Close races: Matt Erickson's picks for the Academy Award winners

2013-02-23T21:57:00Z 2013-02-25T00:01:07Z Close races: Matt Erickson's picks for the Academy Award winnersMatt Erickson Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
February 23, 2013 9:57 pm  • 

Everyone knows about flip-flopping when it comes to politics, but this is taking it to another level.

The 2012 Best Picture race for the 85th annual Academy Awards features three politically charged films — and all three, at one time or another, have been front runners. On Sunday, it finally will be revealed just where things settled, and blue states and red states won't have anything to do with it.

"Argo," "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty" all are in the running, though "Zero Dark Thirty" has become this year's Ross Perot — in the race, but not much of a realistic shot at the top prize.

When Steven Spielberg's biopic of Abraham Lincoln was announced, it became instant Oscar bait. When it was released in November — after the presidential election, mind you — it confirmed what many already suspected, and that was that it was a grand achievement.

It took over the roost from "Argo," Ben Affleck's account of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that Canada — and Hollywood — helped out with that had been classified by the government until 1997. "Argo" had bolted to the front of the pack when it was released, only to have "Lincoln" cool it off a little.

But "Lincoln" was just a placeholder for what everyone expected to ultimately be the winner — "Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow's story of the capture of Osama bin Laden. That movie hit on all cylinders when it was released in the heart of awards season.

But it soon was mired in controversy — thanks, of course, to politics. And at this point, those politics have helped make it a long shot at best.

So we're left with "Argo" and "Lincoln," and the momentum seems to have shifted back to more modern politics rather than those from the 19th century.

It's all part of the thrill of Oscar season, which, let's face it, can be as much about politics as it can be about great performances in film.

Best Picture

The nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

This is a two-film race — maybe three. With "Zero Dark Thirty" off the radar screen now for Best Picture, there are two frontrunners: "Argo" and "Lincoln," with "Silver Linings Playbook" still lurking. It's possible that "Argo" and "Lincoln" could split things up enough for "Playbook" to sneak in, but not likely. "Argo" has been tearing up the awards circuit after being the leader early, fading and making a comeback, and to be honest, it's a near flawless bit of filmmaking and will be a deserving winner.

Matt's pick: "Argo"


The nominees: Michael Haneke (Amour), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Benh Zeitlin (Beast of the Southern Wild)

The somewhat shocking snub of Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) — and, really, Tom Hooper for "Les Mis" — has turned this into a two-man race between Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee. A Spielberg win would put him in very select company with only John Ford, William Wyler and Frank Capra with three or more directing Oscars. He wouldn't get it if Affleck was in, though. 

Matt's pick: Steven Spielberg

Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight)

To cut right to the chase, Daniel Day-Lewis will win for his masterful portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. It was pretty much preordained the day he walked onto the set. He'll become the first man with three Best Actor trophies, moving ahead of the likes of Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson. If there was a runner-up, I personally would hope it to be Bradley Cooper, even though Hugh Jackman probably will get more votes.

Matt's pick: Daniel Day-Lewis

Actress in a Leading Role

The nominees: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Jennifer Lawrence is my personal favorite in the category, and she also probably is the favorite after winning at the SAG Awards and Golden Globes, and she's been the winner with most critics groups, as well. But Emmanuelle Riva won at the BAFTAs and got on radar screens as a potential upset winner after Jessica Chastain seemed to fade a bit for what also was a fantastic performance in "Zero Dark Thirty." Still, I think Lawrence holds on here in a pretty tight race.

Matt's pick: Jennifer Lawrence

Actor in a Supporting Role

The nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

For the first time in Oscars history, we have an acting category where all five nominees are past winners. That's impressive. I would argue that Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Christoph Waltz are really almost lead roles more than supporting. Of the two, Waltz is a threat to Tommy Lee Jones and Robert De Niro. That De Niro hasn't been nominated for an Oscar since 1992 is dumbfounding, and the voters may respond to him being on the ballot again. He's also been working the interview circuit hardcore. 

Matt's pick: Robert De Niro

Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Anne Hathaway is the overwhelming favorite here as Fantine in "Les Mis." She's walked away with all the precursor awards, and though her screen time was short, it was showy. Amy Adams has four nominations in eight years, which is remarkable. Sally Field and Helen Hunt are veterans who proved they haven't gone away. And Jacki Weaver is the longest shot of the bunch, even though her performance was my favorite of the bunch. A Hathaway loss here would be a major upset, so taking a snack break is acceptable – and you won't have to listen to her acceptance speech, either.

Matt's pick: Anne Hathaway

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The nominees: Amour (Michael Haneke), Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino), Flight (John Gatins), Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola), Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal)

This seems like a three-horse race. John Gatins, thanks for playing. Going to the awards is your prize. And despite it maybe being Wes Anderson's best yet, "Moonrise Kingdom" hasn't had much buzz. It's hard to imagine "Django Unchained" going home without a prize, and with Quentin Tarantino snubbed in the directing category, it feels natural to reward him here. Michael Haneke could swoop in for "Amour," though no film has combined Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Film in nearly 50 years.

Matt's pick: "Django Unchained"

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

The nominees: Argo (Chris Terrio), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Lucy Alibar, Ben Zeitlin), Life of Pi (David Magee), Lincoln (Tony Kushner), Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

If "Argo" is going to go home with Best Picture, it's a reasonably sure bet to win for screenplay, as well. Last year, that didn't happen – but "The Artist" wasn't even up for its screenplay (and featured almost no dialogue). Between "Argo" and "Lincoln," whichever one we hear called, that will be a big clue to what takes the night's top prize. Chris Terrio won with the writers' guild last weekend, if you need a hint. 

Matt's pick: "Argo"

Foreign Language Film

The nominees: Amour (Austria), Kon-Tiki (Norway), No (Chile), A Royal Affair (Denmark), War Witch (Canada)

We definitely have seen upsets here in the past, but "Amour" feels like one of this year's biggest locks with four other nominations, including Best Picture – and a real chance to steal Best Actress.

Matt's pick: "Amour"

Animated Feature Film

The nominees: Brave, Frankenweenie, Paranorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph

Disney/Pixar films have won the last four times they've been nominated, which would appear to be good news for "Brave." But "Wreck-It Ralph" is from Disney, too, and is fresher with voters. This is a very close race.

Matt's pick: "Brave"


The nominees: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

The cinematographers branch gave its award this year to Roger Deakins for "Skyfall," and certainly deservingly so. Deakins is a 10-time Oscar nominee — and he has yet to win from the Academy. But in the last 23 years, only five films have won here without being a Best Picture nominee. And that means Claudio Miranda could win for "Life of Pi."

Matt's pick: "Life of Pi"

Costume Design

Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman

Oscar loves period pieces here, especially involving royalty and the aristocracy. So "Anna Karenina" should be the front runner and the first award after two previous nominations for Jacqueline Durran. "Les Miserables" could pose a threat, though. Despite her 10 total nominations, Colleen Atwood is probably just glad to be there this year for "Snow White"; she won two years ago for "Alice in Wonderland."

Matt's pick: "Anna Karenina"

Documentary Feature

The nominees: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man

"Searching for Sugar Man" has been a huge hit with the critics and the awards circuit, taking Best Doc prizes from the producers and directors guild, as well as the BAFTAs. That puts it out in front. But this category is always a prime target for an upset. This year, every Academy member was allowed to vote here because all received screeners of the nominees. So anything could happen. "5 Broken Cameras" would be a wonderful long shot winner – but it's just that: a long shot.

Matt's pick: "Searching for Sugar Man"

Documentary Short Subject

The nominees: Inocente, Kings Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart, Redemption

Unlike the Doc Feature category, voting here only is open to members who have seen all five nominees. Typically, throw a dart and you're just as likely to be right as seeing all five and predicting what will win. "Mondays at Racine," about female cancer patients at a hair salon in New York, hits hard emotionally — and director Cynthia Wade is a past winner.

Matt's pick: "Mondays at Racine"

Film Editing

The nominees: Argo, Life of Pie, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Editing used to be a better predictor of Best Picture than it has been lately. The past 20 years, Editing and Picture have matched up only 10 times. That said, both "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty" are the kind of films that typically are awarded here. And what's crazy is, William Goldenberg is nominated for both (sharing with Dylan Tichenor on "Zero"). It's a coin toss, to be honest.

Matt's pick: "Argo"

Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees: Hitchcock, The Hobbit, Les Miserables

"Hitchcock" feels like the odd man out here, so do you go with the known commodity on "The Hobbit," Tami Lane, who has won for the first "Narnia" movie, or do you go with the team that grunged up pretty people like Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman for "Les Mis"? 

Matt's pick: "Les Miserables"

Music (Original Score)

The nominees: Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli), Argo (Alexandre Desplat), Life of Pi (Mychael Danna), Lincoln (John Williams), Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

The names we most often hear nominated here don't tend to be the ones who win, as the Oscars seem to love to introduce us to new blood. It just so happens Mychael Danna's score for "Life of Pi" was the best of the year — just barely ahead of 48-time nominee John Williams. (Think about that — 48 nominations. Amazing.)

Matt's pick: "Life of Pi"

Music (Original Song)

The nominees: "Before My Time" (Chasing Ice), "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" (Ted), "Pi's Lullaby" (Life of Pi), "Skyfall" (Skyfall), "Suddenly" (Les Miserables)

I love that Norah Jones' "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" scored a nomination for "Ted." But this has been Adele's category all along for the theme to "Skyfall," which won at the Golden Globes, as well. A win on Sunday would be just the third time in 10 years the two awards have crossed over. A runner-up would be "Suddenly" from "Les Mis," which qualifies because it was a new song written specifically for the film version and not taken from the original musical.

Matt's pick: "Skyfall"

Production Design

The nominees: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln

The art directors' union gave its awards to "Anna Karenina" for period piece and "Life of Pi" for fantasy picture. So picking between the two of those might seem a fairly safe bet. This award in the recent past has trended toward the fantasy stuff, though, like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Avatar," and "Life of Pi" being up for Best Picture helps its cause over "Anna" in the technical categories.

Matt's pick: "Life of Pi"

Short Film (Animated)

The nominees: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare, Paperman

I enjoyed "Adam and Dog" quite a bit, which is about Adam, the first man, finding and befriending the first dog. But I'm a dog guy. Disney's "Paperman" ran before "Wreck-It Ralph," which helps a little. But this award historically goes to an underdog, and I think this year that underdog is "Adam and Dog."

Matt's pick: "Adam and Dog"

Short Film (Live Action)

The nominees: Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry

With the short films this year being readily available to every voter and not only eligible to those who attended screenings of them, the category becomes even more of a crapshoot than ever before. Of what I've seen, "Curfew," about a New York man who stops in the middle of a suicide attempt to babysit his niece, feels like it could hit with the casual voter more than "Asad." But again, it's a dart at a board.

Matt's pick: "Curfew"

Sound Editing

The nominees: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty

It's a tight race between "Life of Pi" and "Skyfall," both of which were honored by the Motion Picture Sound Editors. But "Skyfall" won for its sound effects, and this award typically goes to the film with the biggest bangs and booms.

Matt's pick: Skyfall

Sound Mixing

The nominees: Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

That the actors in "Les Miserables" sang all their parts live on the set bodes well for it. But it's far from a lock. It may get a challenge from "Life of Pi" and "Skyfall." And every once in a while, when dealing with votes from 7,600 Academy members who don't always understand the sound categories, they just go with their favorite — which this year looks to be "Argo."

Matt's pick: Les Miserables

Visual Effects

The nominees: The Avengers, The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman

An upset here would probably come from "The Hobbit," but "Life of Pi" had this wrapped up before it even went into production.

Matt's pick: "Life of Pi"

Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist based in Northwest Indiana. Starting in 2002, he has seen each Oscar nominee in the 20 major categories prior to the awards ceremony. In 2004, he correctly picked 21 of the 24 winners – and has been trying to get back to that magic number of 20 ever since. He is the assistant editor for MMAjunkie.com and USA Today's MMA coverage, and his work has appeared in The Times, Shore Magazine, USA Today, UFC Magazine, Chicago Tribune and other publications around the country.

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