Oscars: Who Will Win, Who Should Win (Analysis)

Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook" and Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour"
Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook" and Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour"
 

This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

PICTURE

Scott Feinberg: The fact that Ben Affleck was denied a nomination by the directors branch is the only reason to hesitate about picking Argo; only three films have won best picture without also scoring a directing nom. But the remaining 94 percent of the Academy is likely to agree with everyone else who has embraced the film, including the Golden Globe Awards and the guilds. Argo is fun, has a happy ending and shines a flattering light on Hollywood, which worked last year for The Artist. WINNER: ARGO

Todd McCarthy: With one exception, I quite like all of the nominated films. Narrowing the choice, it comes down to three: Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour. The first is Kathryn Bigelow's best work, an extremely disciplined expression of an obsession and getting a tough job done. Beasts is a singular wonder, a film out of nowhere unlike anything one could have imagined. Amour, however, is a creation of ultimate rigor and precision by a mature filmmaker who knows exactly what he means to say and how to say it. DESERVES TO WIN: AMOUR

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DIRECTOR

Feinberg: Because Affleck -- who has won every major directors accolade so far -- wasn't nominated, the category is hard to predict. Benh Zeitlin won't win for his first film. Michael Haneke won't win for a foreign-language film. And David O. Russell has a better shot for his screenplay. Steven Spielberg is revered, but Life of Pi's Ang Lee went further outside his comfort zone to tackle a book many thought unadaptable. And the large tech community enthusiastically embraced his efforts. So I give him a slight edge. WINNER: ANG LEE, LIFE OF PI

McCarthy: For the very reasons Amour rates as best picture, I have to go with Haneke. The absence of Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino and Affleck is disconcerting. Lee arguably faced the greatest challenge. In Zeitlin's case, it's tempting to wait and see his next film to judge what he's really made of. Spielberg gets deducted a few points for a bad opening scene and prolonging Lincoln beyond where it should have ended, and Russell will make even better films (he already has, with Three Kings). DESERVES TO WIN: MICHAEL HANEKE, AMOUR

ACTOR

Feinberg: If there is one slam-dunk winner, it's Lincoln's Daniel Day-Lewis for his awe-inspiring performance as America's 16th president. He already has won the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Awards. No one has won an Oscar for a performance in a Spielberg-directed film, and nobody has won more than two best actor Oscars, but Day-Lewis, who is only 55 and has won for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007), seems certain to rewrite the history books in both cases. WINNER: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, LINCOLN

McCarthy: When I met Day-Lewis a few years ago, it was instantly clear that only he could properly play the 16th president. His performance nonetheless surprised and delighted me with its humor, odd but convincing voice, the sense of self he portrayed and the knowledge of his effect on other people. Still, nothing had prepared me for Joaquin Phoenix's unnerving, deeply disquieting performance in The Master. My stovepipe hat's off to Day-Lewis, but Phoenix takes the milkshake this time. DESERVES TO WIN: JOAQUIN PHOENIX, THE MASTER

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ACTRESS

Feinberg: The hardest category to predict: Jessica Chastain won the Globe for drama, and Jennifer Lawrence earned the Globe for comedy and the SAG Award. Emmanuelle Riva is, at 85, the category's oldest-ever nominee and won the BAFTA Award, which has predicted this category's two recent big upsets. Naomi Watts has a lot of friends in the Academy, and Quvenzhane Wallis is a charming newcomer. I'm tempted to pick Riva, but Lawrence's visibility on the campaign trail gives her the edge. WINNER: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

McCarthy: This is as tough as it gets because good cases could be made for all of the nominees. Wallis is a one-of-a-kind discovery, Chastain is aces, and who can deny Riva's excellence, even if Amour really belongs to Jean-Louis Trintignant? But a win by Lawrence would honor not only her own prodigious self but also the tradition of resilient, tough and funny broads who never won this award, including Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck and Rosalind Russell. DESERVES TO WIN: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Feinberg: All five nominees are previous winners. Veterans Robert De Niro and Alan Arkin haven't won any major awards this season. The SAG Award went to Tommy Lee Jones, but his chilly personality hasn't helped him. The Critics' Choice Award went to Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Globe and BAFTA Award to Christoph Waltz. Waltz and Hoffman had the biggest and most colorful parts, so I think one of them will win. I'm going with Waltz because the Academy seems to like Django Unchained more than The Master. WINNER: CHRISTOPH WALTZ, DJANGO UNCHAINED

McCarthy: It's a tossup among seasoned pros who all have won before (so no excuse for sour faces on the losers). Arkin, De Niro, Jones and Waltz are great -- funny, stalwart, pissed off, vibrant and, in the end, doing variations on things they've done before. The edge, therefore, goes to Hoffman for the way his sweat reveals the fraud behind the great man he has become in his own mind and his performance's haunting echoes of Charles Foster Kane. DESERVES TO WIN: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, THE MASTER

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SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Feinberg: Anne Hathaway, a Hollywood darling, has swept the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG Awards for her brief but moving performance and her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." She has been a bit overexposed, which seems to have led to a backlash (including viral spoofs), but it's hard to envision any of the category's other nominees -- Amy Adams, Helen Hunt, Sally Field and Jacki Weaver -- garnering enough support to surpass her. So Oscar is likely to sing Hathaway's tune. WINNER: ANNE HATHAWAY, LES MISERABLES

McCarthy: Hathaway sure can belt, Field this time doesn't reveal that she wants us to like her, Hunt is as good as she has ever been and shows guts doing some very touchy scenes in the nude, and Weaver more than holds her own while barely saying a thing. Adams doesn't get to say a whole lot, either, but there's a strong sense that her subordinate but watchful wife represents a whole parallel film (or novel) unto herself. She's the least flashy but gets my vote. DESERVES TO WIN: AMY ADAMS, THE MASTER

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Feinberg: It is not uncommon for foreign-language films to be nominated in this category, but it is for them to win, which doesn't bode well for Haneke's Amour. Flight is too formulaic, and Moonrise Kingdom is too eccentric. I think it's down to Tarantino's Django Unchained and Mark Boal's Zero Dark Thirty, one a wacky and violent reimagining of history and the other a faithful re-creation of it -- and both highly controversial. Both are past winners, Boal more recently, so I give Tarantino the edge. WINNER: QUENTIN TARANTINO, DJANGO UNCHAINED

McCarthy: It is in the writing of Amour that Haneke's merciless insight and surgical precision are felt most keenly. All of the originals are excitingly different: Django Unchained is ideological history and fantasy filtered through Western movie lore; Flight, self-therapy transformed into heightened drama; Moonrise Kingdom, a genuinely eccentric evocation of youth; Zero Dark Thirty, a compelling fictional rendering of momentous modern history. But Amour instantly has the feel of the work of a classical master. DESERVES TO WIN: MICHAEL HANEKE, AMOUR

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ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Feinberg: This award could go to any of the nominees, but Lucy Alibar and Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild is not everyone's cup of tea, and David Magee's Life of Pi is more about visual artistry than plot. That leaves Chris Terrio's Argo, which has claimed the USC Scripter; Tony Kushner's dialogue-heavy Lincoln; and Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, which has scored the BAFTA Award. My gut feeling is that Oscar voters will second BAFTA, assuring the film at least one Oscar. WINNER: DAVID O. RUSSELL, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

McCarthy: A very competitive category highlights the various challenges screenwriters face when adapting diverse material: Lincoln is officially based on a book (along with a vast quantity of other sources) that hadn't even been written when Spielberg optioned it. In fact, the Lincoln screenplay has far more in common with the writing of the research-based Zero Dark Thirty. Kushner's colossal job of collecting and shaping massive amounts of material to bring so many characters to life certainly merits this honor. DESERVES TO WIN: TONY KUSHNER, LINCOLN

FOREIGN- LANGUAGE FILM

Feinberg: To vote in this category, Academy members must find time to see all five nominees, and those who do tend to be older. That could affect the outcome because Amour, the front-runner, is all about a couple nearing the end of their lives. It had enough overall support to crack into the best picture category, so I think voters will opt to reward it. But if they are looking for a feel-good alternative, they could turn to Norway's Kon-Tiki, which ends happily and has Harvey Weinstein's machine pushing it. WINNER: AMOUR

McCarthy: It's getting repetitive, but Amour warrants this win. The other nominees are fine, good, respectable -- whatever you want to say -- but not great. They're all worth seeing and cast different perspectives on specific historical moments and situations. Given the political backlash in certain quarters within the U.S. against Zero Dark Thirty, it was interesting to learn of the political objections of the Chilean left to Pablo Larrain's No in the wake of that film's warm international reception. DESERVES TO WIN: AMOUR

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DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Feinberg: It's a strong crop of contenders, but I think only three nominees stand a real chance: David France's How to Survive a Plague tells the story of the first activists who battled the AIDS epidemic; Dror Moreh's The Gatekeepers has six former heads of Israel's Shin Bet speaking freely about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and Malik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugar Man shares the remarkable story of eccentric musician Sixto Rodriguez. I believe Sugar Man's feel-great story will trump its more socially significant competitors. WINNER: SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN

McCarthy: This is a strong lineup about which various constituencies can feel passionate. The film I've most often and urgently championed since I first saw it last summer is Moreh's The Gatekeepers. More than any other work from 2012, this is an essential film, a study of Israel's handling of the Palestinian issue from the points of view of six men who implemented it, intelligence chiefs who know more than anyone else about what has gone on and the implications for the future. DESERVES TO WIN: THE GATEKEEPERS

ANIMATED FEATURE

Feinberg: An incredibly tough call. The Pirates! Band of Misfits can be counted out, but any of the other four could win. Brave has won the Globe and BAFTA Award, and a Pixar film has taken home this Oscar in six of 11 years. ParaNorman and Frankenweenie have been widely embraced by critics but haven't really received recognition elsewhere. However, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, a thoroughly enjoyable if not groundbreaking critical and commercial success, has won the Critics' Choice, PGA and Annie awards. That's my pick. WINNER: WRECK-IT RALPH

McCarthy: There is considerable sentiment on the side of Frankenweenie, which I find perplexing because Tim Burton's work seems like a rehash -- not only of the short version he made years ago but also of the animated style he has employed before. By contrast, Wreck-It Ralph tries something highly unlikely, making an enormously sympathetic protagonist out of a prehistoric video game figure and enmeshing him in various game concepts to quite hilarious results. In my mind, Ralph stands head and shoulders above the field. DESERVES TO WIN: WRECK-IT RALPH

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And Scott Feinberg Predicts the Rest…

CINEMATOGRAPHY Life of Pi

COSTUME DESIGN Anna Karenina

FILM EDITING Argo

MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING Les Miserables

ORIGINAL SCORE Life of Pi

SONG "Skyfall" from Skyfall

PRODUCTION DESIGN Life of Pi

SOUND EDITING Skyfall

SOUND MIXING Les Miserables

VISUAL EFFECTS Life of Pi

DOCUMENTARY SHORT Inocente

ANIMATED SHORT Paperman

LIVE-ACTION SHORT Curfew

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