By Carl Kozlowski
Each year, the Academy Awards ceremony showcases the top films in the world while offering TV viewers a must-see evening of kitschy pop culture with ratings second only to those of the Super Bowl. For the last decade or more, however, the Oscar telecast’s ratings have been freefalling, as the public’s tastes often seem completely at odds with those doing the voting.
But this year, things could get interesting again, with the wildly unpredictable Seth MacFarlane (creator of the outrageous and popular Fox cartoons Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, and writer-director of the smash R-rated comedy raunchfest Ted) handling the hosting duties. Better yet, the Academy this year picked movies the public actually liked, with seven of the nine Best Picture nominees either nearing or surpassing the $100-million blockbuster mark at the box office.
So, who’s likely to win, and who deserves to win? The answers are often different, so we’ll explore them both.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
FAVORITES: Sally Field and Anne Hathaway. The Academy likes Field. I mean it really, really likes her, and we’re almost 30 years past the night that Sally last won an Oscar and broke down in hysterics. This might be Field’s last chance to win, but Anne Hathaway worked total magic in just 15 minutes of the year’s most lavish film and stole the show by singing “I Dreamed a Dream” live on camera. WINNER: Hathaway.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
FAVORITES: Hoffman’s turn as a de facto version of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was actually a leading-man-sized performance, which will hurt him here for being out of place. Jones did a great job of acting as well and should take home the award for worst wig. However, DeNiro should take the prize since h —like Field—is beloved by the Academy, hasn’t won in over 30 years and may soon be slowed by the encroachments of age. WINNER: DeNiro.
BEST ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).
FAVORITES: Just a month ago, it looked like Chastain was the one to beat, playing Maya, a composite of the fearlessly dedicated CIA agents who ultimately tracked down Osama bin Laden. But the film raised hackles in Washington over its depiction of torture as an interrogation tactic, and that shift in the discussion’s focus hurt Chastain’s chances. That leaves Lawrence as a sweet yet feisty average American woman who struggles her way to a happier life, a role that’s perfectly suited to our troubled times. If the Academy wants to send a sick, sad message endorsing the killing of old people when times get rough, Riva could slip in. I wouldn’t put it past the voters, but here’s hoping Lawrence keeps things lively. WINNER: Lawrence.
BEST ACTOR: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight).
FAVORITES: Cooper showed that he could be an Oscar-winning force in the future, but it’s too early in his career for a guy who’s still best-known for his wild and embarrassing behavior in The Hangover. Joaquin Phoenix utterly mesmerized me at two separate viewings, but ruined his chances when he verbally thrashed the idea of acting competitions in a recent interview. I found Lincoln to be a stodgy bore as a movie, but it would take an outright miracle for Day-Lewis to lose as the iconic president in a movie that seemed robotically engineered to win awards. WINNER: Day-Lewis.
BEST DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke (Amour), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
FAVORITES: In this year’s most controversial category, Argo director Ben Affleck was left out of the running for this award despite winning the Directors Guild award for the same film, and from the same core group of voters. That leaves Spielberg as a seeming shoo-in for his stately, award-begging work on Lincoln, but I’m personally hoping for an upset with Silver Linings Playbook writer-director Russell nabbing the Oscar here for pulling off a feat that hadn’t been achieved in nearly 40 years: guiding his cast into nominations for all four acting categories. But as much as I hate to admit it, Spielberg’s likely to take it. WINNER: Spielberg.
BEST PICTURE: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
FAVORITES: Django was the most audaciously original movie of the year, but that won’t win it awards from an older, fairly conservative Academy. Its best shot is for Original Screenplay. Lincoln was engineered to win the award in what feels like a traditional Oscar movie from top to bottom. But Silver Linings Playbook is the movie with the most heart of this year’s nominees, reminding s all of the importance of family and reaching out during troubled times. It’ll come down to either Silver or Argo, but the general consensus this awards season has been Argo scooping up trophies by the shovel-load and Silver likely to pick up Adapted Screenplay honors for writer-director David O. Russell. WINNER: Argo.