The long and winding road to the 85th annual Academy Awards began last May at the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival and will end, finally, Sunday night.
It's been a particularly controversial and costly competition for this year's Oscar gold and no matter what happens, Academy members are likely to be criticized for how they've voted. This will be especially true of the Best Picture and Best Directing races, which turned controversial when four high profile directors were snubbed by the Academy's directors branch.
By excluding Ben Affleck (Argo
), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty
), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained
) and Tom Hooper (Les Miserables
), the directors branch brought an unnecessarily negative tone to this year's competition. Media observers have speculated at length on the possible reasons for each of these directors not being nominated. In particular, the snub to Affleck may have influenced other awards givers and worked to the benefit of Argo
, which swept all the major contests and is now the presumptive Best Picture Oscar winner.
When the awards season kicked off in Cannes last May, Michael Haneke's romantic drama Amour,
about an aging couple, won the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, sparking media speculation about a Best Picture Oscar win. As it turned out, Amour
received five Oscar nominations, including one of nine Best Picture nods.
While it's not leading the best picture pack, Amour
is the frontrunner for best foreign language film (as Austria's official selection) after winning the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award for best foreign language film. Amour
previously swept the European Film Awards, winning best picture, director (Haneke), actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and actor (Jean-Louis Trintignant).
Although Riva, who stars in Amour
, didn't win best actress in Cannes, she's emerged as a stronger contender in Oscar's Best Actress race after recently winning the British Academy's best actress BAFTA. A win by Riva, who turns 86 the day of the Oscars, over the two much younger actresses who throughout the Oscar season were widely regarded as frontrunners--Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirt
y--would be a major surprise.
In fact, Best Actress looks like the race that could provide this year's biggest Oscar surprise. In most of the other key categories, Hollywood handicappers aren't expecting big surprises. Of course, with Oscar anything's always possible, so it won't really be over until it's over. The Academy polls close Feb. 19 and the sealed envelopes will be ripped open five days later. Here's a look at what seems most likely to happen in such key races as best picture, directing, actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress.
: There may be nine Best Picture nominees, but at this point just about everyone handicapping the Oscars expects the thriller Argo
, which has seven Oscar noms, topped the Best Picture list in every major contest leading up to the Oscars--including, the BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes (drama), Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America (best director – Ben Affleck) and Screen Actors Guild of America (best ensemble cast).
Oscarologists who earlier in the season anticipated a sweep by DreamWorks, Fox, Reliance Pictures, Participant Media and Disney's biographical drama Lincoln
and its Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg are now virtually all on board the Argo
for best picture bandwagon.
If there's an upset because Academy members don't want to appear to be echoing all the other awards givers, insiders don't see best picture going to Lincoln
, whose prospects faded over long months of campaigning. Lincoln
's marketing team, following Spielberg's lead, opted to let their high profile film speak for itself at a time when ultra-aggressive Oscar campaigning was the name of the game at Warner Bros. for Argo, The Weinstein Company for David O. Russell's romantic comedy drama Silver Linings Playbook
and 20th Century Fox for Ang Lee's adventure drama Life of Pi
has 11 Oscar noms, including Best Picture, Director and Film Editing. The only film with more noms this year is Lincoln
with 12. Traditionally, the film with the most noms wins Best Picture about two-thirds of the time since having more noms means having broader support from Academy branches and, therefore, more members who are likely to vote for that film.
If Academy members can't bring themselves to embrace Argo
are their most likely alternatives. Like Lincoln
, they also have Best Directing and Film Editing noms, the magic combination that best picture winners traditionally have. They are, by the way, the only three of the nine Best Picture nominees that have that set of noms. While Argo
has a Best Film Editing nom, Affleck isn't in the directing race.
With Affleck not up for Best Directing, this will be the seventh time since 1948 that the DGA winner hasn't gone on to win the Best Directing Oscar. Affleck won the DGA's feature directing award earlier this month, which could be interpreted as the DGA's way of thumbing its nose at the much older, elite and mostly male 360-odd members of the Academy's directing branch for snubbing Affleck.
The DGA's membership of about 15,000 men and women is considerably younger and more contemporary in its taste. It includes unit production managers, assistant directors and directors of television shows and commercials as well as feature film directors.
If Academy voters give Argo
Best Picture, they could spread their love around by giving best directing to Spielberg for Lincoln
. But if they, too, have cooled on Lincoln
, we could see an upset vote for Pi
's Ang Lee. A well regarded non-controversial filmmaker, Lee won the best directing Oscar in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain
and received a directing nom in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
And if it's not Lee, the other upset winner could be Silver
's David O. Russell, who was a best directing nominee in 2011 for The Fighter
. With The Weinstein Company's shrewd co-chairman Harvey Weinstein leading the marketing push behind Silver
, we should definitely not count Russell out.
Oscar's Best Actor race is one that's unlikely to provide surprises. Lincoln
star Daniel Day-Lewis is the presumptive winner after winning best actor in the BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes (drama) and Screen Actors Guild.
On the other hand, an upset is what many insiders are now anticipating in the Best Actress race. Throughout the season the conventional wisdom was that the winner would be either Jessica Chastain for the thriller Zero Dark Thirty
or Jennifer Lawrence forthe romantic comedy drama Silver
As political controversy engulfed Zero
and its director Kathryn Bigelow, insiders saw Lawrence's prospects improving. Now, however, many Oscarologists are favoring Amour
's Riva. Winning BAFTA's best actress award put the spotlight on the French actress, who with perfect Oscar timing will celebrate her 86th birthday Feb. 24.
In a career going back to the mid-1950s, Riva has appeared in nearly 80 films and television productions. She's best known for starring in Alain Resnais' 1959 classic Hiroshima, mon amour
, for which she received a best actress BAFTA nomination. Her nom for Amour
is the first time the Academy's nominated her and it puts her in the record books as Oscar's oldest Best Actress nominee ever.
Academy voters are no youngsters, themselves, and if they're feeling slightly sentimental when they vote they could give Riva a fabulous 86th birthday present and create a truly touching moment for the global telecast.
There's also the potential of seeing a veteran actor recognized in the very competitive Supporting Actor race. Robert De Niro, who's 69, is a solid contender here for Silver
. His previous supporting actor nom was way back in 1975 for The Godfather, Part II
. De Niro won but wasn't there so director Francis Ford Coppola accepted on his behalf.
De Niro was a Best Actor Oscar nominee in 1977 for Taxi Driver
, in 1979 for The Deer Hunter
, in 1981 for Raging Bull
, in 1991 for Awakenings
and in 1992 for Cape Fear
But De Niro faces strong competition from Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
and Christoph Waltz for Django
, both of whom outperformed the veteran star in other awards contests this season. De Niro was a Screen Actors Guild nominee for best supporting actor, but lost to Jones. Waltz wasn't a SAG nominee, but he took home all the other big awards for supporting actor--including, the BAFTA, Critics Choice Award and Golden Globe.
Earlier in the season Jones was considered the most likely winner since Lincoln
was then regarded as the most likely best picture winner and had the potential of an Oscar sweep. Later in the season, insiders were more excited about Waltz's prospects, but Jones' SAG victory kept him squarely in the race. With Lincoln
's Best Picture potential diminished, Academy voters could welcome the opportunity to give it a Supporting Actor win. Also, actors make up the Academy's largest branch, so it's always good to have a SAG victory under your belt.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
's Sally Field is a Supporting Actress nominee, it's unlikely that she or anyone else will prevail here other than Anne Hathaway for Les Mis
. Hathaway is the presumptive winner after having winning the BAFTA, Critics Choice, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild races.
It looks like Argo
will win Best Picture, but we could see upsets for Best Directing and Actress.