It’s that time of year again for movie enthusiasts everywhere. Punctuating the nearly unbearable dearth of quality movies in the months of January and February, the Academy Awards captivate our attention as we reflect on and argue over the finest films of yesteryear. I’ll break down the major awards and explain who will win, who should win, and why. Let the festivities commence.
The Best Picture award might actually be the trickiest to figure out this year. We can eliminate some of the nominees, such as Les Misérables (not good enough) and Django Unchained (this category has never been kind to Tarantino), along with Argo, Life of Pi, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, the three of which do not seem to have the buzz necessary to contend.
Of the remaining nominees, there is still no clear victor. Amour, an Austrian film about Monsieur and Madame Laurent, an elderly couple struggling with Mme Laurent’s rapidly declining health, received huge critical acclaim and will easily win the Best Foreign Language Film award. However, no foreign language film has ever won Best Picture.
Zero Dark Thirty, among its many attributes, smartly packs the 10-year-long tale of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden into a three-hour movie while still maintaining the emotional connection between audience and characters. Yet the film’s depiction of effective torture and tacit approval of Bush-era anti-terror measures may hurt its chances with the predominantly liberal voters of the Academy. It would not be the first time politics seemingly swayed votes for an award (see Waiting For “Superman”).
Silver Linings Playbook successfully fuses the light romantic comedy and heavy personal drama genres in a way that seemed impossible in an age when both felt insular and stagnant. The story of two ordinary people with mental disorders coming together for love and self-repair was my personal favorite film of 2012. Deft attention to detail and the depth of the plot outside the love story make Playbook feel more realistic than it has any right to.
Still, Lincoln is likely the film to beat, by default more than through any overwhelming merits. The other top nominees have some small things holding them back (in the case of Playbook, its comedic genre) while Lincoln has Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, great historical source material, and a great ensemble cast. All of these are classic indicators of Best Picture material, and while I did not enjoy the movie as much as others, the excellent work put into it is obvious.
Day-Lewis will be going home with another trophy for his performance as the titular Lincoln. Day-Lewis’s famous method acting has earned him two Best Actor awards out of four nominations. With respect to the other nominees, the hype behind Day-Lewis is at the level of Colin Firth in The King’s Speech from two years ago. He’ll win, and deservedly so.
The Best Actress Oscar will likely come down to Jennifer Lawrence in Playbook and Jessica Chastain in Thirty. Both have been nominated for Oscars in the recent past—Chastain for The Help last year and Lawrence for Winter’s Bone the year before. Chastain’s performance as Maya, a fictionalized representation of a group of CIA analysts who tracked down bin Laden, is arguably more nuanced if a bit less natural than Lawrence’s turn as the widowed and neurotic Tiffany. Chastain earned the Golden Globe for her efforts, but I don’t see Lawrence walking away empty-handed. The Academy loves giving acting awards to those portraying the mentally ill, and Lawrence turns in an unusually subtle performance as opposed to the over-the-top acts that Hollywood typically spawns.
The Best Directing award is fairly clear-cut. Spielberg is the tentative favorite as he continues his legendary career with Lincoln. David O. Russell is on a hot streak with Playbook following 2010’s The Fighter, for which Russell was also nominated. While Lincoln may win Best Picture, the Academy has a tendency to not spoil legends like Spielberg with more than a couple of wins in their lifetime, opening the door for Russell to take home the award I feel he deserves. However, the movie that won Best Picture has also won Best Director every year since 2005 saw Ang Lee (also nominated this year for Pi) win for Brokeback Mountain only to see Crash win Best Picture in a major upset. The point is that Spielberg remains the safe bet, though I’ll throw in my vote for Russell.
There’s a lot that goes on in Oscar voting, both analytical and political. Whatever the outcomes, we can be sure that we’ll be arguing over these great films for years to come.