LOS ANGELES » Surprises and snubs on nominations day held the promise of an unpredictable Academy Awards night. But things have settled into the usual predictability, with clear favorites emerging in key categories.
Associated Press movie writers Christy Lemire and David Germain prefer to disagree, but they’re in harmony on the top prizes for Sunday’s show. Here are their picks, with Lemire sounding off on best picture, actor and supporting actress and Germain offering their take on director, actress and supporting actor.
Nominees: "Amour," ‘’Argo," ‘’Beasts of the Southern Wild," ‘’Django Unchained," ‘’Les Miserables," ‘’Life of Pi," ‘’Lincoln," ‘’Silver Linings Playbook."
LEMIRE: The road to the top prize at the Academy Awards is a long haul full of ups and downs, front-runners and underdogs, and it’s been especially eventful this year. Back in November, Steven Spielberg’s stately "Lincoln" looked like the safe bet. Then the gripping "Zero Dark Thirty" figured into the mix. Then when Oscar nominations were announced, and the quirky romance "Silver Linings Playbook" received seven including one for best picture, it looked like a contender. Accusations of inaccuracy plagued some of these films and eventually were shot down, adding further drama.
Which brings us to "Argo," whose makers have acknowledged since that they tweaked some details in depicting the daring rescue of six American embassy workers during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Ben Affleck’s film steadily and deservedly has been racking up key prizes leading to the big night and has unstoppable momentum. That Affleck weirdly didn’t receive a director nomination for the film, which I (and many other critics) named the year’s best, won’t matter; as a producer, he’ll walk away with a trophy Sunday night anyway. Plus "Argo" is a sure thing because it seamlessly blends Hollywood satire with thrilling action, and this industry loves to honor itself for teasing itself.
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."
GERMAIN: We’ll never know what might have happened if not for the surprise directing snubs that included Ben Affleck for "Argo" and Kathryn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty."
Without them — and particularly Affleck — in the picture, best-director becomes a third coronation for Steven Spielberg, who won previously for "Schindler’s List" and "Saving Private Ryan." Another win would put Spielberg in rare company, tying him with Frank Capra and William Wyler, who each won three directing Oscars, and putting him just behind record-holder John Ford, who won four.
Despite a monumental performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president, "Lincoln" is more academically than emotionally engaging. Yet the film still is an epic period saga, with Spielberg masterfully marshaling his own filmmaking army to recreate the capital in the last days of the Civil War.
Lincoln was the man needed to preserve the union. Spielberg was the man needed to make this film. His third directing trophy will be an awfully nice consolation prize for missing out on best picture.
Nominees: Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"; Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"; Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"; Denzel Washington, "Flight."
LEMIRE: From the first moment you see Daniel Day-Lewis on screen as the revered 16th president of the United States, it’s clear he’s destined to win the best-actor Oscar. He totally immerses himself in portraying this storied figure — no shocker there from one of the greatest actors of our time — from his appearance and voice to his carriage and gait. And in playing Abraham Lincoln as he charms, lobbies and cajoles his way to the historic passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, Day-Lewis will make some history of his own by becoming the first person ever to win the Academy Award for best actor three times. As good and as deeply committed as the other nominees in this category are, none of them stands a chance.
Nominees: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"; Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; Naomi Watts, "The Impossible."
GERMAIN: This is such a close call between Jessica Chastain, who’s almost demonic as a CIA operative obsessively tracking Osama bin Laden, and Jennifer Lawrence, who’s one of the most endearing damaged souls to hit the big-screen in ages.
Chastain’s a lone-wolf through much of "Zero Dark Thirty," interacting with scores of minor characters but never really connecting with anyone as she sinks into a cold, calculating, compulsive and lonely world of her own.
Because of that, Chastain connects less with the audience than Lawrence, who’s an open book of tics, anxieties, desires and doubts. Chastain is extraordinary in extraordinary circumstances; Lawrence is extraordinary in ordinary circumstances. The latter is harder, and Lawrence not only manages that, but also outshines a remarkable cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.
Dominating your scenes when you’re alongside De Niro? Lawrence goes home with an Oscar.
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."
GERMAIN: The big Oscar certainty: supporting actor goes to a previous Oscar winner. All five nominees have won before, and Robert De Niro has won twice.
The prize probably comes down to the two guys in Civil War-era times, Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens and Christoph Waltz as a genteel bounty hunter.
Waltz has a disadvantage in that his supporting-actor win for 2009’s "Inglourious Basterds" is fresh in people’s minds, so in a way, he’s up against himself along with the other current nominees. It was clear from the premiere of "Basterds" that no one could top Waltz’s turn as a gleefully evil Nazi. He’s a delight again in "Django Unchained," but it’s just not as good a role.
Jones, however, is as good as ever as grouchy, uncompromising crusader Stevens. He’s mastered the art of playing noble curmudgeons and should join De Niro as a two-time Oscar winner for the effort.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Amy Adams, "The Master"; Sally Field, "Lincoln"; Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"; Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"; Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook."
LEMIRE: It sounds so cynical to suggest that if you cut all your hair off, lose a bunch of weight AND play a prostitute, you’re guaranteed to win an Academy Award. But Anne Hathaway does indeed do all of this — and she sings! Live, on camera! As the doomed Fantine in the musical favorite "Les Miserables," Hathaway isn’t on screen very long before she dies a hacking, wrenching death amid the squalor and tumult of 19th-century France. (Not that screen time matters in this situation: Judi Dench famously won the supporting-actress Oscar for appearing in only seven minutes of "Shakespeare in Love.") But she has one powerful scene in which she sings the remorseful "I Dreamed a Dream" all in one tear-choked take. It’s not subtle, but it’s effective, and it’s the reason she’ll win.