1. Best Director
Usually, the awards show tea leaves would have made quite clear who was going to win this category by now. But you may have heard that the man who has cleaned up just about every pre-Oscar directing award — Argo’s Ben Affleck — isn’t nominated for an Oscar. So. Um. This will be interesting.
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Should win: Lincoln was a true labor of love for Steven Spielberg, and only a filmmaker of his stature could spend a reported $65 million on what amounts to an exquisitely acted and written history lesson — and then see that film gross over $235 million worldwide. But Spielberg’s admirable decision to let his actors perform Tony Kushner’s script with minimal cinematic intrusion leaves the feeling that his bigger accomplishment here was one of producing rather than directing. Ang Lee, on the other hand, also spent years struggling to get Life of Pi to the screen, but he did so by marshaling every last scrap of what a feature film can accomplish in the 21st century. And for that, he deserves his second Oscar as a director.
Will win: Well, good grief, this is a crapshoot. Life of Pi has broad support from the behind-the-scenes branches of the Academy, but it doesn’t have any acting nods, and the Academy’s acting branch is by far the biggest. Silver Linings Playbook, meanwhile, is one of just a handful of films that’s had nominees in all four acting categories — but voters could choose to honor the film with wins for Jennifer Lawrence or Robert De Niro instead of director David O. Russell. Lincoln, meanwhile, is the movie with the most nominations — in both acting and technical categories — and with Ben Affleck’s name missing from the ballot, we just see more members gravitating to Steven Spielberg’s name than anyone else’s. Or not. This will be fun!
2. Best Picture
Many of these nine nominees would be easy front-runners in a less competitive year. Instead, a movie about how the movies can save the world — or at least Americans trapped in Iran — will make Oscar history.
Amour, produced by Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, and Michael Katz
Argo, produced by Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney
Beasts of the Southern Wild, produced by Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, and Michael Gottwald
Django Unchained, produced by Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, and Pilar Savone
Les Misérables, produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, and Cameron Mackintosh
Life of Pi, produced by Gil Netter, Ang Lee, and David Womark
Lincoln, produced by Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy
Silver Linings Playbook, produced by Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, and Jonathan Gordon
Zero Dark Thirty, produced by Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, and Megan Ellison
Should win: With so many terrific movies to choose from, it’s understandable why Argo has become the default choice within Hollywood — it’s a solidly built adult drama about a subject with real resonance to today’s world that also happens to flatter Hollywood’s sense of self-importance. Lincoln, meanwhile, is destined to be the most seen movie out of all its fellow nominees for the sheer fact that high school students nationwide will forevermore watch the film in their American history classes. (It’s also a stirring, deeply felt portrait of American democracy with one of the most striking screen performances in decades — but we can understand why for some it’s kinda boring.) Zero Dark Thirty tackles the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden with a gripping immediacy — really, the bigger outrage is that Kathryn Bigelow didn’t get nominated for her directing — but all the controversy surrounding the accuracy of its storytelling just reveals once again why feature films make for lousy history. (Just ask Django Unchained!)
With so many great films — we’d be here all day if we went into all of ‘em — you gotta go with your heart, and our heart beats largest for Silver Linings Playbook. It does what has become nigh impossible in Hollywood: It tells a conventional love story in an unconventional, surprising manner; it gets you laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time; it features a full cast of characters that all feel fully alive and realized; it has you leaving the theater feeling full-hearted and happy; and it finally, finally got Robert De Niro acting again.
Will win: You’ve likely already heard the trivia nugget that no movie has won Best Picture without a nomination for Best Director since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989. But as Joe Reid at Film.com points out, no movie has won Best Picture without a nod for Best Director and a win in an acting category since Grand Hotel in 1932. With Alan Arkin a distant long shot as Best Supporting Actor, expect Argo to break that particularly arcane Oscar streak on Sunday night — although do not be too terribly shocked if Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, or Life of Pi pull an upset. Crash won Best Picture, for goodness’ sake. Anything is possible.
3. Other category predictions:
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Original Screenplay
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Feature Documentary
Best Animated Feature Film
Best Original Song
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing
Best Visual Effects
Best Animated Short
Best Live Action Short
Best Documentary Short