Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Manifesto's Official 2012 Oscar Nomination Predictions

There are a number of disadvantages to being a lowly blogger rather than a bona fide movie critic – I have to pay to see movies rather than being paid to see them, I lack access to studio executives, no one takes my opinions seriously, etc. – but my greatest hardship when it comes to predicting the Oscars is one of timing. Unlike actual critics, who are afforded the blessed opportunity to watch most films before they arrive in multiplexes, I'm required to wait until a local theatre has the decency to screen them. I also happen to live in the quasi-metropolis of Denver, a very nice city that isn't exactly a thoroughfare for art-house pictures. The result is that I'm placed in the problematic position of prognosticating about the Oscar potential of a number of movies that, much to my dismay, I've yet to see.

Which brings me to Michael Haneke and Amour. If you're unfamiliar with either of them, Haneke is a controversial German director whose films typically range from decidedly unpleasant to utterly nauseating. He's a bit of a darling in Europe – five of his seven most recent movies have nabbed major awards at the aggressively haughty Cannes Film Festival – but outside of a few Best Foreign Language Film nominations, the Academy has never warmed to his chilly sensibility. Amour is his latest film, and it's being hailed by an extraordinary number of critics as an absolute masterpiece. It's also reputedly his most tender and inviting picture to date.

Now, in my experience, Michael Haneke's movies are about as tender and inviting as Jim Harbaugh after a missed David Akers field goal. Prior to Amour's rapturous reception, I never would have believed that any Haneke film would even sniff a seat at Oscar's main table. And since I have no firsthand knowledge of Amour, it's difficult for me to square its deafening buzz with my own preconceptions of Haneke as a hostile, borderline-sadistic filmmaker. All of which is a way of saying that before I predict whether or not Amour will receive a Best Picture nomination, I'd really like to see the fucking movie first.

But such is life. The Oscar nominations will be announced on January 10, and Haneke's latest metaphorical incision into the human psyche is nowhere in sight, or at least not in Denver. In the meantime, the Manifesto plunges on with its official predictions for the 2012 Academy Awards. Remember we're only handicapping the 13 most interesting fields at this point in time; I'll predict actual winners for all 21 feature categories over the next month.

Les Misérables
Life of Pi
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Comments: Remember, anywhere from five to 10 films can be nominated for the top prize. Remember also that the key here is passion: In order to make the cut, a movie must be ranked number one on at least five percent of voters' ballots. (See last year's writeup if you want the gory details.) Therefore, movies with small but ardent followings are paradoxically more likely to crack the field than those that are widely respected but not quite loved. What's interesting about this year is that most of the fringe candidates fit that elusive profile. The Master, for instance, is an enigmatic, deeply polarizing movie that bewilders the majority of viewers but also engenders fanatical support in cult circles (see alsTree of Life, The). The question is whether those circles sufficiently overlap with the Academy voting bloc. That same question hovers over the prospects of a number of other Oscar hopefuls, whether it's the scruffy indie charms of Beasts of the Southern Wild; the divisive, racially charged politics of Django Unchained; the spiritual adventure and philosophical musing of Life of Pi; or the mannered magnificence of Moonrise Kingdom. All are viable contenders, but it's also entirely possible that none of them generates a strong enough groundswell of support to make the cut. We just don't know.

So let's talk about what we do know. There are four absolute locks here – Argo, Les Misérables, Lincoln, and Zero Dark Thirty – and I'm fairly comfortable slotting Silver Linings Playbook into the fifth spot. After that, the guesswork begins, and I'm betting my money on the filmmakers more than the films; Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson can each lay claim to a sizable subset of adoring fans, so I think The Master and Moonrise Kingdom both sneak in. I can't make the same argument about Ang Lee, but I think Life of Pi is more broadly liked than the other two, and its epic tale of high-seas adventure should earn it the requisite number of first-place votes.

Potential upsets: As discussed, I'll hardly be surprised if any of Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, or Django Unchained makes the list (possibly at the expense of The Master or Moonrise Kingdom). Skyfall is also a player here, as it nabbed a nomination from the producers' guild, but I just don't see it topping too many ballots.

Longshots: The Avengers (it lost its chance when it flopped with the guild); The Dark Knight Rises (ibid); The Impossible (buzz has been relatively quiet, but it has its fans); The Sessions (too kinky).

Ben Affleck – Argo
Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke – Amour
Tom Hooper – Les Misérables
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln

Comments: This category was easier when the Best Picture lineup only featured five films, as it usually matched at least four of them. But the general theory that the strongest Best Picture contenders will also have a presence here remains applicable, which is why Affleck, Bigelow, and Spielberg should all make the ballot. Hooper isn't quite a lock, but his adaptation of the Broadway smash was certainly busy, so he should pop up here as well. My X-factor is Haneke. Ang Lee earned recognition from the directors' guild for Life of Pi, but the Academy has shown a predilection for honoring makers of foreign-language films in the past, even when those films lacked a corresponding Best Picture nomination (Julian Schnabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Fernando Meirelles for City of God, Pedro Almodóvar for Talk to Her). Furthermore, while I've yet to see Amour (frustrating, I know), Haneke's prior productions all exhibit a heavy directorial presence – when you watch The White Ribbon or Caché, you know you're watching a Michael Haneke movie – and that sort of signature could prove significant, especially when compared to Lee's earnest, measured approach to Life of Pi.

Potential upsets: Lee is virtually in a coin flip with Haneke, but David O. Russell could also be a player for Silver Linings Playbook. Of course, Quentin Tarantino can never be ruled out, but I think voters will recognize Django Unchained for its screenplay.

Longshots: The Anderson Brothers (Wes for Moonrise Kingdom, Paul Thomas for The Master, and no, they're not really brothers); Sam Mendes for Skyfall (the chasmic tonal difference between the Bond picture and American Beauty could earn him a few admiration votes); Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (maybe if the Academy had budget quotas).

Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Denzel Washington – Flight

Comments: Day-Lewis is rock-solid here, and I'm highly confident in Cooper and Jackman as well. (Not coincidentally, I'm pegging all three of their films as Best Picture nominees.) The real wildcard here is Phoenix. Hollywood's most committed hoaxster has been a bit of a prat on the press circuit thus far, dubbing the Oscars "bullshit", and such brazen obnoxiousness could easily rub a number of his fellow actors the wrong way. Still, others might view it merely as frank commentary, and Phoenix's performance is so revelatory that I simply can't envision voters leaving him off their ballot. If he is included, it will be at the expense of either Washington or John Hawkes for The Sessions. I'm scrubbing the latter despite his Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) nod because I think the sexually explicit material in The Sessions might make a number of prudish voters uncomfortable. Still, Hawkes, Phoenix, and Washington are basically playing musical chairs with only two seats available.

Potential upsets: In addition to Hawkes, Jean-Louis Trintignant could sneak in for his work in Amour, though his costar seems to be generating considerably more buzz (see below).

Longshots: Richard Gere for Arbitrage (maybe if Roger Ebert were president of AMPAS); Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock (maybe if the movie hadn't appeared DOA); Ben Affleck for Argo (only if the movie sweeps); Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained (ibid); Bill Murray for Hyde Park on the Hudson (only if the movie isn't as terrible as everyone seems to think it is).

Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Comments: Here's where things start to get tricky. Chastain and Lawrence are solid bets, but no one else has sure footing. I'm choosing to omit two SAG nominees – Naomi Watts for The Impossible and Helen Mirren for Hitchcock – which is automatically a dicey strategy. That said, Beasts of the Southern Wild wasn't eligible with the guild, and I think Wallis' plucky charm earns her a spot. Furthermore, Hitchcock has been limp ever since it arrived in theatres in November (its domestic gross is a pathetic $5.5 million), and my limited read of Amour's landscape is that it's best positioned as a vehicle for its elderly star, so I think Riva displaces Mirren. Watts is more of a threat in my mind, but her screen time is relatively short (one could argue that Tom Holland is the film's true lead). Of course, Cotillard is hardly, ahem, standing on solid ground, SAG nomination notwithstanding, meaning Watts could bump her from contention. Or maybe voters aren't comfortable voting for two foreign-language nominees, in which case Cotillard might stick around at the expense of Riva. And then there's all of this CIA-related controversy about Zero Dark Thirty, so maybe even Chastain could be a shocking snub, which would mean ... I'm getting dizzy.

Potential upsets: Watts and Mirren.

Longshots: Rachel Weisz for The Deep Blue Sea (a pure critics' movie if I ever saw one); Keira Knightley for Anna Karenina (grr); Judi Dench for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (let's hope not); Meryl Streep for Hope Springs (like you'd really be shocked if she popped up here).

Alan Arkin – Argo
Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey – Magic Mike

Comments: Jones and De Niro are relative locks, and Hoffman should be fine unless The Master completely tanks with the Academy at large (if he doesn't show up here, there's no way the movie cracks the Best Picture lineup). Argo is littered with terrific minor performances, but Warner Bros. seems to have thrown its weight entirely behind Arkin. That makes four prior Oscar winners, and there could easily be a fifth in Javier Bardem or Cristoph Waltz, but I'll venture outside the box and cast my lot with McConaughey. He just took home a prize from the National Society of Film Critics, and his oily, charismatic performance as an entrepreneurial stripper (or stripping entrepreneur) could catch fire with Academy voters who decide to be adventurous for once.

Potential upsets: Quentin Tarantino is the Drew Brees of directors; he spreads the wealth around so generously that everyone gets a small piece of the action, but in the end, no one averages more than six catches per game. And so it goes with Django Unchained, a movie that features no fewer than three deserving candidates for Best Supporting Actor in Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and Cristoph Waltz. Any of them could crack this field, but my bet is that they all muscle each other out of contention. The other major player here is Javier Bardem for his delectable scene-chewing performance in Skyfall. Bardem is armed with both an SAG nod and the Academy's goodwill (don't forget his nomination two years ago for the wretched Biutiful), so he's as likely as any of Tarantino's posse to displace McConaughey.

Longshots: Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild (similar to Arkin with Argo, Wallis has swallowed up all attention); Eddie Redmayne for Les Misérables (maybe if Marius weren't such a twit); Tom Holland for The Impossible (wishful thinking).

Amy Adams – The Master
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Maggie Smith – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Comments: Field, Hathaway, and Hunt are all golden. Then, as with Best Actor, there appear to be three contenders fighting for two spots. Smith has an SAG nod, as does Nicole Kidman for her work in the lightning-rod film The Paperboy. I've yet to see The Paperboy, primarily because I refuse to hand $10.50 to the Esquire Theatre just so I can wedge myself into a cramped seat in the upstairs auditorium while watching a blurry projection on a screen that's roughly three times the size of my Sony Bravia. Not that I'm bitter. In any event, that means that I can't accurately judge the Oscar potential of Kidman's performance. Still, from everything I've heard, it's somewhat inflammatory, whereas the venerable Smith delivers the kind of safe, inoffensive performance that Academy voters (especially the sizable British bloc) tend to love. It's possible both could make it, but I seem to be throwing my lot in with The Master, so I might as well go down with the ship and peg Adams for her fourth nomination.

Potential upsets: Kidman.

Longshots: Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook (she's been weirdly marginalized, given the film's overall reception); Samantha Barks for Les Misérables (she'll likely be stuck on her own, get it?); Emma Watson for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (only if there's any justice in this cruel, cruel world).

Amour – Michael Haneke
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino
Looper – Rian Johnson
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson
Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal

Comments: Guild nominations for the screenplay categories are only helpful to a certain extent, as a number of scripts are ineligible with the WGA but remain possibilities with the Academy. In the Original Screenplay category, the most significant of those is Tarantino's colorful, bombastic script for Django Unchained, which should land here quite comfortably, its absence among the guild nominees notwithstanding. I'm also confident that both Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson's most heartfelt story since Rushmore) and Zero Dark Thirty (from Oscar-winning Hurt Locker scribe Boal) will make the grade. My remaining picks, however, are considerably shakier. Both have guild nods, but Amour was ineligible there, and if Haneke's screenplay documents as touching a love story as most critics suggest (have I mentioned that it's exceedingly difficult to weigh Amour's Oscar potential when I've yet to see the film?), it could push out either Looper or The Master. This is likely personal bias, but I think Johnson's brilliant time-travel tale is on firmer footing than Anderson's elliptical narrative.

Potential upsets: In addition to The Master, the most obvious contender is John Gatins' screenplay for Flight; it scored a guild nod, but outside of Washington's chances for a Best Actor slot, the movie's buzz seems to have diminished entirely.

Longshots: The Intouchables (the Academy is often willing to dip into foreign markets in the screenplay categories); Middle of Nowhere (critics like it, so why have I barely heard anything about it?); Brave (could Pixar's first female empowerment picture get a push?); Seven Psychopaths (only if voters are in a meta mood).

Argo – Chris Terrio
Life of Pi – David Magee
Lincoln – Tony Kushner
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell

Comments: Argo, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook are all in – they all have guild nods, and they're all likely Best Picture nominees as well, so mark 'em down. Life of Pi and Perks of Being a Wallflower received guild nominations as well, but again, that's partly circumstantial, as neither Beasts of the Southern Wild nor Les Misérables was eligible. Still, Magee took a supposedly unfilmable book and gave it cinematic shape, while Chbosky found fresh and vigorous life in his 13-year-old novel, so I think we're looking at a perfect match with the WGA quintet.

Potential upsets: As it's a major player in the Best Picture field, Les Misérables might seem like a logical choice here, but while the film is admirable in many respects, its screenplay is virtually a recitation of its source, so I can't see the voters rewarding it. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a more intriguing candidate, but I'm still not buying any major nominations other than Wallis. If Skyfall really is a dark horse for Best Picture, it needs to show up here as well; given that I'm bearish on the former, I don't see it cracking the latter lineup either.

Longshots: The Sessions (again, too much sex); Bernie (too quietly creepy); The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (crikey); Cloud Atlas (speaking of supposedly unfilmable books).

Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda
Lincoln – Janusz Kaminski
The Master – Mihai Malaimare, Jr.
Skyfall – Roger Deakins
Zero Dark Thirty – Greig Fraser

Comments: Talk about unfair: The guild nominations for cinematography aren't announced until the day before the Oscar nominations are revealed, and given that I want to give my readers sufficient time to pore over my precious picks, I need proceed in the relative dark. In any event, the three major players here are Life of Pi, The Master, and Skyfall, as all have been recognized by at least six different critical satellites. Zero Dark Thirty should slot in here as well, as the grainy nighttime photography is presumably essential to the film's success (I'm seeing it on Friday, and yes, I'm excited). My biggest question mark is Lincoln, but it's a beautifully saturated film, and Kaminski (Spielberg's longtime collaborator) already has five Oscar nominations under his belt – no reason he shouldn't make it six.

Potential upsets: The most likely spoiler here is Django Unchained, lensed by the venerable Robert Richardson, a three-time Oscar winner. Les Misérables and Moonrise Kingdom have each picked up a handful of precursor nominations, so they can't be counted out either.

Longshots: Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey's work has been utterly ignored thus far, which is both baffling and infuriating); Argo (never discount a Best Picture contender here); The Dark Knight Rises (Skyfall appears to have stolen its blockbuster thunder); Cloud Atlas (let's face it, there was plenty to see).

Argo – William Goldenberg
Les Misérables – Chris Dickens
Lincoln – Michael Kahn
Skyfall – Stuart Baird
Zero Dark Thirty – William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Comments: As with Best Cinematography, the guild nominees have yet to be announced, so I'm flying slightly blind here. Still, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are virtual locks, as they've each scooped up a handful of trophies on the circuit. I don't view Skyfall as a Best Picture contender, but I do view it as a legitimate threat in the craft categories, with 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum – which actually won a stunning three Oscars – as its doppelganger. Les Misérables and Lincoln are shakier picks, but the rule in editing is simple: When in doubt, roll with the Best Picture contenders.

Potential upsets: I'm betting against The Master here, as its meandering plot and hazy focus suggest an undisciplined editing approach (now watch this be the only category in which it's nominated). It's possible that I'm giving short shrift to Django Unchained, but the movie is damn long, and unlike Lincoln, it doesn't maintain its momentum for the entirety of its run time. There's also a chance that Life of Pi pops up here, though I think its flashback structure might prove ungainly to some voters.

Longshots: Cloud Atlas (if the category were called "Most Editing", it would be in the bag); Silver Linings Playbook (again, never discount a Best Picture threat).

Anna Karenina – Dario Marianelli
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Dan Romer, Benh Zeitlin
Cloud Atlas – Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer
Life of Pi – Mychael Danna
Lincoln – John Williams

Comments: This category is a relative free-for-all, so I'll be pleased if I go three-for-five. Williams is an institution, and if he can be a double-nominee for War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, he should certainly earn a spot for scoring a picture as well-regarded as Lincoln. Danna is also on solid ground, as the Life of Pi soundtrack appears to be highly popular, while Marianelli is a prior Oscar winner (for a little film called Atonement, which this blogger rather liked) who delivered a flavorful score for Anna Karenina, so he's in fine shape. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a somewhat frisky pick here, but the music is robust and energetic (much like the movie), and I expect voters to respond to its vitality. My shakiest pick is Cloud Atlas, but Tykwer & Co. provided a stirring, memorable score that suited the film's epic scope.

Potential upsets: Alexandre Desplat. Yes, that's a man, not a movie, but he's been nominated four times in the past six years, and given his prolific output this year, he could actually pop up multiple times in 2012. His best chances are likely Best Picture nominees Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, though he also has Moonrise Kingdom and Rise of the Guardians in play.

Longshots: Jonny Greenwood for The Master (too unsettling); Thomas Newman for Skyfall (tempting, but too action-oriented); Howard Shore for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (also tempting, but too lousy a reception for the movie itself).

Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables

Comments: Hey, the Academy changed the name of this category (formerly Best Art Direction) to something that actually makes sense! Anyway, for most categories, the trick is to ferret out Oscar-worthy candidates that for some reason failed to receive recognition from their respective guilds. The art directors' guild, however, nominates 15 total films in three different fields (period, fantasy, and contemporary), so it's a virtual certainty that all five Oscar nominees will have a corresponding guild nod – it's just a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. The Academy tends to favor period pieces; combine that with a presumable Best Picture nomination, and both Les Misérables and Lincoln are sturdy bets. Anna Karenina will not, of course, receive a Best Picture nod, but its production design is so striking and extraordinary that it simply can't be excluded. For the remaining two slots, I'm going with two "fantasy" productions in Cloud Atlas and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but don't be surprised if the period design of either Argo or Django Unchained (both much better-received overall) cracks the list.

Potential upsets: In addition to Argo and Django Unchained, The Master and Moonrise Kingdom are two Best Picture contenders that could strike here, although they both lack the coveted guild nod. The Dark Knight Rises was the superior blockbuster, so it might be a better bet than The Hobbit. And while I expect Life of Pi to garner more attention for its visual effects and cinematography, a mention for its design certainly can't be ruled out.

Longshots: Prometheus (maybe if it had arrived in theatres in December rather than June); Skyfall (Roger Deakins' cinematography should monopolize its press); Flight (because there's always the possibility that the claustrophobic plane set will haunt voters' dreams).

The Avengers
Cloud Atlas
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi

Comments: The Academy could just save everyone the suspense and hand the trophy to Life of Pi now, but the game must be played. The Hobbit is the only other safe bet here.

Potential upsets: The five ultimate selections here are lifted from a shortlist of 10. Of the remaining five, The Dark Knight Rises probably has the best chance to topple either The Avengers or Cloud Atlas (or Prometheus for that matter). Outside of Life of Pi, Skyfall has the strongest critical reputation of any film on the shortlist, but I don't think it's effects-driven enough to pop up here.

Longshots: John Carter (deserving, but its label as a bomb should torpedo its chances); The Amazing Spider-Man (no buzz); Snow White and the Huntsman (please).

Check back soon to see how we fared.

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