atlas.

Best Animated Feature Film
Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph
Should Win: ParaNorman
Should Have Been Nominated: Rise Of The Guardians

Thoughts: While Brave provided a step forward again for Pixar, the film’s message of female empowerment gets lost in a mother/daughter tale that is as refreshing as it is maddening to watch. Frankenweenie is a wonderful accomplishment and labor of love, which is about as personal a film as we will likely ever get from Tim Burton. The love of Aardman Studios sweeps The Pirates! Band Of Misfits under the tent, but it is not the most impressive of their films in my estimation. The brilliant craftsmanship of ParaNorman, the unique twist on the ghost story, and the masterful editing and pacing of the film makes me look around and wonder if everyone is crazy for not embracing the film and giving it honor after honor. But I also love Wreck-It Ralph, the freshest and most entertaining Disney production in years and a film with inventiveness, smart humor, and strident balance between humoring children and adults. Hard to see it losing here.

I had a wonderful time with Rise Of The Guardians and found it quite accomplished and impressively rendered. The support of stop-motion animation this year in both animation categories seems to work against the film’s breaking through as is its disappointing box office haul.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Argo
Should Have Been Nominated: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Thoughts: I actually penciled in Argo for a win in this category after seeing the film, but was swayed for a time by the heavy lifting Tony Kushner pulled off on Lincoln. Kushner’s deconstruction of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s exhaustive and impressive “Team Of Rivals” could not have been an easy thing to manage and while the film plays oddly uneven in tone with me, I recognize the writing, dialogue, and arresting monologues are impressive. David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook whirls and twists around the complex and constantly shifting temperament of its actors, losing its way somewhat in a sitcom-style finale. I appreciate Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s audaciousness with Beasts of the Southern Wild, but likewise appreciate David Magee’s adaptation of the demanding Life of Pi. For me, largely looking at Oscar win potential for a potential Best Picture winner, I revert back to Chris Terrio’s seamless work with Argo, compelling, riveting and expertly plotted.

And again, had they just watched their Perks screener. Steven Chbosky wrote a masterpiece…a second time…adapting his own novel for the big screen.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Amour
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Have Been Nominated: Looper

I am sticking my neck out a bit here, but I think Michael Haneke’s Amour has enough support to make the improbable journey out of Best Foreign Language Film and into a second win. If Emmanuelle Riva is as much in play as people seem to think, this win seems less improbable. They love their Quentin, but is Django better than Inglourious BasterdsWhile his most successful film, Django Unchained is also his most controversial film to date, his longest film ever, and voters may hesitate to embrace the violent content in an escalating anti-gun and violence landscape. I love…emphatically love…Moonrise Kingdom and find it every bit analogous for Wes Anderson as Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris a year ago. Academy voters disagreed obviously. I am not a fan of Flight‘s screenplay being cited here as the screenplay is the fundamental problem I see with the film.

So that leaves Mark Boal’s masterful and extraordinary Zero Dark Thirty, A film painfully apolitical that has been Scarlet Letter’d as being something it is not. Boal’s win in 2009 hurts him here anyway and although his screenplay is the year’s best in my opinion, his winning here would now be a big upset. So bubbling through to the surface is Michael Haneke’s Amour and I am fine with his victory here.

Although a case could be made for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and all of its intricacies, I just love Rian Johnson’s Looper and it is a shame that an edgy, challenging, thought-provoking film such as this could not be viewed as just another Sci-Fi film.

AND THE REMAINING CATEGORIES

Best Cinematography
Will Win: Life Of Pi
Should Win: Skyfall
Should Have Been Nominated: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Costume Design
Will Win: Les Miserables
Should Win: Les Miserables
Should Have Been Nominated: The Master

Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: Searching For Sugar Man
Should Win: The Invisible War
Should Have Been Nominated: The Imposter

Best Documentary Short
Will Win: Mondays At Racine
Should Win: Inocente

Best Film Editing
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should Have Been Nominated: How To Survive A Plague

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: Amour
Should Win: Amour
Should Have Been Nominated: Holy Motors

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Will Win: Les Miserables
Should Win: Les Miserables
Should Have Been Nominated: Holy Motors

Best Original Score
Will Win: Life Of Pi
Should Win: Life Of Pi
Should Have Been Nominated: The Master

Best Original Song
Will Win: “Skyfall”, from Skyfall
Should Win: “Skyfall”, from Skyfall
Should Have Been Nominated: “Who Did That To You?” from Django Unchained

Best Production Design
Will Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Anna Karenina
Should Have Been Nominated: Moonrise Kingdom

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Life Of Pi
Should Win: Skyfall
Should Have Been Nominated: Marvel’s The Avengers

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: Skyfall
Should Win: Skyfall
Should Have Been Nominated: Marvel’s The Avengers

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Life Of Pi
Should Win: Life Of Pi
Should Have Been Nominated: Cloud Atlas

Best Animated Short Film
Will Win: Paperman
Should Win: Paperman

More and more it seems Paperman is vulnerable. People have been praising Adam and Dog to me who have seen the Short Film collection, so an upset could be looming here.

Best Live Action Short Film
Will Win: Buzkashi Boys
Should Win: Death Of A Shadow
Should Have Been Nominated: when you find me.

This will be my worst performance ever in predicting the Oscars and I am oddly okay with that. I’ll help sweep floors and mop up spills come Monday morning. Thank you everyone for an outstanding year.

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