One reason I look forward to the Oscars is that it means I’ve made it through another year of writing this film review column, now beginning its 15th year of publication.
Soon the possibilities for next year’s contenders will emerge and the process will begin all over again. But for this brief period, after writing about all the nominated films and performances, I have about a week to reflect on the year as a whole and (if for no other reason than the challenge of it) try to formulate my annual Oscar prediction column.
I believe that viewing films is an entirely subjective experience. Moviegoers bring a back-log of expectations to the theater and respond both visually and emotionally to the films, performances or genres that resonate with their individual outlooks, tastes or even the memories of their own lives. I take that into consideration every time I write about a film because I know there’s an avid audience for just about every kind of picture. Therefore, I try to curb my own subjectivity and simply give enough information in a review to let a prospective viewer know if it might suit his or her cinematic appetite or not.
But when it comes to guessing how the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will cast their votes, it’s both a subjective and objective task. More often than not, via sentiment and popularity, the entire contest seems decided weeks in advance, dashing hopes for personal favorites and producing a show that invariably contains not an ounce of intrigue.
In a year like this one, steeped in history-making firsts, how could anyone accurately predict what this relatively small group of 6,000 film professionals will do? With only a handful of sure-thing categories, at least this year’s telecast has the promise of a few wild-card surprises.
For those hosting or attending an Oscar party or joining in a betting pool at the office, perhaps this overview of the top six categories will make for entertaining reading as you place your own predictions on your ballot.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: After landslide victory in all the previous awards shows, look for Anne Hathaway to continue her winning streak and take home the gold for her performance as the doomed Fantine in “Les Miserables.” While Amy Adams (“The Master”), Helen Hunt (“The Sessions”) and Sally Field (“Lincoln”) all brought their unique brand of talent to memorable roles, Hathaway emerged as the single best thing about an otherwise unimpressive adaptation of the beloved stage musical.
BEST ACTOR: In another sure-thing category, Daniel Day Lewis (“Lincoln”) has more chance of getting struck by lightning than he does losing the Oscar on Sunday night. His characterization of Abraham Lincoln is a stunning master class in acting and as one of the greatest performers of his generation he will become the first actor in history to receive three Best Actor statuettes.
BEST ACTRESS: Getting into complicated territory, this category boasts incredible performances by all five nominees. If things go the traditional route, then the talents of young Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) will find her, quite predictably, up at the podium. But there’s certainly room for other outcomes. At the age of nine, the youngest Best Actress nominee in history, Quvenzhane Wallis, (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) joins the eldest nominee ever, Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”), who celebrates her 86th birthday on Oscar night. Early favorite Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”) round out this impressive list.
The most genuine of all the characterizations comes from Riva, the French New Wave film icon. At this last act of her 56-year-career, which began with “Hiroshima, mon amour,” I believe that her flawless performance will result in a surprise win for her efforts.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Supplying another first in Oscar history, all five actors in this category have
already won at least one
Academy Award, which eliminates the “need” to give one of them the Oscar for an entire career. However, it’s been 38 years since Robert De Niro picked up gold in this category — for his interpretation of Vito Corleone — so if there’s to be any sentiment thrown around, it may be for his complex performance in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
The rest of these contenders have been recognized throughout this award season with the wealth being spread evenly between Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”), Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”). With only Alan Arkin (“Argo”) going unnoticed this year, the race seems to be between Waltz and Jones; barring a complete surprise, the exquisite performance of Waltz (fresh from his win from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) gives him a slight edge here.
BEST PICTURE & BEST DIRECTOR: What a mess the Academy created when they decided a few years ago to nominate up to 10 films instead of five and subsequently began bumping-up the nomination process to the beginning of January. These changes produce a final ballot that appears “out of touch” with the consensus of moviegoers, critics and other film organizations.
Notable exclusions this year prompted endless commentary from film journalists about whether the members of the Academy had even seen all of the possible contending films. By the time the Directors Guild of America awarded director Ben Affleck its grand prize for “Argo,” the Academy looked even more ridiculous in its failure even to nominate him in the directing category. Only six times since 1948 has the DGA winner not gone on to win the Oscar. As those following award season know, Affleck and his film have also swept top prizes from the Golden Globes, SAG, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA.
Only three times in Oscar’s 84-year-old history has a Best Picture won without a best director nomination to back it up, but that isn’t likely to stop Affleck from basking in a sweet-revenge win for “Argo.”
As for Best Director, it seems to be anyone’s guess, but my theory is that it will not go to the two logical choices of past honorees, Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”) or Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”). As early favorites, they both directed generously nominated pictures. Instead, the directors’ branch of the Academy may use this award to acknowledge the success of David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”) or even throw a less conventional nod to Austrian auteur Michael Haneke, whose film “Amour” is not only a Best Picture nominee but a shoe-in for Best Foreign-Language film.
While I have nothing except my own wishful thinking to back up this prediction, I believe Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning masterpiece will find him at the podium on Oscar Night.
No matter what the outcome, I remain convinced that the process of the awards season encourages better and braver scripts, films and performances. Whether we end up agreeing with the choices the Academy makes, moviegoers will continue to pick their favorites, form their own opinions and keep returning over and over again to the magic of a dark theater and the big screen. Until next year’s awards, I’ll be seeing you there.
Longtime Valley resident Jennifer Hudson reviews films weekly for the Valley News.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.