And here we are again.
I was amused to find myself named one of the 'Nate Silvers of the Oscar Race' today on Salon but Thursday morning will undoubtedly make the comparison less apt even if though we'll still share a first name (Nathaniel... why do people go by "Nate"?). In my soon-to-be needed defense it's a lot harder to successfully predict 120ish nominees in 24 categories that dozens of different groups are voting on (nominees, though not winners, are determined only by peers: actors voting for actors, directors for directors and so on) than it is to read an electoral map with only two candidates. Nor is their endless polling to guide us. Oscar voters aren't supposed to tell people who they're voting for. And even when they're willing to, filling out a weighted multi-named ballot is a lot different than checking a box for Candidate A or Candidate B when it comes time to let slip your favorites.
But I digress. Whatever the chaotic, agenda-driven, polarizing and exhausting race to Oscar nominations has in common with politics (quite a lot) we'll ditch the analogy now in order to dig in. I've never been one to care too deeply about statistics apart from the generalities they underline. So in the end I play my hunches.
We'd have an easy-to-guess Best Picture lineup this year if we were still operating on the old five-wide rules. But we aren't and anywhere from 5 to 10 pictures will be nominated. Even if we had a solid top ten as we did briefly (2009 & 2010) before the new fluid rule, I think this year would be tricky to pin down. I'd wager that 8 films are still in play for the remaining 0 to 5 slots -- are you still following me? If the internet could vote you'd see the billion-grossing James Bond outing Skyfall and Tarantino's much-drooled on slavesploitation western Django Unchained among the nominees but I wonder if both aren't too 'genre' for Oscar tastes. If critics could vote you might see Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, Amour and The Master finding their footing on the red carpet, but I'm personally suspect that any of them have been helped by the diversity of critical opinion this year -- yes The Master won a lot of regional critics prizes but I've always maintained that the only ones that really catch the ears of Oscar voters are LAFCA and NYFCC (these historic groups represent the two entertainment meccas where most AMPAS voters reside). And neither the LA or the New York critics chose Paul Thomas Anderson's picture as the year's "best".
Finally we need to talk about love... true love. And boy do you need it if you want nominations. Two longshots The Impossible and Moonrise Kingdom definitely have their googoo eyed fans but the former opened far too late to build on that passion (note to smaller films: why Christmas? You'll be buried in shinier presents?!) and the latter doesn't feel exactly "Oscary" for lack of a better word, whatever its considerable charms. So there are a lot of options this year, and many good ones, for voters. My guess is that the sheer degree-of-difficulty and scope-of-message and mainstream-accessibility and critical-approval all combine to make Life of Pi the type of candidate that win votes here, there and basically everywhere if never in concentrated lumps... but enough to make it the sixth and final Best Picture nominee.
Locks: Oscar Winners Tommy Lee Jones, Alan Arkin, Robert DeNiro, and Philips Seymour Hoffman
But Who Else? Before the Unchaining of Leo, Christoph and Samuel and the "mommy's been very bad" scene-stealing of Javier Bardem, I had hoped that my doom & gloom hunch about Matthew McConaughey's impending Magic Mike snub was just pessimism and not psychic vision. But those men stole Magic Matthew's already shaky thunder with the precursors, damn them. Though I still wouldn't be shocked to see the very deserving double M on this list I have always had my doubts about the viability of a performance this sexualized in a male acting category. Which is maybe why I'm suddenly bullish on Eddie Redmayne, as my no guts no glory prediction. He's had no precursor support but actors seem to love Les Misérables and it could be argued that he's the safely unthreatening Teen Beat heartthrob alternative to McConaughey's bad news Playgirl centerfold. Yes, yes, I'm reading too much into it and I should just pick between Leo or Christoph like everyone else but here's my overthinking it problem with doing so: I'm betting Leo & Christoph & Samuel are cannibalizing each other's fanbases (our informal poll was hardly a landslide for any of them) and I'm betting Christoph & Javier cause problems for each other in the former winner coasting on charisma sweepstakes "we loved you in ____ and we still love you doing that thing you do!" Plus it's really hard to imagine an all Oscar winning lineup which would be dreadfully dull if Christoph or Javier made it.
Lockety-Lock-Lock-Lock: Anne Hathaway
Standard Issue Locks: Oscar Winners Sally Field and Helen Hunt
5 Women Fighting for 2 Spots: Jennifer Ehle, Nicole Kidman, Ann Dowd, Maggie Smith, Amy Adams
Who gets the two free-for-all spots? Super longshots Judi "M" Dench and songbird Samantha "On My Own" Barks are the only true outliers with anything greater than a snowball's chance in hell but basically there are five women still in play. Ann Dowd is super in Compliance and those "character actor makes good" stories are hard to resist but the film is tiny and are voters really watching it given how many of the late year releases were big hits and conversation-magnets? Amy Adams is an Oscar favorite in a slightly against-type role but SAG voters shunned the film apart from her screen husband Hoffman, himself a default awards magnet and that seemed somehow...unsurprising. Plus it's tough for me to imagine her joining the ranks of four time nominees (i.e. the top 51 actresses of all Oscar time) just yet for a movie that so many people find inaccessible. I could totally see Jennifer Ehle popping up out of nowhere (precursor-wise) for a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty. Joe Reid described her in the podcast as an "oasis of personality" and that can really help. But I already used up my "no precursors and suddenly a nomination!" card with Redmayne who has been a lot more active on the campaign trail. So in the end, though I don't normally do this, I'm just going with the SAG lineup. Maggie Smith is riding a huge wave of global love after a decade of Harry Potter franchise and a few years of Downton Abbey mania and people love her as the crotchety racist who (slightly) softens in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- plus she's the popular film's best shot at a nomination. Meanwhile Nicole Kidman still seems like a longshot given the nature of her character and the outre sensibility of her film. But at this point, wouldn't people be disappointed in her if she WASN'T in some manner of weirdness? The question is not really whether they liked The Paperboy but whether that "she's back!" nomination for Rabbit Hole suggests that Hollywood IS really glad to be over that weird phase where people were into hating her for her undeniable artistry which came at the expense of her box office. Maybe this is just wishful thinking but I'm thinking she's in.
Locks: Affleck, Spielberg, Bigelow
Who Joins Them? The DGA backed Oscar winners Ang Lee (Pi) and Tom Hooper (Les Miz) and if the Oscar director lineup matches we have an all Oscar-winning lineup on our hands since Ben Affleck has an Oscar already (albeit for screenplay writing). But I'm guessing they don't. I vacillated between Lee and Hooper for a long time and though the DGA is a more Lee-friendly club than AMPAS happens to be I think the recent attacks on Les Miz, being as focused as they were on Hooper's directorial choices, have probably done some damage. That and musicals sometimes direct themselves: Rob Marshall famously lost for Chicago (2002), Baz Luhrmann was famously snubbed for Moulin Rouge! (a movie that couldn't possibly have existed without his existence). So I'm sticking with my early year hunch that Michael Haneke will be capitalizing on a decade of international ardor to win his first (cough) nomination outside of the foreign film category.
Lock: Daniel Day-Lewis
Yep, that's it. Haha. Yes, yes, Denzel Washington, John Hawkes, Hugh Jackman, Bradley Cooper, and Joaquin Phoenix have all been frequent fixtures at the precursors but guess what? That's five men and there are only four seats next to Daniel. You can literally tie yourself in knots trying to figure out who gets snubbed. Current conversations or rather the lack thereof suggests the surprise snub might be Denzel Washington or John Hawkes (for who is talking about Flight or The Sessions anymore?) but my god there is nothing Oscar loves more than men playing alcoholics or pretending disability. Nothing! Backlash suggests Hugh Jackman could be on the outside looking in but he's a totally endearing celebrity and celebrities that are easy to love are also easy to get behind in voting. (See: human nature). The state of one's filmography suggests that Bradley Cooper is a stretch but precursors have been kind and he really is the best part of his movie. Which leaves Joaquin Phoenix. He'll definitely get #1 votes and if he is snubbed I do believe that it will be wildly misinterpreted as due to his vocal discomfort about the Oscar circus. I think he'll be snubbed but only because the race is very very tight and I just don't imagine that the film will score with Oscar. But on the other hand there's little Oscar loves more than men playing alcoholics.... argh! I'm not confident about this at all! Round and round I go.
Locks: Jennifer, Jessica, Naomi
5 Women Fighting For 2 Spots: Marion, Rachel, Emmanuelle, Helen, and Quvenzhane
Presenting... the most confusing category ever! First the locks. Jennifer has maintained a long strange lead despite limited screentime and a manic dream girl cliche of a character ('she's crazy. but she's hot!') Jessica was then suddenly (maybe) in it to win it though her character remains an enigma, and Naomi amassed such a celebrity fanbase (Angelina! Reese! Nicole...presumably!) that she might have been considered a frontrunner if the film had opened in a more reasonable season for this type of film (say September?) and gotten a stronger push. Now it could be too late since Jennifer has settled in so completely as the frontrunner.
Little Quvenzhane Wallis would be the youngest person ever nominated in the Best Actress category and Beasts of the Southern Wild, gets much of its emotional immediacy from her expressive naturalism. And yet... with child actors it's difficult to know who to credit for a performance this solid (the director or the actor) which surely pulls some votes away from her. And her film, a very indie effort, mostly remains on the fringe of awards season, which is a mainstream corporate circus however "niche" it may feel to Oscar fanatics dealing with puzzled looks from their friends whenever they try and discuss it. I don't think the Beasts nomination will happen but here's why I can never say never: Keisha Castle-Hughes got a nomination at 13 for crying beautifully aand Qu'venzhane is yet more bewitching than that Whale Rider.)
Helen Mirren sailed through the precursors without problems mystifying many who know she can do the sassy disgruntled wife in her sleep. Can she really win another nomination so close on the heels of The Last Station for another film and performance that no one seems particularly enthralled with?
Marion Cotillard also sailed through the precursors but her case was weirder since she's in a difficult foreignfilm playing a largely unlikable character where the focus is often not on her at all. Are people voting on her star appeal or this performance? It's not that the performance isn't special... just that it seems so unOscary, disability factor aside.
Rachel Weisz seemed like an entirely unlikely candidate at first given The Deep Blue Sea's early release, her own position in the industry (famous but hardly A list or 'automatic-buzz ' generating on her own), and the cool character nature of the film. But people refused to quit talking about her no matter how unlikely she seemed indicating real unwavering passion (i.e. #1 votes). Emmanuelle Riva, the star of Amour, didn't do much in the way of campaigning but hers is the sort of performance that's impossible to deny once you've seen it. So in the end it's kind of a toss up. I've always believed in Riva's chances so I'm sticking with her to the bitter end despite the relative cold shoulder from the mainstream end of precursors. For the fifth spot I think it's going to be extremely tight (wouldn't you die to see vote totals?) between Weisz and Marion Cotillard. I'm predicting Cotillard because it's a toss up and because of the precursors and because it'll be neat to have two foreign language performances nominated in Best Actress again for the first time since the 70s. But I firmly believe that if they hadn't rushed the nominations I'd have predicted Rachel Weisz who seems to gain more fans each month while the other performances have long since settled.
And now I must sleep! More tomorrow.
That's the chart of all categories. I'm pulling various pages for reconstruction for tomorrow morning but that's the last guesses. I already know this shan't be my finest year of predicting both for the depth of most of the fields, my own rough personal year (jesus christ was I glad that 2012 ended!) and weird issues like "wow, did i really predict almost nothing for Django Unchained (not intentionally)" and other oddities.
Here are a few things I'm curious about
Both of these categories feel fairly set in stone but I'm wondering if Perks of Being a Wallflower might surprise in Adapted. It certainly has its partisans. But at the expense of what? I'd say Life of Pi but the book is so famous and the movie more "Important" feeling than Perks and unfortunately that counts for a lot with voters.
This is my favorite craft category but I usually do a crap job of predicting it. I assume my problem is overthinking it. I'm guessing Anna Karenina and Les Misérables are safe but from there god only knows... I'm predicting Lincoln, Snow White and the Huntsman and A Royal Affair. BUT... I could easily see Lincoln missing (Joanna Johnston has weirdly never been nominated) or Argo jumping in there. And what of Hitchcock's old hollywood or Mirror Mirror or Django Unchained or... the list goes on
I'm currently predicting a nod for Les Misérables which may sound insane given the frequent attacks on the camera work. BUT. I can't help but remember that The King's Speech, which in no way shape or form had what one might call typically nominatable cinematography (and in a strong field at that) was nominated so whose to say that sort of thing won't happen again?
FINAL NOMINATION TOTAL PREDICTIONS: Lincoln (12), Life of Pi & Les Misérables (10), Zero Dark Thirty (8), Argo (6), Silver Linings Playbook & Skyfall (5), Django Unchained (4), Anna Karenina & Amour (3), Avengers, A Royal Affair, The Sessions, The Master (2), and with single nominations: Marigold Hotel, The Impossible, Flight, The Paperboy, Beast of the Southern Wild, Cloud Atlas, and Snow White and the Huntsman... and yes I think I'm overestimating Life of Pi but can't figure out where to drop it. I think I'm about right on Skyfall though several other pundits are predicting a lot more. But given the historical resistance to Bond with the Academy it'd be so weird to see it with 7 or 8 noms including ACTING.