Anything Obscure & Eclectic
"Lincoln"

The Year of the CIA and Making Men Free: Oscar Predictions 2013

Time to blow the cobwebs off this ole blog post thingamajig…

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Actor

Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln” — should win, will win
Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Perhaps the no-brainer of the year comes alphabetically right up front. Day-Lewis was, is, and will ever be magnificent, and his pure embodiment of Lincoln in Spielberg’s 13th Amendment drama ranks among his finest and most nuanced performances all-time. He even managed some of his patented “No one can do crazy like Daniel Day-Lewis” in that memorable “clothed in immense power” speech. In total, Oscar gold, and this without yet acknowledging that a Day-Lewis win would continue a streak, active since 1993, of at least one Oscar going to a portrayal of a real historial figure. Quick, complete this sequence: George VI, Alice and Dicky Ward, Margaret Thatcher…

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Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin, “Argo”
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master” — should win
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained” — will win

It’s a showdown of past Oscar winners, with Hoffman the only nominee who hasn’t previously won in this specific category. I don’t think he’ll buck that trend in this his third visit to supporting actor land. I’d like to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s atmospheric follow-up to “There Will Be Blood” get some form of recognition in this year’s Oscars, and Jones provided a very game effort. Nevertheless, the cards seem stacked in Waltz’s favor. Two appearances in Tarantino films. Two wins. Can’t knock a winning strategy.

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Actress

Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty” — should win, will win
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

Wait, what? When did best actress ever have five truly distinct, well-rounded, multi-dimensional characters anchored by equally strong performances? Sure, some of you will say that nine-year-old newcomer Wallis is included only because she was the emotional core of the year’s surprise tearjerker. Others will dimiss Watts as the literal white tourist infringing on and ultimately abandoning a third-world disaster. And Riva, you know, is French.

Let us not deny, however, that 2013 was a strong year for women’s roles and that it has been a very long while since that could be said. Hopefully the likes of “Amour” and “Beasts” represent a trend to be picked up in more mainstream arenas, a brightening horizon for women in Hollywood.

In the meantime, the actress award comes down to two knockout performances from two fairly opposite films: a Philadelphia-based romance comedy and a globe-trotting CIA current events thriller. The face off is not surprising to those who have been keeping close tabs on this year’s awards season, to the point that Chastain’s recent Facebook posts have me hesitating to use a phrase like “face off.” The result is the definitive Oscar-night tossup, and when in doubt on Oscar night, bet the drama.

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Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, “The Master”
Sally Field, “Lincoln” — should win
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables” — will win
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”

I hardly cotton to the idea that Mary Todd Lincoln is relegated to the supporting category, both because Field was the only female presence of any depth or length in “Lincoln” and because, as Field forcefully made clear in her performance, Mary Todd was second fiddle to no one. However, here Field lays, and while her work is more than deserving of an award, this year’s supporting actress category is modern film awards culture in miniature. A fairly clear two-way race has allowed Hathaway to win every supporting actress award from BAFTA to the Central Ohio Film Critics Association. Fight that tide at your peril.

Hathaway wins in a walk. Prepare for some fairly questionable, slightly undigestible expressions of surprise from the one-time Oscars host.

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Animated Feature

“Brave” — should win, will win
“Frankenweenie”
“ParaNorman”
“The Pirates! Band of Misfits”
“Wreck-It Ralph”

Pixar? Check. A fairly surprising storyline, even for a child-friendly film? Sure. Ridiculously cute, red-haired heroine? Yes. Even cuter rapscallion brothers? Uh-huh. A film that allows one to fittingly use the word “rapscallion”? Well that’s the “Pirates” movie too. But add in the Scotland setting, and “Brave” is a given. I’ll just move right along, shall I?

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“Skyfall”

Cinematography

Seamus McGarvey, “Anna Karenina”
Robert Richardson, “Django Unchained”
Claudio Miranda, “Life of Pi”
Janusz Kaminski, “Lincoln”
Roger Deakins, “Skyfall” — should win, will win

Among the most hotly contested categories this year, cinematography is a bona fide toss-up. Each of the selectees have been nominated for at least two Oscars, counting 2013. Richardson and Kaminski are both multiple winners, while “Anna Karenina” and “Life of Pi” were both particularly artful, visual on-screen experiences. No question the work of all five of these artists in these five particular films is world class, and any award given here is richly deserved.

Yet Deakins is, at this point, the grand man of cinematography, with a whopping ten Academy Award nominations now on his resume over a thirty-eight year career and, to date, the Thursday before the 2013 Oscar broadcast, no wins. No one doubts he will be seen again in this category on future Oscar nights, but credit is certainly due to him this year for taking what perhaps was an already well-worn revisit to the James Bond series and giving it renewed energy and vibrancy; the entire set of sequences on the Scottish moors springs easily to mind. It may be a flyer, but I am banking on the Academy seizing the moment to celebrate one of the great technical careers in all of film history.

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Costume Design

Jacqueline Durran, “Anna Karenina” — should win, will win
Paco Delgado, “Les Misérables”
Joanna Johnston, “Lincoln”
Eiko Ishioka, “Mirror Mirror”
Colleen Atwood, “Snow White and the Huntsman”

I’ll say it again. In costume, more than anywhere, you must throw out the quality of the film in question and focus on the artfulness of this specific discipline, to the point of favoring the most outrageous option.

Granted, this, my usual argument for the costume category, would hold more weight if Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” was not among the most well-crafted, under-respected and downright imaginative movies on screens in 2013. Since it ranks so highly, costume will honor both a good film and an awe-inspiring range of costumes. Just look at that hat/veil/collar!

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Directing

Michael Haneke, “Amour”
Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln” — will win
Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — should win

The lack of Ben Affleck is throwing a wrench into the whole best director machinery. Who’d have thought that sentence was possible just a few years ago?

Without the heavy favorite for best picture represented in the directing category–and without what many people think may be the next best directing effort in Katheryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”–the category has a distinctly anticlimactic feel. Sure, twentysomething Zeitlin could slide into the fray and take the evening’s most surprising honor. Truth be told, it would be a deserving award, and part of me longs to see the highly opinionated ruckus that would ensue online. Ain’t going to happen.

Much more likely is the award going to one of the four veteran directors on the shortlist. Russell’s body of work in recent years might well be the most impressive of the group, but, taking a broader view of this year’s overall nominations and spotting a general theme of large-scale optimism, the directing competition increasingly seems like a heavyweight bout. In one corner, the hopeful, visual grandiloquence of Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.” In the other, Spielberg’s political epic in a bottle. If that’s the dust up, “Lincoln” has enough gravitas and general sense of being an important film to overcome the magic of “Pi.” Note the increasingly popular notion that “Argo” will beat out one-time sure-thing “Lincoln” for best picture, and sympathy may also be with railsplitter from Kentucky. In short, Spielburg bags another one.

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Documentary Feature

“5 Broken Cameras” — should win
“The Gatekeepers”
“How to Survive a Plague” — will win
“The Invisible War”
“Searching for Sugar Man”

Controversy, ever the thing the Academy wants to avoid, is not wholly foreign to the documentary category. Selectors have at times shown a feistiness here in highlighting a topic or project that heads straight at a controversial issue. Undoubtedly, filmmakers with that kind of courage and passion should be applauded.

After a year off from entertaining that notion, picking the pleasant but decidedly milquetoast underdog success story “Undefeated” a year ago, the Academy has a golden opportunity to raise some eyebrows with both “5 Broken Cameras”–a somewhat metaphorical chronicle of Palestinian nonviolent resistance to Isreali aggression–and “The Gatekeepers”–a more straightforward, talking-head exploration of Israel’s security agency, Shin Bet. Want to keep it closer to home? “The Invisible Man” tracks the epidemic of sexual abuse within the U.S. military. A hunch, but all three of those seem like raw topics unlikely to gain traction in this year’s awards cycle.

That pits “How to Survive a Plague,” the stirring, well-crafted frontline history of the fight against AIDS, against the year’s least controversial option, “Searching for Sugar Man,” a crowd-pleasing, rock ‘n’ roll road trip nostalgia tale from South Africa that’s already picked up a fair few notable recognitions. In a real longshot, but with some sense that the Oscars are getting a little bolder, I bank on the controversy.

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Documentary Short

“Inocente”
“Kings Point”
“Mondays at Racine”
“Open Heart” — should win, will win
“Redemption”

A game: put yourself in the mind of an Academy voter. Now just listen:

  • A young girl copes with her bleak surroundings by painting.
  • Florida retirees search for deep human connections as they grow older.
  • A beauty parlor provides a safe haven for women with cancer.
  • Homeless men and women seek a living wage by redeeming cans.
  • Eight Rwandan children ravaged by a treatable disease leave home and family to seek high-risk open heart surgery in Sudan.

One of these things is just not like the others.

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Editing

William Goldenberg, “Argo” — will win
Tim Squyres, “Life of Pi” — should win
Michael Kahn, “Lincoln”
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, “Silver Linings Playbook”
William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor, “Zero Dark Thirty”

Another Academy Awards. Another toss up for editing. That is not to say that the cutting-room work of these seven artists is underwhelming; quite the contrary. Editing simply seems tied to the best picture race, no matter how artful the spaces between the shots.

Now, the past two years have been outliers thanks to the genuinely brilliant work of Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter for David Fincher. Bigelow and “Zero Dark Thirty” represent a similarly trendy or adventurous filmmaking voice, while three-time winner Kahn provides a familiar road for Academy voters to venture down. The real return to form would be for “Argo,” however. A technical award here as justification for its success later in the evening. Credit where it’s due: “Argo”s editing, especially in its climactic sequences, is a fundamental source of its riveting emotional impact. It is Oscar-worthy work, again, from double-nominee Goldenberg, who has more than paid his dues with stellar work in “Seabiscuit” and elsewhere.

His toughest competition is likely Ang Lee’s longtime editor Squyres, let loose with the most visual film he has cut together since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Doubtless Squyres has learned a lot since then, but he may just be facing too steep a climb.

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Foreign Language

“Amour” (Austria) — should win, will win
“War Witch” (Canada)
“No” (Chile)
“A Royal Affair” (Denmark)
“Kon-Tiki” (Norway)

“A Separation” met all expectations in winning last year’s foreign language Oscar, the least surprising pick of the night. Prior to that, this category was a dead zone for common sense and logic. So, do you put your money on logic for a second year and assume that the hugely popular foreign language film nominated for best picture has this category sewn up? You’d do well to note that last two films to appear in both foreign language and best picture in the same year–“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Life is Beautiful”–did win here. Or do you remember that hugely popular foreign films have failed you before? Think “Biutiful,” “A Prophet,” “The White Ribbon,” “Revanche,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and “Amelie.”

Don’t be swayed. With apologies to my current employer and its film, the child soldier drama “War Witch,” play the smart money and take a surprisingly emotionless but clearly affecting–to the Academy’s nominating panel, at any rate–end-of-life drama.

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Makeup

Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel, “Hitchcock”
Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — should win
Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell, “Les Misérables” — will win

What, you thought all that dwarf hair was impressive? It would have been more impressive to see how they managed to keep that hair so neat and tidy through that entire unexpected journey.

With due credit to Peter Jackson’s makeup team and the actors who (A) had to endure all those hours of hair and hobbit feet application and (B) managed to make, in a few cases (i.e. Richard Armitage), dwarves moderately attractive, that ham-fisted movie just ain’t going to cut it on Oscar night. The same being true for “Hitchcock,” the Oscar falls to what is otherwise a typical makeup favorite: the film that makes stunningly beautiful people play ugly. It’s “Les Mis,” almost by default.

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Original Score

Dario Marianelli, “Anna Karenina”
Alexandre Desplat, “Argo” — will win
Mychael Danna, “Life of Pi”
John Williams, “Lincoln”
Thomas Newman, “Skyfall” — should win

A fairly obvious irony of the original score category is that the works that are most often recognized are those that are least effective at what some see as the fundamental job of a score: to blend into the background of a film and serve as its emotional foundation. That’s not wholly a knock on past winners, as innovative techniques can bring music to the fore; see “The Social Network” for Trent Reznor’s electronic-flecked score, a fully deserving honoree. Where risks and innovations are absent and pure, well-intentioned subtlety abounds, there are composers who will not be winning Oscars this year. Thank you for playing, Marianelli, Newman, and–unlikely as it would seem given his history–John Williams. Don’t forget your parting gifts on your way to the Vanity Fair party. So quick a dismissal is a particular shame for frequent nominee Newman, whose often referential score for James Bond was nothing short of ingenious.

That leaves two scores that are obvious Oscar fodder. Danna’s appropriately exotic, twangling effort for “Life of Pi” would by all rights be the heavy favorite, but the all-too-familiar name of Desplat is difficult to ignore. His driving, panic-inducing score for “Argo” certainly suited the film, and perhaps more important, he has now been nominated here five times in the past seven years without taking home a trophy. One of those was “The King’s Speech,” so it would be unwise to chalk this choice up to best picture favoritism. Instead, call it a gut reaction. It’s finally Desplat’s year. It’s also not the first time I have picked him to win. They say there’s a sucker born every minute…

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Original Song

“Before My Time,” J. Ralph from “Chasing Ice”
“Suddenly,” Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer from “Les Misérables”
“Pi’s Lullaby,” Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree from “Life of Pi”
“Skyfall,” Adele, Paul Epworth from “Skyfall” — should win, will win
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane from “Ted”

Wait, five nominations compared to last year’s two? Is the Academy aiming to disguise the fact that Adele has already, deservedly, cleared shelf space for this award? “Skyfall” is such a given that all of the other the nominees need not show up. Well, all of them except Seth MacFarlane. The pain of being the Oscars host, I suppose.

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“Argo”

Picture

“Amour”
“Argo” — will win
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
“Django Unchained”
“Les Misérables”
“Life of Pi”
“Lincoln” — should win
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Zero Dark Thirty”

Analyses of the best picture race in the context of a complete rundown of the year’s Oscar nominations seems invariably to be a reflection on the writer rather than an untarnished view of the field. After focusing on the historical trends and individual peculiarities of each filmmaking discipline, it can be difficult to land here and remember that all branches of the Academy have a say in the best picture nominees. An appreciation these films must be from the broadest possible view. Parsing the details of each segmented technological discipline is, if not easier, at least a more well-structured task when judging a film’s merit for a golden statuette. The natural tendency is to apply the same directed, piecemeal effort when taking stock of the year’s so-called best picture.

That is said for two reasons. First, to remind myself to put “Argo” into the wide lens, acknowledge the seemingly overwhelming momentum it has developed throughout this awards season, and say that its very likely win on Oscar night is a deserving recognition. It is. The storytelling is smart and efficient, its drama is effective and cutting. Without question those individual technical elements–particularly the music and editing–are expertly developed in the service of Ben Affleck’s larger directorial vision, and though he will not receive individual recognition as a director this year, an award here will christen his rather unlikely rise to the forefront of exciting, young, mainstream American directors.

The obvious reticence here to let loose and say this is an solid choice is the second reason for that preamble above. In terms of reflecting on the writer, I admit that I am biased toward “Lincoln” because I am a Lincolnophile. I am well-versed in the man’s history, in Civil War history in general, and any “Lincoln” biopic is necessarily going to attract my particular attention more.

Nevertheless, in comparing “Argo” to “Lincoln,” the only real other challenger in this year’s best picture field–though I also note that “Zero Dark Thirty” is a very distant darkhorse in this category, if only in the tacit hope that some spine still exists in a few of the Academy’s voting members–I find myself concluding that Spielburg’s is the more effective and appealing film. The more interestingly made. The more evocative. The more dynamic in its photography, score, editing, and acting. Though set in the halls of Congress and not on the streets of a Tehran in revolt, “Lincoln” has its own gripping moments of tension, and, most importantly, the ultimate message of Spielberg’s film is the same as Afflect’s and more profoundly realized: that national dignity is maintained and American society ultimately advanced in the fiercest moments of political upheaval by collective effort and many singularly courageous individuals. Surely the more significant point made between these two works is that the country can reset its course not only through covert and highly classified efforts to smuggle hard-working, under-rewarded diplomats out of tight spots, but through a very public, vigorous, contentious, and democratic process, though one not without its own covert actions, admittedly. “Lincoln” is a truly magnificent film, for this political moment and any. I simply cannot decide if an uncontrollable bias makes me say so.

Thankfully, when doubt abounds, you can turn to that great bastion of independent and unfiltered objectivity: the Internet. Anyone monitoring the Oscar debate in recent weeks has seen “Lincoln” at the heart of a pitiless and wholly short-sighted online claim: the dreaded “it was boring.” Many commentators claim the film was too slowly paced and lacked a “the cops are on the runway, will the plane get off of the ground” type bastardization of history to keep audiences riveted to the drama without demanding its members be active listeners and thinkers inside the theater. Some online comments even suggested that audiences were duped into thinking “Lincoln” was a war film, as if initial impressions of a trailer should have any merit on the final analysis of a large-scale work. Those all-too-general opinions of “Lincoln,” which fundamentally criticize the work for what it is not rather than for the broad, sweeping themes it attempts to tackle, has grabbed hold of the popular sentiment surrounding the film and sent it hurtling downward, from best picture frontrunner to an premature contender for the next round of “what should have been” Oscar lists. You could say that YouTube watchers are not, for the most part, Academy Award voters and the designation of best picture will not hinge on so fickle and presumptuous an analysis, but then you would also be ignoring “Argo”s almost unimpeded ride through awards season, many trophies firmly in hand.

“Argo” as best picture is not in the slightest detestable, and the Academy has certainly made much worse choices in recent memory. At this moment, it just seems–oddly, even unfairly–a cop-out. Who would have thought that a Spielberg film about Lincoln, a scenario so tailor-made for Academy award recognition that you wonder how no one thought to include complimentary gift bags with every ticket purchase, could ever be the comparative risk?

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Production Design

Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer, “Anna Karenina” — should win
Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson, “Les Misérables” — will win
David Gropman, Anna Pinnock, “Life of Pi”
Rick Carter, Jim Erickson, “Lincoln”

A new name this year for the former art direction category, and the change comes with a feisty set of competitors. From an art and design perspective, “Anna Karenina” was the year’s most unexpected and beautiful offering, with rich theater sets and provocative distillations of settings imaginatively giving way to expansive but still theatrical views of the Russian steppes. But when has confounding expectations ever resulted in Oscar gold? Okay, fine, “Crash” as best picture, but that was for all of the wrong reasons.

Much more likely winners here are the more conspicuously grand efforts seen in “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” and “Les Mis.” Stacking those three together seems to eliminate “Lincoln” straightaway as too somber and colorless, though people taking a flyer on Carter and Erickson are likely heartened by the “Sweeney Todd” nod in this category a few years back. Yet a true toss-up would result from setting the epic journey of “Pi” against the popular revolt of “Les Mis.” The former is CGI heavy, never a boon for the hands-on crafts of art direction and set design. The latter is more typical of category winners in recent years (back to “Sweeney Todd”). Its rather disjointed design effort can even be forgiven considering the difficultly the film had in encapsulating so huge and wildly popular a work into a two-hour on-screen form. In the final push, the lean points toward the musical; only so much production design goes into a castaway’s boat.

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Short, Animated

Adam and Dog
“Fresh Guacamole”
“Head Over Heels” — should win, will win
Paperman
The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare

Hard not to choose The Simpsons whenever one sees it, and hard to bet against Disney’s “Paperman,” which gained a healthy viewership after going viral a few weeks back. Certainly more people seemed to view it online than saw it in front of “Wreck-It Ralph.” Despite the big names and clever concepts, both are wholly underwhelming efforts in a category always ripe and, I’d hope, eager for genuine risk-taking.

That leaves one-time Disney designer Minkyu Lee’s “Adam and Dog,” a more traditional-looking animation about the very early days of man’s connection to animals; “Fresh Guacamole,” a quick-fire exercise in Dadaism, long on ingenuity, even longer on accessibility with some seven million YouTube views, but short on runtime; and “Head Over Heels,” a wonky stop-motion animation of an older couple looking to reignite their passion, if only they can get on the same gravitational plane. Put it that way and it seems like a no-brainer. Assuming the Academy does not get starry-eyed, “Head Over Heels” takes it in a walk.

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Short, Live Action

“Asad”
“Buzkashi Boys”
“Curfew”
“Death of a Shadow” — should win, will win
“Henry”

Take your pick. This year’s live action shorts feature everything from deeply embedded irony in “Asad”s story of oppressed young boys in Somalia to a full-scale drama (as much drama as can be expected in a short, at any rate) in “Buzkashi Boys”s story of oppressed young boys in Afghanistan. “Henry” provides a dour, heart-string puller about Alzheimer’s disease while festival favorite “Curfew” is a self-satisfied journey into hipsterdom pairing a downtrodden uncle with his sassy-pants niece.

The strangest entry in the bunch, offering its own emotional vitality, is “Death of a Shadow.” The Belgian steampunk odyssey about a deceased WWI soldier seeking a return to life by stealing other peoples’ shadows is unquestionably the most ambitious option among this year’s shorts in any category and is the film most likely to have voters asking, “What will he do next?” Is that enough for “Death of a Shadow” to overcome the built-up momentum of “Curfew”? I say yes, barely, by a razor-thin margin.

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Sound Editing

“Argo”
“Django Unchained”
“Life of Pi”
“Skyfall” — should win, will win
“Zero Dark Thirty”

Sound Mixing

“Argo”
“Les Misérables”
“Life of Pi”
“Lincoln”
“Skyfall” — should win, will win

Visual Effects

“The Avengers” — should win
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
“Life of Pi” — will win
“Prometheus”
“Snow White and the Huntsman”

This year’s action movie categories show how hard it can be to spot action movies anymore. Sure, James Bond and “The Avengers,” but this year we also see revisionist fairy tales, atmospheric thriller/horror prequels, a political intrigue slow-burner and a musical. If old habits could be followed, the first two films would be the easy options. Take those two pills and call me in the morning, after you have won your Oscar pool.

Last year’s winner “Hugo” notwithstanding, sound editing has kept the closest to that pure, action movie model. Noting that “Skyfall” is a particularly great entry into the spy thriller genre, let alone one of the better Bond films ever, the category should stay true to that old familiar form.

Sound mixing is the trickier challenge, if only because “Les Mis” and “Life of Pi” both have equally adept sound construction, and it is difficult to dismiss a musical and an exotic, globe-trotting adventure piece when you are no longer talking about creating an overwhelming soundscape and instead focusing on making that tonal environment work alongside the images on screen. Truth be told, the contest between these three films is a wash.

You could, however, note that the two sound awards have gone to the same film in each of the past three years, giving “Skyfall” the edge. That would ignore what happened four years ago, when eventual best picture-winner “Slumdog Millionaire” somehow earned the sound mixing award over “The Dark Knight.” That could happen again: “Skyfall,” “Les Mis,” and “Life of Pi” may negate each other, allowing “Argo” or “Lincoln” to pickup a tacit technical award on the merits of their larger race for best picture. Ultimately, history will out and “Skyfall” will, rightly, take it. Whichever film wins, sound mixing is one of the most difficult races to call this year.

Visual effects does not suffer from that or any challenge. “Life of Pi” is really a much deserving no-brainer. I only give the slight wink at “The Avengers” to recognize one of the most entertaining surprises of the year.

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Adapted Screenplay

Chris Terrio, “Argo” — will win
Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
David Magee, “Life of Pi”
Tony Kushner, “Lincoln” — should win
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Kushner thoroughly deserves recognition for ably and intelligently honing down so monumental a life as Lincoln’s and so brilliant and well-respected a book as Doris Kearne Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” into just the fight over the 13th Amendment. Yet, as was detailed in the best picture analysis, if the film is faltering on the dreaded charge of being boring, surely the first casualty is the screenwriter.

This year’s adapted screenplay award thus becomes a competition between a beloved book in “Life of Pi” and the best picture favorite “Argo.” Lean the best picture, and then scratch your head as you remember leaving the theatre after “Lincoln” thinking that the entire awards season had just been made incidental.

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“Zero Dark Thirty”

Original Screenplay

Michael Haneke, “Amour”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
John Gatins, “Flight”
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, “Moonrise Kingdom”
Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty” — should win, will win

The popular choice for original screenplay is an undeniable force in his own right: Quentin Tarantino. Call me crazy, but I think he’s denied. For starters because Tarantino is crazy, and the Academy would be smart to keep him parked in his seat mid-ceremony. The more valid reason is the question of his striking the same chord. As “Inglourious Basterds” was a fairy tale retaliation on the Nazis’ war crimes, so too is “Django” a fanciful attack on the horrible legacy of slavery. Both films are provocatively made and mostly enjoyable, but doubtless they are unrestrained. This is the point: Tarantino’s immense popularity has given him a stunning license to run wild with his narratives, even more true when you consider the much-discussed cutting of “Django” down to its cinematic fighting weight of 165 minutes. If “Basterds” netted just the one Oscar (for Waltz), why should the Academy honor Tarantino for picking another atrocity and letting his admittedly engaging and inexhaustible imagination take it to the same borderline of interminability? Sure, “Django” will end the night with one award in hand (for Waltz), but original screenplay will be pickier.

Toss out “Flight” as a game effort that amounts to a happy also-ran, and you have a provocative, three-film race. “Amour” is the genuine darkhorse facing a filmmaking pair whose cult popularity rivals Tarantino’s and a past winner in “Hurt Locker” veteran Mark Boal. In an Academy Awards that will use most major categories to place heavy emphasis on the hopeful and the righting of national wrongs, consider an award for “Zero Dark Thirty” here a necessary acknowledgement that some things are still rotten in the States United. Even without the Oscar, it goes down as the year’s most courageous act of screenwriting.

No question this is a flyer, my biggest reach of the night. Expecting a nod to the cynical or savage in the current Hollywood climate is, irrevocably, naive. Yet, with the note that the screenplay awards have been, at times, in hindsight, a more accurate barometer of the year’s best and most lasting pictures, “Zero Dark Thirty” would be a very fitting entry in the Academy’s writing awards legacy.

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My Oscar Batting Average since 2004: .687 (147/214)

Past Oscar predictions:
The Year of Eras, ERAs, and the Rest is Silence
The Year of Speeches, Reaches, and Men of True Grit
The Year of Bombs, Bridges, and Big Blue Men
The Curious Case of 2009
The Year of Assassinations by Demon Barbers

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The 85th annual Academy Awards
Sunday, February 24, 2013
7 pm ET
ABC

This entry was published on 21 February 2013 at 12:37 pm. It’s filed under OLD OSCAR PICKS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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