It’s never too early to start guessing, right? With Cannes yielding little to start Oscar conversation, the pressure is on for the fall to deliver in a big way. Film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride will begin to churn out candidates and weed out pretenders in just a few weeks now. Then a number of big-name films that forewent the festival circuit will have to face the gauntlet of critics and audiences. By the time the year-end lists start rolling off the presses, the game will be predictable and boring. So let’s speculate now while it’s still fun and actually involves educated guessing!
UPDATE 8/6: I can’t let these picks become dated within hours of them being posted, so I’ve replaced my predictions that included “The Great Gatsby.”
- The Master
- Les Miserables
- Life of Pi
- Django Unchained
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Moonrise Kingdom
The Great GatsbyZero Dark Thirty
- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
“The Master” just seems like the movie of the year to me from this distance. Tom Cruise has seen the movie and HATES it, that’s enough for me. If the movie is really going to take on Scientology, it could really be a pop culture centerpiece for the fall.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix returning from his bizarre performance art stunt in “I’m Still Here,” Philip Seymour Hoffman fresh off two major supporting roles in Oscar-nominated films in 2011, and three-time Best Supporting Actress bridesmaid Amy Adams, it could certainly be a force to reckon with in the acting categories. It’s also a period piece that could register impressively in the technical categories.
Oh, and it’s written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. In the ’90s, his films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” each scored him a Best Original Screenplay nomination. In 2007, “There Will Be Blood” scored him nominations for writing, directing, and producing since the film was up for Best Picture. The argument will be made – convincingly by the Weinstein Company, no less – that Anderson’s time has come.
Indeed, it has. The narrative is in place. It can easily score over 10 nominations and march towards victory. The film just needs to not suck. And according to people at the first public showing on Friday (a surprise screening after a showing of “The Shining” in Los Angeles), it doesn’t suck. It’s awesome.
Though of course, that path won’t be uncontested. However, three out of the last five Best Picture winners – “No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “The Artist” – asserted their dominance from the beginning of the season and never looked back. So who knows?! As the triumph of “The King’s Speech” showed us in 2010, Oscar bait isn’t dead. In fact, it’s thriving … and there is still a big portion of the Academy that succumbs to it.
In 2011, “War Horse” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” both cracked the Best Picture field despite facing a number of harsh critics and tepid response from other industry groups. Nonetheless, the Academy likes what it likes and refuses to apologize for it. So I doubt they will think twice about nominating “Les Miserables” for Best Picture. The Tony Award-winning musical has everything that could possibly ever appeal to an Academy member: drama, emotion, catharsis, noble prostitutes, solid acting, historical setting, impressive craftwork … and it’s directed by Tom Hooper, the man who made them feel so good they gave him Best Director for a movie that required very little directing.
Granted, everyone thought “Chicago” was going to usher in a new Renaissance for American film adaptations of musical theater. While the Golden Globes seem to be relishing in all the musicals, the Academy has ignored “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Producers,” “Dreamgirls,” “Hairspray,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Mamma Mia,” and “Nine” (all of which were Best Picture nominees in the Musical/Comedy field for HFPA).
“Dreamgirls” was even being tipped to win in 2006 and was a surprise snub on nomination morning (“Nine” could also have cracked the field in 2009). So musicals are still iffy, but “Les Miserables” is in a league of its own. Those other musicals are nice, but none are based on a Victor Hugo novel. The story is made to win awards.
Also falling in the bait category is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as one of America’s greatest presidents. Spielberg’s films since “Schindler’s List” have practically all been presumptive frontrunners, yet “Saving Private Ryan” is his only film afterwards to win an Oscar. ”Munich” and “War Horse” have both slid in on residual respect, but how far does that go? Do they still owe a man who has won Best Director twice? Helmed eight Best Picture nominees?
The same questions can be asked of Day-Lewis, who clearly has a ton of respect as shown by his two Best Actor trophies. However, the Academy felt no shame in shutting him out of the 2009 Best Actor race in favor of first-time nominee Jeremy Renner. Granted, Renner’s “The Hurt Locker” was worlds better than Day-Lewis’ “Nine,” but it’s still fair to wonder if the Academy is done with him like they are done with Clint Eastwood. Unless you are Meryl Streep or Jack Nicholson (or John Williams), two is basically the magic number.
People have been raving about Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” since its presentation of footage at CinemaCon back in the spring, and I think the coupling of a respected, Oscar-winning director tackling 3D will be the “Hugo” of 2012. It will also probably score no acting nominations and plenty of tech nods like Scorsese’s 5-time winner from last year.
Beyond those four heavy-hitters, it’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps I guessed the overdue writer/director incorrectly, and the Academy will choose to fete Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.” People counted out “Inglourious Basterds,” and it wound up with eight nominations.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” has certainly proven to be the art-house hit of the year, winning major prizes at Sundance and Cannes, stealing critics’ hearts, and racking up enough money to where it can’t be dismissed as totally esoteric. There’s certainly precedent for a summer indie favorite to sneak into the Best Picture field – “Winter’s Bone” in 2010 and “The Tree of Life” in 2011. It will need the critics groups to come out in favor for it in a big way or the pint-sized star Quvenzhané Wallis to be a unanimous and strong first-choice in the Best Actress race.
Some people think the inclusion of “Beasts” might leave out the other summer indie sleeper hit, “Moonrise Kingdom.” To that I say, look to last year when “Midnight in Paris,” a funny crowd-pleaser, cracked the same field with “The Tree of Life.” I think the Academy could decide the time is here to honor Wes Anderson’s peculiar gifts. If they could accept “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno,” I see no reason why “Moonrise Kingdom” couldn’t be a Best Picture nominee.
“Argo” could also be a sleeper to watch in this race. Ben Affleck’s directorial skills are definitely improving with each movie, and his last film, “The Town,” was definitely just on the outside looking in at the 2010 Best Picture field. Could getting out of his native country of Boston put him in the race this time? We’ll know after its Toronto premiere.
Baz Luhrmannn’s singular work “Moulin Rouge” tickled the Academy’s fancy in 2001. His 2008 “Australia,” a more refined, baity piece, only netted a Best Costume Design nomination. Which will his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” be? My gut says a hit like “Moulin Rouge” because I’m so in love with the source material, but that love could be blinding me. This will either be a big hit or a big flop.
And who knows if the Academy field will extend to ten this year, but I’ll go ahead and predict ten. Could lighting strike for the fourth time for Peter Jackson with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?” Will “Hyde Park on Hudson” be more than just a feel-good biopic? Can Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” finally get the franchise the recognition it deserves?
These are big “if”s, so I’m just going to choose safe (because my wild-card predictions in years past have spawned picks of “It’s Complicated” and “Never Let Me Go”) and predict Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” It could be bold, daring, and thrilling if it succeeds. The expectations will be high since the production has been so guarded. But if it works, it could be a major player.
And for the hell of it, why not say that the decidedly middling “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” becomes the low-brow film that makes the cut and makes me curse the Academy once more.Best Director:
- Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”
- Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
- Tom Hooper, “Les Miserables”
- Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
- Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Best Picture doesn’t direct itself, now does it? It’s always foolish to predict a Picture-Director split, so I’m required to believe that Paul Thomas Anderson will win Best Director for “The Master.”
Ang Lee could give him a run for his money, though, but his “Brokeback Mountain” Oscar could work against him here just as much as it could work for him.
Tom Hooper looks to factor back into the race because “Les Miserables” will be such a success, yet it would be virtually impossible for him to win. I’m sorry, but I just refuse to believe that Hooper has proven himself worthy to join a club of dual Best Director winners that includes Elia Kazan, Billy Wilder, David Lean, and Steven Spielberg.
I think Tarantino should also factor back into the race too. However, if “Django Unchained” fails to reach the heights of “Inglourious Basterds,” Tarantino will probably take much of the fall for it.
Perhaps Spielberg will get back into the Best Director field after missing with “War Horse,” although I’m wondering if they feel that he’s been plenty decorated and want to honor rising stars. Maybe Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman ever to win Best Director, will make another appearance. Ben Affleck and Wes Anderson wouldn’t be out of the question; Christopher Nolan seems like a dark horse after being snubbed by the director’s branch in the past for his work on a Best Picture nominee,
as has Baz Luhrmann.
So that’s why I think Benh Zeitlin, young director of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” will get the final slot. You can sense his fingerprints all over the ambitious work, and if it’s a big hit with the Academy, he should ride the film’s coattails. Plus, it’s a first film and one that directors should love!
- Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
- Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
- Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
- John Hawkes, “The Sessions”
- Bill Murray, “Hyde Park on Hudson”
It seems like a logical progression as well: he received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in “Gladiator” in 2000 and his first Best Actor nomination for “Walk the Line” in 2005. Time for a win in 2012, right? If the trailer is any indication, we are in for a maniacally brilliant performance.
It’s never wise to bet against Daniel Day-Lewis making Best Actor, although a betting man could be quite rich if he had bet against him making it in 2009 for “Nine.” But come on, two-time winner and four-time nominee playing an iconic President which is “a study of the nature and character” as opposed to a chain of events. How can you bet against that at this stage? Sight unseen, he’s a major front-runner.
While his film credits are not all that impressive (far more like “Real Steel” than “The Prestige“), Hugh Jackman is halfway to an EGOT. He could definitely nab an Oscar with his meaty role of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” and who knows, maybe even a Grammy too! Russell Crowe as his adversary Javert in the film could also contend for votes and keep him out of the field a la 2006 when neither Matt Damon nor Leonardo DiCaprio cracked the Best Actor field for “The Departed.” (DiCaprio did get in for “Blood Diamond,” however.)
Pundits are saying that John Hawkes, character actor nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2010 for his understated work in “Winter’s Bone,” is a shoo-in for a nomination for “The Sessions.” He has a baity role as a dying man looking for his first sexual experience.
Though it does sound an awful lot like a dramatic remake of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” apparently it’s all but a fact that he gets in. It will have to pass the audience litmus, but even that isn’t a deal-breaker as small performances always seem to find a place in this category: Demian Bichir, Richard Jenkins, and Tommy Lee Jones have all gained nominations for quaint roles.
The fifth slot could go a number of ways: perhaps Denzel Washington surges back towards a third Oscar for “Flight,”
maybe Leonardo DiCaprio gets his fourth nomination for “The Great Gatsby” instead of OR alongside a nomination in Best Supporting Actor for “Django Unchained,” and who knows how Clint Eastwood’s latest final acting role in “Trouble with the Curve” will turn out. (With no trailer/poster seven weeks out, it’s a little disconcerting.)
But I’m thinking that the final slot goes to another prior Oscar nominee tackling a U.S. president: that’s Bill Murray as FDR in “Hyde Park on Hudson.” The film’s tone seems to remind me of “My Week with Marilyn,” a light biopic that showcased impeccable acting.
This feel-good movie stars Murray hosting King George VI – yes, the same st-st-st-STAMMERER from “The King’s Speech” – at his country estate. Murray nearly won for “Lost in Translation” back in 2003, so maybe the voters will feel that it’s time … at least for a nomination, I would think!
- Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
- Laura Linney, “Hyde Park on Hudson”
- Judi Dench, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
- Keira Knightley, “Anna Karenina”
Carey Mulligan, “The Great Gatsby”Marion Cotillard, “Rust and Bone”
Every time you say a field is looking weak at this point in the game, you always wind up regretting it – but this year does look REALLY thin. And with such a year that at the moment appears void of any unrewarded perennial favorites, could it be 8-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis who swoops in and steals the trophy? That would make her the youngest Best Actress winner EVER! Throw in the fact that she never acted before “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and you need no other narrative.
Unless someone emerges from Toronto/Venice, she has to be considered a frontrunner not only to be nominated but also to win. I guess the unrewarded perennial favorite card could be played for Laura Linney. She was phenomenal in “You Can Count on Me” and “The Savages” playing flawed characters dealing with their issues. Her “Hyde Park on Hudson” character looks a little more poised and polished, so who knows if it will work as well. But if she pulls it off, the Academy could reward her for going outside of her comfort zone.
While some think the entire cast of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” will be campaigned in supporting, Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter seems to think Judi Dench will be pushed for lead. She definitely has the most screen time of anyone in the film, and while I personally consider her rather flat in the film, she’s freaking Judi Dench. She is a past winner who was nominated SIX times from 1997 to 2006. Plus, the Dame is going blind, so her acting career is certainly about to come to a slowdown. This could be one of their last chances to revere her, and I doubt the Academy would miss that.
Keira Knightley could also be a threat here, back in the costume drama genre in which she earned her only Oscar nomination to date for “Pride and Prejudice.” However, she didn’t get nominations for “Atonement” not for “The Duchess,” so “Anna Karenina” could just be another performance that doesn’t live up to her high water mark from 2005.
Three years after her nomination for “An Education,” Carey Mulligan could also factor into the race as Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby.” It’s a more composed character like the one that helped her burst onto the Hollywood scene, so if she kills it, there’s no reason to think she won’t get another invitation to the Big Dance. Especially given the state of the race this year.
While I didn’t find it nearly as moving as her performance in “La Vie En Rose,” Marion Cotillard really does give her all in “Rust and Bone.” The language barrier is going to hurt her, but if she can win for a movie that barely got a release in June from a small studio, she should surely be capable of scoring a nomination for a movie getting a prime Oscar-suggestive release in November from Sony Pictures Classics.
Best Supporting Actor:
- Leonardo DiCaprio, “Django Unchained”
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
- Bryan Cranston, “Argo”
- Dwight Henry, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
- Eddie Redmayne, “Les Miserables”
Leonardo DiCaprio IS going to win an Oscar. The question is thus about when it finally happens. His record over the past 10 years is absolutely remarkable – only one film, “Body of Lies” did not earn him any Oscar buzz. Unfortunately for DiCaprio, he often has to compete against himself in the race for an Oscar nomination – was he better in “Inception” or “Shutter Island,” “Catch Me If You Can” or “Gangs of New York?”
Thankfully, this year DiCaprio looks to be a threat to score in two categories since His performance in “Django Unchained” seems to be in the Supporting range. While Oscar voters may want to wait until they can properly crown Leo in the Best Actor category, a Supporting prize could just delay the inevitable. Think George Clooney winning Best Supporting Actor for “Syriana” in 2005 … then scoring nominations in leading actor for “Michael Clayton,” “Up in the Air,” and “The Descendants.” Both will eventually win Best Actor. But a Supporting win in the meantime takes some heat off the Academy.
A Supporting win wouldn’t be an easy feat this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman is back with what looks to be an electrifying turn in “The Master;” he could be bumped up to lead, but a second win for Hoffman would seem unlikely at the expense of a first win for Phoenix.
Bryan Cranston’s film choices so far this summer – an extended cameo in “Rock of Ages,” a voiceover role in “Madagascar 3,” and a maniacal supporting role in “Total Recall” – have hardly matched his three-time Emmy winning work for “Breaking Bad.” That could all change in the fall, however, with a role in Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” Cranston was invited to join the Academy this year, showing that his peers in the film industry sure do admire his small-screen work. The Academy showed last year it likes when TV stars cross over; they honored 2011 Emmy winner Melissa McCarthy with a Best Supporting Actress nomination last year.
Cranston is rumored to be the standout of a supporting cast, but there are any number of talented actors who could steal an “Argo” slot in the race from him. Oscar winner Alan Arkin also appears to have a prominent role in the film. But voters probably paid their dues to Arkin back in 2006 and are looking ahead to honor new talent.
Following the “Winter’s Bone” precedent, Dwight Henry could score a nomination for his work in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” like John Hawkes back in 2010. However, Hawkes was a respected character actor while Henry is a first-time actor (although you wouldn’t know it from watching the movie). If the love is there for Wallis, that could easily trickle down the ballot to pull Henry into the field.
And I know my love of “Les Miserables” is probably blinding me from making the most rational decision, but with very few other heavy-hitting contenders in the race, I think one of the numerous supporting men from the film could sneak in. My bet is on Eddie Redmayne. He was the charming leading man from “My Week with Marilyn,” seen by enough voters that Redmayne isn’t going to be an entirely new face. His role of Marius is another juicy one, complete with one of the most emotionally devastating songs towards the film’s conclusion.
Best Supporting Actress:
- Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
- Amy Adams, “The Master”
- Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
- Samantha Barks, “Les Miserables”
- Maggie Smith, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
What other narrative do you need: Anne Hathaway crushes Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises” against all odds, and then she brings America to tears by singing “I Dreamed A Dream” in “Les Miserables.” She even shaved her head for the role, a golden-hearted woman who also happens to enter prostitution! It SCREAMS Oscar.
Plus, Hathaway is at a ripe age in her late 20s where Oscars just seem to fall in actresses’ laps. Charlize Theron won at 28 for “Monster,” Reese Witherspoon won at 29 for “Walk The Line,” Natalie Portman won at 29 for “Black Swan.” Hathaway is 29…
In this millennia, two women from the same movie have been nominated for Best Supporting Actress 8 out of 12 years. Ten years ago, two belting women from “Chicago” got the nod here, and one of them won. Therefore, with a dearth of films capable of multiple nominees, I think some other woman from “Les Miserables” has to break into the race. My money is on unknown Samantha Barks, cast as Eponine after playing her on stage. Perhaps she will even upstage Hathaway like Jennifer Hudson upstaged Beyoncé in “Dreamgirls.” It’s possible since her main song, “On My Own,” is a big tearjerker. Here’s her singing it in the anniversary concert:
Like Leonardo DiCaprio, another three-time Oscar nominee, it is only a matter of time before Amy Adams wins an Oscar. Nominated thrice before in Best Supporting Actress, she could add a fourth for her role in “The Master.” Early word says she is a commanding presence even while Phoenix and Hoffman bring out the big guns. If Phoenix loses traction in Best Actor, she could get a leg up on the competition by being the go-to vote in the acting categories for the film. It tipped the scales in favor of Tilda Swinton for “Michael Clayton” in 2007 when the race was a dead heat.
It’s hard to imagine someone being nominated more than Adams here, but Maggie Smith has. Professor McGonagall has been nominated four times for Best Supporting Actress, winning once in 1978. (Oh, and she also won Best Actress in 1969.) As the openly racist senior citizen in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” she’s certain enough of a scene-stealer to get a nomination that’s more than just for residual respect. But a win to put her in Meryl Streep territory? Seems unlikely.
And apparently Helen Hunt will be campaigned for Best Supporting Actress for “The Sessions,” so why not throw another bone to the former Best Actress winner? There are certainly very few others that seem capable of garnering a nomination at this point.
Best Original Screenplay:
- The Master
- Django Unchained
- Moonrise Kingdom
- Zero Dark Thirty
- Seven Psychopaths
Even at this early point in the game, there appears to be only one open slot in Best Original Screenplay. Prior winners in the category, Quentin Tarantino and Mark Boal, are back with “Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” respectively. Prior nominees, Andersons Paul Thomas and Wes have “The Master” and “Moonrise Kingdom” in play. All four films are major players for Best Picture.
Beyond those, no major Best Picture contenders are derived from original screenplays. So who knows what the Academy will do with that final slot?
The quirky comedy slot is filled by “Moonrise Kingdom.” The drama is taken care of by “The Master.” Every once in a while, a foreign film pops up here, but I don’t think Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is a writer’s movie. It’s a director’s film. Woody Allen and Pixar, perennial writers’ favorites, didn’t pass the critical gauntlet with “To Rome with Love” and “Brave,” respectively. (I liked them just fine, though.)
Mike Leigh doesn’t have a new movie. The Coen Brothers are likely holding “Inside Llewyn Davis” for 2013. Martin McDonagh, dark horse nominee in 2008 for “In Bruges,” does have a new film in “Seven Psychopaths,” but pundits seem to think it’s more of a commercial play. Nonetheless, it seems like the only reasonable thing to predict for that final slot.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
- Life of Pi
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Anna Karenina
- Les Miserables
I’ve heard “Life of Pi” is quite a difficult book to adapt, so I’ve got to give it the edge here. It’s also adapted by David Magee, prior nominee for “Finding Neverland” in 2004.
Tony Kushner, wunderkind of the stage, is teaming up with Steven Spielberg again for “Lincoln.” Their first collaboration on “Munich” garnered a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Can lightning strike twice? Adapting the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the most respected living historians, will certainly be a daunting task. And one that will be rewarded handsomely if done well.
While it could be viewed as a director’s or an actor’s movie, I’m counting on “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to follow the “Winter’s Bone” trajectory and score a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.
Speaking of revered playwrights, Tom Stoppard is also a factor here for his adaptation of “Anna Karenina.” Though the Russian novel has been put on screen a zillion times, Stoppard’s version could be singular. Even if the movie doesn’t hit big with voters, Stoppard was a winner for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998, and that’s got to count for something this year.
“Argo” could edge out “Les Miserables” for the last slot. ”Les Mis” is entirely sung-through and will thus require little work in transferring formats. (Although carbon copy stage-to-screen adaptation “Doubt” cruised to a nomination here in 2008.) I’m thinking the film’s overall respect could make voters ignore the lack of rigor of the adaptation.
PHEW! That was exhausting! 4200 words later, are you still with me? What do you think is going to happen in this year’s Oscar race?