And the Oscar goes (or should go) to ...
For those who find the Academy Awards boring and predictable, this is your year. Rarely have so many races been this wide open; there's only one true lock among the big six categories.
Although pre-Oscar guild and critics awards have winnowed down the prospective honorees, this is also a year in which the Director's Guild winner — who all but six times in history has also won the Best Director Oscar — wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award.
So before the golden statuettes are handed out this Sunday evening, here's my annual primer of what/who will win and should win each of the six main categories, plus what actor or film was robbed of their rightful nomination.
Nominees: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Misérables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Zero Dark Thirty”
What Will Win: The most wide-open Best Picture race since 2000. “Zero Dark Thirty” won most of the early critics awards but succumbed under the backlash of (manufactured) controversy. While director Ben Affleck was utterly snubbed for a Best Director nomination, “Argo” is the darling du jour, and its subtext of Hollywood uplift is the sort of self congratulation Oscar loves to reward.
What Should Win: “Silver Linings Playbook” garnered eight Academy Award nominations, including one in each acting category, something that hasn’t been accomplished since “Reds” 31 years ago. Its delightful marriage of humor, poignancy, fluid camerawork, lighting and music from writer-director David O. Russell is, in many ways, the most complete film of the year.
What Got Snubbed: My personal favorite film of 2012, “Compliance,” is too obscure to consider a snub (indeed, it didn’t wander onto my radar until early December). “Looper” is that rare science-fiction film with a brain that the Academy often ignores. But I’m at a loss to understand why the universally well-received “Moonrise Kingdom” wasn't selected here or any other category outside Wes Anderson’s Original Screenplay nom.
Nominees: Michael Haneke, “Amour,” Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Ang Lee, “Life of Pi,” Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln,” David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Who Will Win: With Director’s Guild winner Ben Affleck not even nominated, it’s another wide-open category. Spielberg is always a favorite. Lee impressed with the stylistic “Life of Pi,” and the Academy may decide its time to reward the longtime director. But I'm going with a wild card and take Michael Haneke, an iconoclast who gave the Academy an opening to reward him with his most Oscar-friendly film to date. Plus, I suspect it still feels a bit guilty for stunningly snubbing “The White Ribbon” for Best Foreign Film in 2009.
Who Should Win: For the same reasons given above, David O. Russell crafted a true director’s picture with “Silver Linings Playbook” and deserves to win.
Who Got Snubbed: Quentin Tarantino wasn't nominated for “Django Unchained,” but he shouldn’t have been. There are two stunning omissions here. The one director I believed was a shoo-in to be nominated was Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” and for her to not even be nominated is flabbergasting. And then, of course, there’s Ben Affleck, only the third DGA winner to not be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (Ron Howard for “Apollo 13” and Steven Spielberg for “The Color Purple” being the other two).
Nominees: Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook,” Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln,” Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables,” Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master,” Denzel Washington, “Flight”
Who Will Win: The one lock in all the major categories is Daniel Day-Lewis for his monumental portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Even the film's detractors acknowledge Day-Lewis’s epic performance.
Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper was surprisingly good and deserved his nomination, and Joaquin Phoenix would be my dark horse any other year. However, Day-Lewis deserves his accolades ... again.
Who Got Snubbed: Although I wasn't enamored with John Hawkes’s portrayal of paralyzed poet Mark O’Brien in “The Sessions,” it deserved a nomination over Hugh Jackman’s caterwauling and over-emoting.
Nominees: Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook,” Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour,” Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Who Will Win: Like her film, Chastain was the early favorite who may prove a casualty of the war against “Zero Dark Thirty.” With first-timers and a forgettable Watts turn as competition, the Academy will select Jennifer Lawrence, using this as the one category to award “Silver Linings Playbook” some Oscar gold.
Who Should Win: And, oh yeah, Jennifer Lawrence is great in the film, too. The 22-year-old is already a two-time Best Actress nominee, and her sass is making her an Academy darling.
Who Got Snubbed: Helen Mirren for “Hitchcock” was an expected nominee, but frankly, she didn't deserve one. But Rachel Weisz’s critically-acclaimed turn in “The Deep Blue Sea” was a deserving nominee (if not winner) in a slim lead actress year.
Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Alan Arkin, “Argo,” Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook,” Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master,” Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln,” Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Who Will Win: More uncertainty and a rarity: every nominee in this category has previously won an Oscar. My hunch to win is Tommy Lee Jones, who also won the Screen Actors Award, for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens as a witty, irascible race-crusader in “Lincoln.”
Who Should Win: While I like all the nominated performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s charismatic spiritual leader-cum-snakeoil salesman in “The Master” carries that film, together with co-star and fellow nominee Joaquin Phoenix.
Who Got Snubbed: Javier Bardem was the best thing about “Skyfall,” but his performance, while flashy, wasn't weighty enough to dislodge any nominee. In my opinion, Samuel L. Jackson was the most intriguing part of “Django Unchained,” and for Arkin or co-star Waltz to get nominated but not Jackson is questionable. It is certainly Jackson’s best performance since, well, his last Quentin Tarantino flick, “Jackie Brown.”
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Amy Adams, “The Master,” Sally Field, “Lincoln,” Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables,” Helen Hunt, “The Sessions,” Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Who Will Win: There's heavy sentiment for Sally Field, but Anne Hathaway’s show-stopping turn in “Les Misérables” was so memorable that it keeps winning awards despite the awfulness of the film. Plus, she's a previous nominee who hasn't yet won.
Who Should Win: I really like Amy Adams. However, while some critics may disagree, I found Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” to be mesmerizing and transcendent. She should win DESPITE the fact that it'll mean having to sit through her cloying acceptance speech.
Who Got Snubbed: Ann Dowd was the heart-wrenching soul of the criminally ignored “Compliance.” And she paid for her own “For Your Consideration” trade ads, for Pete's sake!
The 85th Academy Awards will be televised Sunday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. on ABC.