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The 85th Academy Awards

Gold Standard 2012

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Oscars are weirder than ever. This year the awards included major snubs in nearly every category, and what remains appears to have been mainly driven by successful marketing campaigns. Moreover, only a certain kind of movie has even been considered. Why couldn't voters admit that blockbusters like Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Avengers and comedies like Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom were actually among the best movies of the year, rather than the more "important" dramas? Happily, though, many good films have been nominated, and many good films actually have a chance to win. Here are the S.F. Examiner's annual picks, predictions, and write-ins.

See my reviews of the winners:
Argo
Amour
Anna Karenina
Brave
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Les Misérables
Searching for Sugar Man
Silver Linings Playbook
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty
Short Films


Best Picture
Of the nine nominees, only two really deserve to be here: Zero Dark Thirty (the actual best movie of the year) and the remarkable Lincoln. Normally, Lincoln would appear to be the logical winner, given its length, significance, and overall number of nominees. But Argo is the front-runner, and has been all along. It was derailed briefly when Ben Affleck was snubbed in the directing category, but snapped back on track when the film won the Golden Globe. While the movie has been mistaken for an Important Film, it's still an excellent popcorn muncher, and if it wins, it will hardly be the worst movie ever to capture the top spot.

Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Write-In: Moonrise Kingdom
The Winner: Argo


Best Actor
With snubs for Jack Black (Bernie) and John Hawkes (The Sessions), this category is pretty dry. We can safely eliminate two-time winner Denzel Washington (Flight), first-time nominee Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) and third-time nominee Joaquin Phoenix (The Master). Hugh Jackman has a shot, since he makes a perfect Jean Valjean in the highly flawed Les Miserables, and since everyone just seems to like him so much. But the front-runner is Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln); he has taken the lion's share of the awards season glory for the way he disappeared completely into honest Abe. It will be his third Oscar.

Who Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Write-In: Jack Black, Bernie
The Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis


Best Actress
The year's best performance, Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, was sadly not nominated, and we can eliminate the nine year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Naomi Watts for the grueling disaster flick The Impossible. The 85 year-old Emmanuelle Riva has a shot due to her age and her legendary status. But how many Academy voters had ever heard of her, or her classic films (Hiroshima, Mon Amour)? No, the front-runners are Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook). They're both extremely strong performances, but Lawrence will take it. She's the bigger star (The Hunger Games made tons of money) and she has an unbeatable Weinstein Oscar campaign behind her.

Who Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain
Write-In: Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
The Winner: Jennifer Lawrence


Best Director
The Academy often gets this category wrong, but this year takes the cake. It appears as if there were a math error: Kathryn Bigelow, Ben Affleck, and Paul Thomas Anderson were all snubbed, even though they received DGA nominations from roughly the same body of voters. From among the remaining nominees, only Steven Spielberg really deserves to win. He's won twice before, but his terrific Lincoln is currently the highest-grossing of the nominees and also has the most nominations. Ang Lee also has a shot for Life of Pi, though that movie seems to be more of a feat of cinematography and visual effects than directing. David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) has the Weinsteins behind him, so he can't be counted out. Michael Haneke (Amour) will win Best Foreign Film instead, and we can eliminate Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) entirely.

Who Will Win: Steven Spielberg
Who Should Win: Steven Spielberg
Write-In: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
The Winner: Ang Lee


Best Supporting Actor
All five of the nominees in this category are previous Oscar winners, and so far they have split the previous awards-season glory between them. There are no clear front-runners. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) has the most points so far, but his film seems to have lost its momentum. Alan Arkin (Argo) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) have both won in the last six years, but Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) hasn't won since 1980; and you can never underestimate the power of the Weinsteins. Yet by a tiny margin Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) appears to have the best shot at winning, simply for standing out among an amazing cast of character actors.

Who Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones
Who Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones
Write-In: Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike or Bernie
The Winner: Christoph Waltz


Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway is a great actress, usually bringing an organic, intuitive quality to even her worst movies. She's by far the best thing in Les Miserables, and performing her character's signature song in one long take (complete with tears) is an impressive feat. She has won most of the awards season accolades, she's a prior nominee, and she's a shoo-in. As for the others, Amy Adams was good in The Master, but was much better -- and totally ignored -- in Trouble with the Curve. Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Sally Field (Lincoln) already have their Oscars, and Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) will have to keep hoping for another day.

Who Will Win: Anne Hathaway
Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway
Write-In: Shirley MacLaine, Bernie
The Winner: Anne Hathaway


Best Screenplay (Original)
Sadly, we can eliminate the best nominee in this category, Moonrise Kingdom, as well as Flight, since neither is nominated for Best Picture. For some reason, people seem to like the depressing Amour, but most likely it will be reserved for Best Foreign Language Film. This category often goes to the actual best picture of the year, as well as somewhat controversial movies, and Zero Dark Thirty fits both of those descriptions. However, everyone loves Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), and he hasn't won anything since 1994, so it could be his year.

Will Win: Django Unchained
Should Win: Moonrise Kingdom
Write-In: Rian Johnson, Looper
The Winner: Django Unchained


Best Screenplay (Adapted)
The thing about Oscar voters is that they believe that anything outside the movie industry is inherently better than anything inside it. So the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner and his screenplay for Lincoln are simply awe-inspiring. It's also a very wordy screenplay, which is another asset for voters. (If it has lots of words, it must be good!) It's the front-runner. Argo, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook are in a three-way tie for second, and Beasts of the Southern Wild brings up the rear.

Will Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Lincoln
Write-Ins: Tracy Letts, Killer Joe, Terence Davies, The Deep Blue Sea, David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis
The Winner: Argo


Animated Feature
This is by far the strongest category, where even the weakest of the five nominees is still among the best films of the year. All five are outstanding, but only one can win. We can eliminate The Pirates! Band of Misfits and ParaNorman since they didn't exactly set the box office afire. Brave has made the most money of the five, but it's generally not as well-loved as other Pixar movies have been. Frankenweenie has a tiny chance to earn a first Oscar for the acclaimed filmmaker Tim Burton, but the front runner is probably Disney's endlessly inventive Wreck-It-Ralph, which has a nostalgia factor for grown-ups raised on 1980s video games.

Will Win: Wreck-It-Ralph
Should Win: Frankenweenie
Write-In: The Secret World of Arrietty
The Winner: Brave


Foreign Language Film
As usual, the weird rules of this category automatically eliminate most of the year's best choices (The Turin Horse, Holy Motors, etc.). Then, for some reason Michael Haneke's cold, cruel Amour seems to have captured the attention of critics and moviegoers everywhere, and its popularity and five total nominations make it an absolute certainty. On the other hand, the clever No from Chile is a much more enjoyable film. As for the others, they're likely destined for obscurity, as with many of the other nominees/winners in the history of this category.

Will Win: Amour
Should Win: No
Write-In: The Turin Horse
The Winner: Amour


Documentary Feature
It's too bad that Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film, which was by far the best documentary of the year, didn't make the cut, but the five that remain are not bad. Probably 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers are the most easily eliminated. Filmmaker Kirby Dick has been nominated before, and his The Invisible War is about an Important Subject, but the equally Important How to Survive a Plague is more critically acclaimed overall. Searching for Sugar Man is the anomaly: it's the most purely enjoyable film on the list, but enjoyment is not what this category is usually about. Will voters go with their hearts or minds?

Will Win: How to Survive a Plague
Should Win: Searching for Sugar Man
Write-In: This Is Not a Film
The Winner: Searching for Sugar Man


Cinematography
The great English cinematographer Roger Deakins is just about the best in the business. He has been nominated ten times and has never won (not even for Fargo or No Country for Old Men). Unfortunately his nominee this year is Skyfall, which -- despite how awesome it is -- isn't weighty enough to warrant a win. Not to mention that its main competitor, Life of Pi, has received most of the awards season glory in this category for its spectacular, open-aired imagery. As for Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, and Lincoln? It was an honor to be nominated.

Will Win: Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
Should Win: Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Write-In: Mihai Milaimare Jr., The Master
The Winner: Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi

Other Winners:
Best Editing: Argo
Best Production Design/Art Direction: Lincoln
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Makeup: Les Misérables
Best Score: Life of Pi
Best Song: "Skyfall," from Skyfall
Best Sound: Les Misérables
Best Sound Effects Editing: (Tie) Skyfall & Zero Dark Thirty
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Documentary Short: Inocente
Best Animated Short: Paperman
Best Live Action Short: Curfew

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