REVIEW: Joy

16 01 2016

“Hands, give me the hands,” Bradley Cooper’s Neil Walker vehemently instructs a cameraman filming Jennifer Lawrence’s Joy Mangano as she sells her Miracle Mop on QVC. For Walker, the consummate showman (and perhaps the stand-in for writer/director David O. Russell), these appendages are the attribute that sets stars apart from the average person. Hands are important because, in his words, “that’s what people use.”

Russell uses hands as a motif running throughout “Joy,” a hymn to ingenuity and perseverance inspired by true stories of daring women. To him, hands mean physical labor, the kind of work traditionally delegated to men. But that traditional division of duties never stopped Joy, who built kingdoms out of paper as a child, dog collars as a teenager, and finally a self-wringing mop as an adult. Her knack for creation, when coupled with her practicality and pragmatism, means she has real potential for success.

Indicative of just how overextended Joy is among her large family, her hands spend most of their time at home doing household repairs like plumbing which would normally be left to the male authority figure. (Her ex-husband, Edgar Ramirez’s failed singer Tony, spends most of his day crooning in the basement.) On top of all the emotional labor of caring for the physical and emotional well-being of her two young children, she has virtually no time to pursue a path that could bring fulfillment and fortune. Yet another mess Joy must clean up enables her to dream up the revolutionary mop after shards of glass lead to gashes all over her hands.

In order to turn her flailing life around, Joy has to compete in the man’s world of business to get her product in front of customers. She has virtually no cues as to how to operate in this sphere; repeated asides from a fictional soap opera show the kind of cues from which Joy can draw. Boys get “The Godfather.” Girls get puffed-up camp like “The Joyful Storm.”

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 20, 2015)

20 08 2015

Lily Tomlin won the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, yet she somehow still feels underappreciated. Or maybe that’s just because she kept a low profile after the peak of her stardom in the 1970s and was known mostly to members of my generation as the voice of Ms. Frizzle on “The Magic School Bus.” But thanks to perfectly tailored roles in Netflix’s “Grace & Frankie” and the new film “Grandma,” Tomlin definitely seems poised for a major moment once again.

But Tomlin’s career is not necessarily being “rescued.”  In fact, some of her best work has come from the slow and steady decades between her peaks of public interest.  Case in point: “I Heart Huckabees,” the film that landed David O. Russell in director jail after he went for Tomlin’s jugular on set.  In spite of that tension, the movie still turned out alright – even if I did not immediately recognize it on first viewing five years ago.

Russell has gained a reputation for stylish, quirky films with his so-called “reinvention” trilogy that began with 2010’s “The Fighter.”  But that idiosyncratic spirit certainly existed before then, and “I Heart Huckabees” might mark its most vibrant display.  Working with co-writer Jeff Baena, Russell crafts a so-called “existential comedy” that mines philosophy and ontology for laughs that might make Woody Allen green with envy.  As such, it merits my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Beneath all the hilarious intellectual banter lies a very simple story about a man, Jason Schwartzman’s Albert Markovski, an environmental activist who just wants to know what it’s all about.  “It,” of course, is the very meaning of life itself.  After a series of odd coincidences, he turns to a pair of existential detectives, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin’s husband and wife team Bernard and Vivian Jaffe.  This duo claims that they can – with enough field research – determine how everything in Albert’s life connects.  They set out to find his place in the grand plan of the universe, optimistically sure that such a thing exists.

But after a while, Albert falls prey to the Jaffe’s nemesis and ideological counterpart, Isabelle Huppert’s Caterine Vauban. She offers similar services but with the nihilistic assertion that nothing relates to anything.  The longer Bernard and Vivian take to complete their assessment of Albert’s life, the more appealing Caterine’s services look.

Albert’s quest for self-knowledge gets complicated by others who seek out the detectives’ services, such as Mark Wahlberg’s Tommy Corn, a firefighter who can chew anyone’s ear off with his views on the harmfulness of petroleum.  Russell has utilized Wahlberg in three films now, and this is certainly his most ingenious performance among the trio.  While the actor is notorious for his authentic off-screen anger and street cred, Russell funnels those traits into a hilariously exaggerated character professing a hyper-verbal righteous indignation.  For Wahlberg, often more likely to rely on the swagger of his body than the power of his words, the performance feels revelatory (and perhaps indicative of even more untapped potential).

The quirky crew does not end there, with Jude Law also in the mix as Brad Stand, a corporate executive at the company Huckabees determined to take Albert down by figuring out the meaning of his own life.  Naomi Watts’ Dawn Campbell, Brad’s girlfriend and the star of Huckabees’ ad campaign, gets thrown in for good measure too.  Both are slightly minor players but still players nonetheless.

Russell throws some really dense, cerebral concepts out there in “I Heart Huckabees” – and at the lightning-fast speed of his dialogue, no less.  But so long as you can keep up, the film proves a rewarding, stimulating experience with something to say about the equilibrium between pragmatism and pessimism that we need to get through the day.





Oscar Moment: Final 2013 Predictions! (Part 2)

15 01 2014

Last night, I had a very stressful dream that involved me missing the official announcement of the Academy Award nominations.  I then scrambled all day to try and watch a video of the presentation to no avail.  So needless to say, I am very ready to find out who’s really in the running for this year’s Oscars!  Now, it’s time to reveal my predictions for the top categories.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  1. American Hustle
  2. Her
  3. Nebraska
  4. Blue Jasmine
  5. Inside Llewyn Davis

_DSC2097.tifThis may be the most stacked that the original category has been in a long, long time.  Usually, it’s adapted that is an embarrassment of riches and original that has a dearth of contenders. Not so much in 2013.

“American Hustle,” being at the forefront of the Oscar race, is probably the one to beat here.  “Her,” however, could steal it in the end.  Jonze’s incredibly original work took the Golden Globe, and it will likely find fans in the writers’ branch.  Then again, they didn’t embrace “The Master” last year … the moment you think you have the Academy pegged, they change.

“Nebraska” seems highly likely as well.  Even though the script was not written by Alexander Payne himself, the 2-time winner of Best Adapted Screenplay, the film still has his fingerprints all over it.  A nomination would still be likely even if the film wasn’t in Best Picture contention.

Blue JasmineAfter there, the race could go a number of ways.  I’m thinking writers’ branch stalwart Woody Allen will show up here for “Blue Jasmine.”  It’s one of his more acclaimed films in years, and Blanchett’s front-runner status in Best Actress has kept the film’s profile high.  Only twice has Allen’s script missed a nomination here when the movie features an Oscar-nominated performance.  He’s been nominated a whopping 15 times, so betting against him seems foolish.

“Dallas Buyers Club” is riding high off praise for its performances and may sail to a Best Picture nomination.  Even without a nod in the top category, I could see it popping up here, like last year when “Flight” displaced “The Master.”  (If you can’t tell, I’m still slightly bitter.)

There’s always a chance for a really left-field choice here, so who knows what could land a nomination?  Could it be Jeff Nichols’ “Mud?”  Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said?”  Oscar contenders likely to be on the outside looking in such as “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Fruitvale Station,” “The Butler,” or maybe even … Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity?”

I’m leaning towards the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” another fantastic showcase of their talents and potentially one of the few chances the film has at recognition.  Though it’s been absent from the guilds, the Coens have always had fans in the Academy.  The writers branch has nominated their work five times, and residual respect ought to bring them through.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  1. 12 Years a Slave
  2. Captain Phillips
  3. Philomena
  4. Before Midnight
  5. The Wolf of Wall Street

Before MidnightBest Picture nominees generally tend to dominate the field in Adapted, so “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips,” and “Philomena” have pretty much already punched their ticket.

The category usually recognizes a few more unique adaptations, like a “Borat,” “Children of Men,” or “In the Loop.”  This year, I think that slot goes to “Before Midnight.”  The previous installment in the most unlikely trilogy also received a nomination in Best Adapted Screenplay, and there’s no reason why I don’t think its sequel will repeat.  It’s debatable how “adapted” the story really is as it takes its basis from pre-existing characters, but that won’t work against it.  The unique collaboration between director Richard Linklater and actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke is worth rewarding in and of itself too for its uniqueness.

As for the last spot, I think “The Wolf of Wall Street” takes it even if the film misses out on a Best Picture nomination.  The only other competition is “August: Osage County,” which has proved divisive and controversial.  It’s also more of an actors’ movie, which works against the film when only writers determine its chances at a nomination here.

BEST DIRECTOR

  1. Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
  2. Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”
  3. David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
  4. Paul Greengrass, “Captain Phillips”
  5. Spike Jonze, “Her”

GravityLast year, the director’s branch threw everyone for a curve by excluding two former winners (Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper) and omitting the director of the eventual Best Picture winner (Ben Affleck) to include a first-time filmmaker (Benh Zeitlin) and a director working in a foreign language (Michael Haneke).  I don’t think Best Director will have quite as many surprise this year, though.

Alfonso Cuarón seems likely for a nomination, if not the win at this point.  His “Gravity” is an undeniable testament to the skill and expertise of his direction.  Even if the Academy doesn’t want to give their top prize to a science-fiction movie, Cuarón could still take home this prize.  The man has been nominated as an editor and a writer previously, so respect runs deep through the organization.

Steve McQueen and David O. Russell, directors of the respective Best Picture shoo-ins “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle,” should also be safe.  Russell even managed a nomination in Best Director last year for “Silver Linings Playbook” despite being snubbed by the DGA.  He got the guild’s support this year, so he’s definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Paul Greengrass scored a lone Best Director nomination back in 2006 for “United 93” (perhaps the film would have been nominated in a field of more than 5) and seems likely to score another nod with “Captain Phillips.”  His steady direction is crucial to the film’s success, and though it’s out of the hunt for a win, I’d be shocked to see it passed over given the respect for Greengrass and the film.

ScorseseAs for the fifth and final spot in the category, the directors branch could nominate Alexander Payne for “Nebraska,” whose work was recognized by the Golden Globes.  Or they could give DGA nominee Martin Scorsese his first Best Director nomination since finally winning in 2006 for “The Departed.”  I really can’t tell which of these wildly different pieces will strike a chord with the eclectic directors.  My sense is that Payne, twice nominated here for “Sideways” and “The Descendants,” is more likely than Scorsese as “The Wolf of Wall Street” definitely has its detractors.

I’m inclined to think, though, that the directors will opt to give the final spot to Spike Jonze for “Her.”  It’s a film that represents a clear directorial vision and creation.  The movie is quirky and may not play well across the board to the Academy, but I think it should resonate with the directors.  They gave him a Best Director nomination back in 1999 for his directorial debut “Being John Malkovich,” so there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t be feted again.

BEST PICTURE

  1. American Hustle
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Gravity
  4. Captain Phillips
  5. Nebraska
  6. Her
  7. Dallas Buyers Club
  8. The Wolf of Wall Street
  9. Philomena
  10. Inside Llewyn Davis

NebraskaWell, here, we are.  My final Best Picture predictions.  It’s down to “American Hustle” vs. “12 Years a Slave” vs. “Gravity” for the win; everybody else should just be happy to put “__ Oscar nominations including BEST PICTURE” on their DVD case.  I think “American Hustle” has the edge at the moment, but the upcoming guilds should provide a clearer picture of who is really on top.  After all, it’s those people whose opinions line up most with Academy voters.

“Captain Phillips” and “Nebraska” are also pretty much shoo-ins, collecting pretty much every major nomination necessary to secure a spot here.  (“Nebraska” missed with the DGA, but that’s not the end of the world in an expanded field.)  Again, neither looks like a threat to win here.

Aside from those five, however, it’s anyone’s guess as to how those other spots play out.  Several films have popped up with a blip on the radar, such as “The Butler” (SAG), “August: Osage County” (SAG), “Blue Jasmine” (PGA), “Fruitvale Station” (AFI), and “Rush” (HFPA).  Of these, I think only “Blue Jasmine” has the chance to surprise.  The Producers Guild is a significant voting body, and their nod of support should not be taken lightly.  But “Blue Jasmine” has been so quiet on the circuit otherwise compared to “Midnight in Paris.”  Woody Allen’s respect in the Academy is deep, too, so there’s always an outside chance for one of his movies.

For SAG ensemble nominees “The Butler” and “August: Osage County,” I don’t think their critical shortcomings can be overcome with this nomination.  While the actors may be the biggest component of the Academy, we’ve learned they are not large enough to power otherwise poorly-received films to Best Picture nominations in the era of the expanded field.  SAG ensemble nominees Nine” and “The Best Exotic Margiold Hotel” both faltered in their quest to be recognized in the industry’s top category, and the two aforementioned 2013 nominees will likely fare the same.

“Fruitvale Station” and “Rush” just never really caught fire in awards season, and I doubt that either can gin up the passion to gain the requisite votes for a nomination.

PhilomenaThat leaves us with several repeat offenders.  “Her” was a Golden Globe, BFCA, PGA, WGA, and AFI nominee.  Thought its quirkiness and boldness might not find favor with all Academy voters, it definitely has enough passionate supporters to at least gain a nomination.

“Dallas Buyers Club” was nominated for SAG ensemble along with BFCA, PGA, and WGA nominations.  The film seems to have a broad enough base of support, but there’s always a chance that the supporters aren’t very fervent.  I think it ought to be fine, though.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is very controversial, as I’ve said nearly any time I’ve written about it, but the film seems to have hit its stride just when it counts.  Though it missed entirely with SAG, it’s been nominated by the DGA, PGA, WGA, BFCA, and HFPA.  I think all that support means a nomination is extremely likely, but anything could happen.

I think the Academy might end up with just those eight, which would be a shame given how incredible this year has been for film.  But if they nominate nine, I think “Philomena” would take the next spot.  It’s a sentimental crowd-pleaser right up the Academy’s alley, and it’s British.  There’s a sizable contingency of industry professionals from across the pond that vote for the Oscars, and they’ve been a crucial voting bloc that can often make a contender.  “Philomena” has wide support from BAFTA, HFPA, PGA, and WGA, which I expect means it has the capability of scoring a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

Inside Llewyn DavisAnd if they were to nominate ten, the smart money would probably be on PGA, BFCA, and AFI nominee “Saving Mr. Banks.”  The fact that it was not nominated by the Golden Globes and SAG, though, strikes me as odd.  Tom Hanks’ lack of traction in Best Supporting Actor, too, seems a sign of the film’s weakness.  “Philomena” seems to have the market cornered on the heartwarming movie of the year.  Maybe the industry is done with the self-congratulatory streak that powered “The Artist” and “Argo” to Best Picture wins.

Even though it was shockingly snubbed by the PGA and WGA, “Inside Llewyn Davis” was directed by the Coen Brothers.  Their status as Academy darlings simply cannot be understated, particularly after their wins in 2007 for “No Country for Old Men.”  In 2009, their “A Serious Man” managed to sneak into the Best Picture category with relatively little heat.  The next year, their “True Grit” wound up with a whopping 10 nominations, and the Coens displaced Christopher Nolan in Best Director.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” hasn’t been completely dead on the circuit, picking up nominations from HFPA, BFCA, and AFI.  It’s definitely a long shot, but don’t write the film off.  I think if any movie stands poised to stealthily crack the field, it’s this one.

Check back tomorrow morning when the nominees are announced to see how I did in predicting them, along with further commentary on the announcement!





Oscar Moment: 2013 Pre-Fall Festival Predictions

27 08 2013

Well, folks, the time is here to talk about Oscar season.  The Venice Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, and suddenly it won’t be taboo to talk about what might be competing for the Academy Awards.

Just to show you how much things change over the course of the fall, last year I predicted “The Master” to win Best Picture at this time – and it wound up not being nominated.  I was close for Best Director and Best Actor, though, ranking Ang Lee and Daniel Day-Lewis my #2 pick in their respective categories.  Jennifer Lawrence was not remotely on my radar, but my projected winner Quvenzhané Wallis did manage to get a nomination!  I got the movie right for Best Supporting Actor, but picked Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Christoph Waltz as the “Django Unchained” cast member to hoist the Oscar.  And I, like everyone else, saw Anne Hathaway’s win coming from the moment the first “Les Misérables” trailer hit the web.

So what will surprise us this year?  And what will disappoint?  Here’s my first draft at a year in Oscar forecasting.

Best Picture

  1. American Hustle (trailer)
  2. 12 Years a Slave (trailer)
  3. Foxcatcher
  4. August: Osage County (trailer)
  5. Gravity (trailer)
  6. The Monuments Men (trailer)
  7. Her (trailer)
  8. Inside Llewyn Davis (trailer)
  9. Labor Day
  10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (trailer)

American HustleThere seems to be no clear frontrunner a la “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or “War Horse” for 2013.  So I’m just going to gander it’s a dues-paying year.  It seems like David O. Russell, after two straight Best Picture-Best Director nominations for “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” is now on the fast track to win someday.  So why not 2013 with “American Hustle?”  A glitzy period drama that looks to provide action, comedy, and drama looks pretty good on paper to me.

Another film I could see making a charge at the prize is Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave.”  Despite all the talent involved in this film, I think it might still be an underdog given that McQueen’s previous two films have not received a single Oscar nomination.  Then again, Tom Hooper was a relative novice when he directed “The King’s Speech,” and we know how that story ends.

Previous Best Director nominees Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), George Clooney (“The Monuments Men”), Spike Jonze (“Her”), the Coen Brothers (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), and Jason Reitman (“Labor Day”) all look to get in the Best Picture race.  Based on their pedigree alone, I’m predicting nominations for these five films.  All are sight unseen, save “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which I have seen and can attest is the kind of well-made film that will score with the Academy.

I guess I could include Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” in this clump, since the film’s director is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and editor.  But that film gets a Best Picture nomination, in my mind, because it belongs in a class with “Avatar,” “Hugo,” and “Life of Pi” – technical masterpieces directed by renowned talents.

As for “August: Osage County,” that play is so well-written that it would take a first-class hack job for it not to be a Best Picture nominee.  We’re talking a play that will go next to Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams in the American dramatic literature canon, people.

And to round out the top 10, I picked Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I’m not entirely sold on it, but it could make a surprise run for Best Picture.  It could also fizzle with awards voters.  Who knows?  Clearly not I.

Best Director

  1. David O. Russell, “American Hustle”
  2. Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
  3. Steve McQueen, “12 Years A Slave”
  4. Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”
  5. Spike Jonze, “Her”

FoxcatcherAs I said, I’m projecting Russell to go all the way in 2013.

Past nominee Bennett Miller could give him a run for his money, although he was overlooked for his work on 2011 Best Picture nominee “Moneyball.”  Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron should score their first Best Director nominations (which is a shame).

And since Spike Jonze scored a lone Best Director nomination for “Being John Malkovich” back in 1999, I don’t think it’s out of the question to see him score a second nomination for his work on “Her.”  It certainly appears to be daring … and the director’s branch showed they were willing to go out on a limb last year with nominees Benh Zeitlin and Michael Haneke.

Best Actor

  1. Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
  2. Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”
  3. Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years A Slave”
  4. Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
  5. Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

McConaugheyBig, baity performances have won out here for the past decade, essentially.  So I’d say the frontrunner has to be Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  His comeback narrative is appealing, and the fact that he lost a ton of weight helps.

That being said, I wouldn’t count out Joaquin Phoenix for “Her.”  If he could get nominated for a polarizing film like “The Master,” perhaps there’s more respect for Phoenix in the Academy than most people recognize.  He’s been nominated three times now, and I think it’s only a matter of time before he wins.

Chiwetel Ejiofor could easily supplant McConaughey as the bait performance to beat here.  A frontrunner will be cemented by the time both films debut at Toronto.

Breakout performer Oscar Isaac ought to score a nod here for “Inside Llewyn Davis.”  I don’t see how he can be overlooked if the movie is a hit with the Academy.

And keep an eye out for Robert Redford here.  He gives an incredible, virtually wordless performance in “All Is Lost” that will not be forgotten.  The Hollywood legend hasn’t been nominated for his acting in over 40 years, and the one Oscar sitting on his mantle is for directing.  Might it be his time in the sun?

Best Actress

  1. Amy Adams, “American Hustle”
  2. Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
  3. Naomi Watts, “Diana”
  4. Kate Winslet, “Labor Day”
  5. Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Amy AdamsPlease, Academy, make this Amy Adams’ year!  She’s been nominated four times already in Best Supporting Actress.  Now that she’s playing with the big girls in Best Actress, maybe it’s just time to give her the darned trophy already.

Woody Allen hasn’t directed a woman to a leading actress win since Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” – perhaps Cate Blanchett’s turn in “Blue Jasmine” can break the dry spell?  I think she’s a sure bet for a nomination, but another win is unlikely since Blanchett has won in the past decade.

Or maybe it’s Naomi Watts’ turn after coming up short for last year’s “The Impossible.”  If the Academy loves this two-time nominee, an uncanny performance as Princess Diana would be a good time to give it to her.

Kate Winslet has been nominated for six Oscars and has won one.  So why would the love stop now?  In her first notable screen performance since winning for 2008’s “The Reader,” she could rack up nomination number 7 and be well on her way to becoming the Meryl Streep of her generation.

Speaking of Meryl Streep, I could be making a mistake by not including her here.  She would definitely crack my top 5, but I’m hearing that she’ll be campaigned in supporting.  So for now, that fifth slot goes to Emma Thompson for the breezy “Saving Mr. Banks.”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Michael Fassbender, “12 Years A Slave”
  2. Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”
  3. Daniel Bruhl, “Rush”
  4. Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
  5. Tom Hanks, “Saving Mr. Banks”

FassbenderGo big or go home.  After being snubbed for his incredible work in “Shame,” I predict the Academy will right its wrongs and reward Michael Fassbender with an Oscar for “12 Years A Slave.”  I really hope I’m right.

Bradley Cooper, given the villain role in “American Hustle,” could capitalize on a year of goodwill after a nomination from “Silver Linings Playbook.”  He’s probably a safer pick, but I’m not interested in safe at this point.

After last year’s category was dominated by previous winners, I’m going to predict two more first-time nominees in this category: Daniel Bruhl for “Rush,” whose performance has been touted since Cannes, and Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher,” a darker role for the comedic actor.

And then I’ll predict Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” because that proposition just sounds too good to pass up for Academy voters.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Oprah Winfrey, “The Butler”
  2. Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”
  3. Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station”
  4. Cameron Diaz, “The Counselor”
  5. Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

OprahHonestly, this category is such a toss-up at this point, so I’m forced to pick the only person with buzz at the moment: Oprah Winfrey for “The Butler.”  Beyond her, my confidence ends.  If the Weinstein Company had announced what Meryl Streep will be campaigned in, I’d feel confident picking her in whatever category they chose.  Right now, I’m going with supporting.

I thought Octavia Spencer was the best part of “Fruitvale Station,” but her part may be too small or too soon after her win for “The Help.”

Cameron Diaz looks like an intriguing femme fatale in “The Counselor,” but that movie could flop so hardcore that she’s rendered a non-factor this season.  With no festival appearances slated, the film does not appear to be a serious threat for anything.  Diaz has been pretty quiet lately, but let’s not forget she had a string of acclaimed roles from 1998 to 2002 that gave her 4 Golden Globe nominations and 3 SAG Award nominations.

And as for that last slot, I figured I might as well throw in Jennifer Lawrence for “American Hustle.”  Everyone loves J.Law, and I think enough people will like “American Hustle” to give her a victory lap after last year’s win.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. American Hustle
  2. Inside Llewyn Davis
  3. Blue Jasmine
  4. Her
  5. Gravity

Inside Llewyn DavisDavid O. Russell is a two-time writing nominee?  Check for “American Hustle.”

The Coen Brothers are five-time writing nominees with two wins?  Check for “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Woody Allen has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay a whopping 15 times, and “Blue Jasmine” does not suck.  Check.

Spike Jonze is an acclaimed original figure in Hollywood?  Check for “Her,” but with some reluctance as “The Master” was snubbed last year for the clichéd “Flight.”

Alfonso Cuaron is a two-time writing nominee, but his latest film “Gravity” might be a lot more impressive on the screen than it is on the page.  Perhaps he will wow us once again and make us regret ever doubting him … so I’ll predict “Gravity” to take the final slot here.  But “Black Swan” missed here, so originality isn’t everything in the Best Original Screenplay category.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. 12 Years A Slave
  2. Foxcatcher
  3. The Monuments Men
  4. August: Osage County
  5. Before Midnight

It would be foolish of me not to predict a lot of Best Picture nominees here, which traditionally dominate the Best Adapted Screenplay category.  But don’t count out “Before Midnight,” whose predecessor scored a nomination back in 2004 in this category.  The series, and this installment in particular, has gotten a lot of positive press.  I don’t think the writers will forget about this one.

What do you think?  Who is the one to beat in 2013?  Sound off!





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 4 (Directing)

8 01 2013

TWO MORE DAYS!  I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln
  2. Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo
  4. Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables
  5. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook

Kathryn Bigelow ZDTIn case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations.  If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.

Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place.  Heck, I think any of these three could win.  Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!

Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture.  Could a similar surprise be in store this year?

Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again.  She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture.  Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?

Argo Best Director

And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director.  I don’t think he would benefit from a split.

Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier.  If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.

Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race.  This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids.  That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all.  And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize.  Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.

Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split.  If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”

Life of PiWhile many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure.  I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture.  It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes.  It could also win the ensemble award at SAG.  And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts.  A nomination feels pretty secure to me.

“Life of Pi” support is fading.  Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going.  Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter.  And the DGA nod certainly helps.

But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me.  I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason).  While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.

I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.  Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?

LincolnHowever, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use.  So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee.  But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations   With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.

The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations.  But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”  I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.”  As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.

They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages.  In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.”  For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.”  It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.

David O

Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”  They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”  Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations.  The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.

But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away.  His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.”  I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups.  The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.

I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee.  With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.

Academy voters are creatures of habit.  If something works for them once, it often works again.  Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born?  Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time.  “Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff.  The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama.  (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)

So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here.  I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever.  But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 1 (Screenplay)

5 01 2013

Well, folks, it’s over.  Kind of.

Time is up for movies to impress the Academy voters before the nominees are announced.  The race is frozen now before nominations are announced early Thursday morning, January 10.  So with nothing left to influence the nominations, I’ll be offering my final take on the race before we find out who gets to compete for the golden man, the Oscar.

Today, I’ll be discussing the writing categories, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Amour

ZDTI think this is probably the biggest no-brainer race of them all for 2012.  It’s an extremely thin field, filled with several past nominees and winners.  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” will vie for the win; I think it’s Mark Boal’s to lose, but Tarantino could take it if they feel Boal’s win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 was too short a gap.  Going through the two categories is tough to find gaps between wins, but I think Boal’s back-to-back wins would be unprecedented.

Even if “The Master” doesn’t score a Best Picture nomination, it is a sure bet to get a writing nod.  The writers’ branch has always loved Paul Thomas Anderson, nominating him for “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.”  I think the Academy respects him more as a writer than a director, and I’d hedge my bet that his first Oscar comes from the screenplay categories.

Though “The Master” is not unilaterally acclaimed, I think the fact that they nominated the challenging and polarizing “Magnolia” means they’ll nominate just about anything he writes.  (Except “Punch-Drunk Love,” but that was just a terrible movie.)

Wes Anderson was recognized here for his work on “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001, and his “Moonrise Kingdom” is playing a lot better on the precursor circuit than that one.  Though it may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, it will at least have this prize to compete for.  I doubt it has a shot to win, but it’s another feather in Anderson’s cap for an eventual win down the road.

AmourAs for that final slot, people (including myself) seem to have finally caught onto the fact that the writers’ branch sees foreign films and isn’t afraid to nominate them.  Despite everyone declaring “A Separation” the winner for Best Foreign Film all year, very few seemed to see the Best Original Screenplay nomination coming.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Barbarian Invasions” had turned their goodwill from Best Foreign Film into writing nods.  Not to mention “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “City of God,” directorial triumphs recognized by the directors’ branch, were also recognized for their screenplays.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention “Amelie,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Looper

And I nearly omitted Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” which WON in 2002.  (Perhaps it’s the subtitles that remind them that they are reading a movie?)

The writers think global.  Thus, no one wants to get caught off guard, and the smart money is on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”  While I think it’s much more of a director’s movie, I think it glides in simply on the weakness of the pool of eligible nominees.

Perhaps they will pull a “Margin Call” surprise and go with Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” a kindred spirit in its vilification of Wall Street big wigs.  Or maybe they take original to heart and nominate Rian Johnson’s superb “Looper,” a critical favorite that has popped up sporadically throughout the precursor circuit.  Heck, maybe John Gatins’ script for “Flight” shows up like it did on the WGA list.

But I’ll stick with “Amour,” in spite of my reservations.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Argo Screenplay“Lincoln,” “Argo,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locks.  Inarguable.  If they don’t get nominated … well, I won’t finish that sentence since it’s a waste of time.  IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The last two slots are a mystery to me.  I think it’s ultimately a decision of whether the writers go along with groupthink or go out on a limb for a script that they love.  Will they make sure the heavy-hitter Best Picture contenders have a writing nomination to add to their tally?  Or will they provide a lone nomination (or a high-profile one) for a movie not nearly as beloved?

Just as a reminder of how hard it is to predict, let’s look back at the past three years of the category since those reflect Best Picture moving to beyond 5 nominees.

Last year, it looked like “The Help” would ride the coattails of its Best Picture nomination to a screenplay nod.  And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which most thought would be a Best Picture nominee, looked good too.  The writers snubbed both of these, opting for the well-wrought “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and a lone nod for George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”  (“War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” were two other Best Picture nominees that were not recognized.)

LincolnIn 2010, the category was 5-for-5 with Best Picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “True Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” and “127 Hours” all scoring here.  The eventual winner was – obviously – Aaron Sorkin’s visionary script for “The Social Network.”

2009 saw a surprising triumph for Best Picture nominee “Precious” over fellow nominees “Up in the Air,” “District 9,” and “An Education.”  Only one other adaptation was in the Best Picture field, but it was “The Blind Side” – a nominee few saw coming.  So unsurprisingly, an outside nominee charged the field – “In the Loop,” a British political comedy that came in from out of the blue.

So since there’s no clear precedent, what to do?  Predict that the writers just go with the flow and nominated “Life of Pi” and “Les Misérables?”  Or attempt to forecast a big passion play?

I think William Nicholson’s script for “Les Misérables” is a more likely nominee, despite many naysayers who think it won’t be appreciated because it was a musical.  “Chicago,” the last stage-to-screen musical, was nominated here; you have to go so far back to see a movie musical in the Best Picture field that it isn’t worth looking for a pattern.  We really have no idea whether it’s a contender, though, since it was ineligible at the WGA Awards.  But it did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, and that was a nod “Chicago” did pick up in 2002.

Les Mis FYC 2-page

Basically, in my prediction of “Les Misérables” for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m counting on the movie playing really well with the Academy (which it apparently has, in spite of the critics’ attempts to destroy it).  There’s nothing but a gut feeling telling me to predict it, and a slight inkling that they love the movie enough to nominate it a lot.

There’s much more of a reason for me to predict “Life of Pi,” which has the WGA nomination to its credit.  But a lot of people have criticized David Magee’s script for being the major flaw of the movie, and that gives me hesitancy.  Could it be that it only scored a nomination because of all the ineligible movies?

Life of Pi

I had similar hang-ups about “Hugo” last year, a movie that was visually impressive but took a lot of flak for its weak writing.  Yet John Logan’s script for that was nominated for a WGA Award … and then received an Oscar nomination.  Does “Life of Pi” have the strength of “Hugo,” though, which went on to win 5 Oscars in 2011?  I don’t think it does, and Fox seems to have little confidence in it.

But if it’s not “Life of Pi,” what will it be?  Does any film have the passion necessary to score an outside nod?

There’s an outside chance “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets a Best Picture nomination, but I doubt it would get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same reasons “The Blind Side” missed out here.  Its success is in its feel-good nature, not because of good writing.

Though I’d say it’s written like a sitcom, there are fans of Ben Lewin’s script for “The Sessions.”  But the only heat that movie has lies with the performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt; love of the movie doesn’t go much beyond that.  And if it was a serious contender, why wasn’t it nominated for a WGA Award in spite of all the ineligible movies?

Perks

Heck, maybe even John Logan’s script for “Skyfall” will show up.  Some have suggested it will show up in the Best Picture field after a slightly surprising nomination for the Producers Guild’s prize.  I’d say the script, though flawed, is the smartest part of that movie – but I just don’t see it happening.  Other than “Toy Story 3,” I can’t find any franchise entry nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A more likely nominee is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has been nominated for the WGA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.  It’s adapted by the writer of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the film.  I could definitely see it being 2012’s “The Ides of March” since it’s unlikely to be recognized anywhere else, and the writing is a major strong suit of the film.

But I just have a hard time predicting the movie since it flew under the radar all season.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, and it doesn’t have much big name talent beyond Emma Watson.  “The Ides of March” had 4 Golden Globe nods and a PGA mention.  Likewise, “In the Loop” had popped up in a number of critics’ groups awards.  I’d be surprised if the Academy stood up for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Beasts 2

If any movie unseats “Les Misérables” or “Life of Pi,” I think it would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  It has been uniquely hard to gauge love for the film because it was ineligible not only for the WGA Awards but also for the SAG Awards.  I considered it dead when it blanked at the Golden Globes, but I’m beginning to rethink my assessment after it shockingly popped up as a nominee for Best Picture for the PGA.

Had it been eligible for the guild awards, would we have seen a groundswell of support for the movie?  And lest we forget, the HFPA blanked “True Grit” in 2010 – and that went on to received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Some say the HFPA doesn’t like quintessential American stories, and you could make an argument that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is just that.

I think the movie’s biggest strength is its direction, not its writing.  However, I have similar things to say about “Amour,” and it appears to be cruising towards a nomination.  The writers may really admire this unconventional movie, adapted from a play and transmuted into something wholeheartedly cinematic.

Thus, the degree of difficulty gives me the confidence to say Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s script for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will knock “Life of Pi” (although it could just as easily be “Les Misérables”) out of the category.  So, to answer my own questions from the beginning of the discussion, I believe the Academy will be part groupthink, part cavalier.

Check back tomorrow, January 6, for my take on the Supporting Actor/Actress categories!





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Pre-Season Predictions, Part 1

27 11 2012

Best Picture

  1. Les Miserables
  2. Lincoln
  3. Argo
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Zero Dark Thirty
  6. The Master
  7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  8. Life of Pi
  9. Moonrise Kingdom
  10. Amour

To quote “Les Miserables” itself, the time is now, the day is here.  Tom Hooper’s film has finally been revealed to critics and awards voters – and all reports indicate they are eating it up.  Shrewdly opening on Christmas Day, it will be an audience favorite undoubtedly as it opens wallets and tear ducts across the nation (and world).

It has its own merits, but this is the kind of movie that the Oscars eat up and nominate for EVERYTHING.  If we must call it so, let’s call it what it is: Oscar bait.  The nomination count should easily extend into double digits; the question before us now appears just how many nods it will rack up.

Tying the record of 14 is feasible, and even scoring 15 or 16 doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable at the moment.  With the exception of Best Original Score, pretty much every technical category is in play for “Les Miserables.”  And with weak years in the Supporting fields, it could easily score multiple nods in one or both.

But take a look at the record.  Both movies with 14 nominations won Best Picture.  5 out of the 9 films nominated for 13 Oscars won Best Picture, and 9 of the 15 films nominated for 12 Oscars won Best Picture.  I don’t think there’s any denying it though – “Les Miserables” will be the most nominated film of 2012.  And that will make it very tough to beat.

Of the other likely nominees, only “Lincoln” really stands a chance of getting 10 or more (perhaps “The Master” if it comes back roaring).  Everything seems to be going right for it at the moment.  The box office is great, the reviews are great, the press is great, and the timing could not be more perfect.  Spielberg struck a gold mine here.

This isn’t “Munich” and it isn’t “War Horse” where the Academy just defaulted to rewarding a Spielberg film with a Best Picture nomination out of an almost Pavlovian habit.  It’s got the support and the public conversation going for it in way not unlike “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan.”  We can talk all we want about how timely “Argo” was, but it did not nearly enter the drinking water in a way that this film is.

More importantly, it is currently setting up an important dialectic should it be the main opponent for “Les Miserables:” the head and the heart.  “Les Miserables” is a movie of passion, one that makes you feel and weep.  Though I’d argue that it’s also quite brainy, “Lincoln” is the smarter movie in the more traditional, Oscar sense.  It boasts a thoughtful, well-wrought script by Tony Kushner and a rather controlled direction by Spielberg.

When this battle waged in 2010, Tom Hooper and “The King’s Speech” emerged victorious over David Fincher and “The Social Network.”  Since that was only two years ago, voters surely remember.  Will they fall face-first into another weepy, sentimental film from the same guy – or think twice and reward a living master.  These are the questions that keep me tossing and turning at night!

The past weekend also brought us “Zero Dark Thirty,” whose ambition and scope seem to make it a likely nominee at this point given the weak year and its impressive pedigree.  Reteaming director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, both winners for “The Hurt Locker,” seems to be a recipe for success and recognition.  But its length and apparently rigid procedural aspects should hold the passionate voters at bay and make a Best Picture nomination the win for the film.

We’re arriving at a point where the race is becoming more or less set in terms of nominees.  We know “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are almost assuredly going to make the cut.  However, unless they regain some steam from the precursor season, they probably won’t pose much of a serious threat for the win.

A lot of pundits have clumped “Life of Pi” with the two aforementioned movies.  While I don’t doubt the preponderance of critical and industry support for Ang Lee’s ambitious 3D film, the film seems to lack true and vocal champions.  Maybe the box office will continue to improve and the audience will override the lack of passion I’m sensing from the people who really matter in the Oscar season.  I’m placing it at the bottom of my list of predicted nominees for now, holding out for some reinforcement from the establishment.

And while a lot of people give the Academy flak for being too commercial and predictable, there are still plenty among their ranks who want film to be artistic and innovative.  These people got “The Tree of Life” a Best Picture nomination in 2011, and I suspect they’ll turn out in force for “The Master” this year.

Unless it just gets absolutely shafted the entire season, I’ll continue to predict Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambitious film until the nominations are revealed.  (They could go for “Amour,” as many are predicting, but I don’t buy it.  Too austere and too foreign.)

That gritty, spunky Sundance/festivals quotient (“Winter’s Bone,” “Precious“) is due to be filled again after taking a one-year hiatus.  I think the critics will bring “Beasts of the Southern Wild” back into consciousness and contention in a big way, doing their bit of good in 2012.  It has to cope with ineligibility for guild awards, but Benh Zeitlin’s film has the power to get in – it just has to be remembered.  (“Moonrise Kingdom” could also score a nomination, perhaps at the expense of “Beasts,” if it regains some heat in the early days of the season.)

For all those wondering where “Django Unchained” falls on my list, I refer you to this tweet by Kris Tapley: “Two weeks ago Django was three hours and 12 minutes long. They’ve experimented with it since, re-ordering scenes, etc. Down to the wire.” Yeah, it’s bound to disappoint.

Best Director

  1. Tom Hooper, “Les Miserables”
  2. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo”
  4. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  5. Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”

Picture and Director nearly always go together, so it seems illogical for me to predict anyone other than Tom Hooper out front.  If Spielberg, Affleck, or (fingers crossed) Anderson start generating serious heat, I’ll reconsider.  But I’ve learned better than to opt for a split.

But I’ve learned better than to opt for a split. The Academy also doesn’t seem bothered by picking novices over experienced directors well-regarded throughout the industry.  They like what they like, and whoever delivers them the best movie is going to win Best Director.  Truffaut would be smiling if he were still with us because his auteur theory is etched in stone in AMPAS mentality.

2012 is going to be a year where voters are asked to deliberate if someone deserves to go down in history with a third victory.  We know they love Spielberg since he already has two trophies, and 5% of the Academy thought “War Horse” was the best movie of 2011 since it was nominated for Best Picture.

But does he deserve to join the ranks of William Wyler and Frank Capra as the third director to win three Oscars? His films are totally in their wheelhouse, so it could happen.  His next movie is “Robopocalypse,” so Academy voters may feel they are running out of chances to crown him King of Hollywood once again.  The “Lincoln” PR has been absurd in feting Spielberg, from the cover of Time to an address at Gettysburg.  He’s definitely formidable to win again.

I still wouldn’t count out Ben Affleck to win, especially if “Argo” holds on and starts winning big.  But if it’s “Les Miserables” and not Hooper, I think the Academy votes Spielberg over Affleck.

I doubted David O. Russell’s ability to muscle into the Best Director category in 2010.  Won’t be making that mistake in 2012.  Clearly his abrasiveness has not phased Oscar voters, and if “Silver Linings Playbook” is a big hit with them, he’s a shoo-in nominee.  Think “Juno” scoring a nod for Jason Reitman.

And I hold that the contingent that got Terrence Malick a nomination last year will give Paul Thomas Anderson a second Best Director nomination.  Because believe it or not, there are some people in the Academy who care about supporting the advancement of film.  It’s not as sizable as the contingent that cried at “The King’s Speech,” but it’s big enough to make this happen.