When the Academy Award predictions were announced on Jan. 10, the usual snubs and surprises were discussed, but one name stood out: Ben Affleck.
Since its release in October, Affleck’s “Argo” was considered a frontrunner in the Oscars. Its true-story plot, about a CIA mission to use a fake Hollywood film to smuggle American diplomats out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, is Ben Affleck’s career comeback after several flops. It’s the type of film Academy members gravitate toward. And that’s why it’s so surprising that “Argo” was snubbed by the directors’ branch of the Academy — 80 percent of the time, best picture and best director are awarded to the same movie, and only three times has best picture gone to a movie not nominated for best director.
But now with a pile of precursor awards in its trophy cabinet, such as the SAG ensemble award, the producers guild award, the BAFTA for best picture and even the directors guild award, “Argo” is poised to become the first best picture nominee to win without a directing nomination since 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy,” also joining 1927’s “Wings” and 1931’s “Grand Hotel.”
But what else could the movie win? Another aspect that disturbed Oscar pundits was the number of Oscar nominations “Argo” received: seven, well behind “Lincoln’s” 12 or “Life of Pi’s” 11. In fact, “Argo” is in fifth place for nominations, also behind “Les Misérables” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” which each got eight. “Argo” will likely win best editing — not only is the movie a thriller, the genre that frequently wins in this category, but the editing winner usually matches the winner of best picture.
Best adapted screenplay is a tough category to call. You have “Lincoln,” written by Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner who adapted a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Team of Rivals.” David O. Russell has received strong reviews and precursor attention for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Twentieth Century Fox, who marketed “Life of Pi,” has insisted that the novel was “unfilmable” despite its relatively simple plot, but will voters buy that hype? Despite the pedigree of the other movies, I think that the Academy will choose “Argo” over the others, given how well-liked it is by the industry.
For best director, Steven Spielberg is the best bet, considering “Lincoln” seems to be in second place after “Argo.” Ang Lee is being touted by some for “Life of Pi,” but it’s important to consider that the acting branch is the largest part of the Academy. “Life of Pi” received zero acting nominations while “Lincoln” has three, so it seems that the Academy as a whole prefers “Lincoln.” Spielberg should win his third best director statue alongside his wins for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”
“Lincoln’s” likeliest win is for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role for best actor. No male actor has ever won three Oscars for leading performances; he previously won in 2008 for “There Will be Blood” and in 1990 for “My Left Foot.” Katherine Hepburn is the only person to win three leading performances (though she also won once in supporting), but Oscar records are meant to be broken, and Day-Lewis will be adding another award to shelves already groaning from their weight.
For the first time ever, every nominee for best supporting actor has won once before, and the sheer acclaim for every performance makes this the toughest category to predict. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s lead performance, miscategorized as a supporting one, is in my opinion the best of the bunch, but the Academy probably finds “The Master” too obtuse to give him the award for his Wellesian performance. Alan Arkin doesn’t have much screen time in “Argo,” but the film could sweep and make him a victor. Tommy Lee Jones won the SAG award in this category for his performance as Thaddeus Stevens in “Lincoln,” but he’s since fallen out of popularity.
Robert De Niro hasn’t received much precursor attention for his performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” but the Weinstein Company’s campaign strategy echoes the one that won Meryl Streep her third Oscar last year – that a veteran actor hasn’t won in a while and deserves a third win. Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained,” also backed by the Weinstein Company, won the BAFTA, and the film has been going strong since its release in late December, so it has the best shot of winning in my opinion.
Supporting actress, on the other hand, is very predictable. Although Sally Field is two-for-two so far at the Oscars, winning both times she was nominated, Anne Hathaway is set to ruin that ratio. Her performance in “Les Misérables” has swept every precursor award this season.
For a while there, it looked like Jessica Chastain was the frontrunner for “Zero Dark Thirty,” but then Jennifer Lawrence started winning nearly every major precursor for “Silver Linings Playbook,” and will probably win the Oscar as well. The dark horse is Emmanuelle Riva, who stands to become the oldest winner in history (The Academy Awards are actually on her 86th birthday). Her performance in Michael Haneke’s “Amour” won the BAFTA, but I expect that the American Academy will side with Lawrence.
Best original screenplay is another tough category to crack. “Amour” has received great acclaim, but I imagine the Academy will be put off by the movie’s foreign-ness and misanthropy. Mark Boal beat Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” with “The Hurt Locker” three years ago, but I believe Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty” will lose to “Django Unchained” this time — “Zero Dark Thirty’s” supposedly thorough research has been criticized by many prominent politicians and journalists, while Tarantino’s foul language has garnered much love.
Best documentary is a weird category this year. Four of the movies have extremely serious, political subjects, which the Academy usually loves — “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “The Invisible War” is about rape in the U.S. military and “How to Survive a Plague” is about AIDs. However, “Searching for Sugar Man,” about the search for a rock music artist who disappeared into obscurity, has won most precursors, so it looks like that will win.
Best animated feature seems to be between “Brave” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” both by Disney but the former by Pixar. “Wreck-It Ralph” seems generally more well-liked, and came into theaters later in the year, and sometimes the factor leading to a win is as simple as that.
Correction: Feb. 26, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the year in which the Iranian hostage crisis occurred. It began in 1979, not 1982.