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The Oscars: Politics as usual? 

Will Lincoln win, or will Argo buck history?

After Sunday, I'll either be hailed as a visionary or condemned as an idiot.

Feb. 24 is when the 85th Annual Academy Awards ceremony takes place, and as that date approaches, I'm becoming increasingly isolated on my particular island of Oscar prognosticators. Given all the seismic activity surrounding Argo, more and more scribes are altering their picks to reflect their newfound opinion that Ben Affleck's baby really is The Little Movie That Could.

Could what? Win Best Picture, of course. And yet, Academy history is urging me to hold my course and predict a victory for Lincoln, since it's more of a sure bet to pick up hefty honors elsewhere on the ballot. After all, no film since 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty has won Best Picture and nothing else, and no movie since 1952's The Greatest Show on Earth has nabbed Best Picture plus just one other award. These statistics clearly favor Lincoln over Argo.

WAR HORSE: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, headed toward Oscar victory ... or defeat - DREAMWORKS
  • DreamWorks
  • WAR HORSE: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, headed toward Oscar victory ... or defeat

For now, here are my predictions (and preferences) in the eight top categories. Last year, I went 7-for-8, and it's gonna take the presidential underdog emerging victorious to improve on that score. Then again, it's really a win-win situation for me. If Lincoln wins Best Picture, then I should make a killing in my local betting pool; if Argo wins, then I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that the best film of the year received its proper due. Either way, maybe I won't look like such a fool after all.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Argo, Chris Terrio; Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin; Life of Pi, David Magee; Lincoln, Tony Kushner; Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell.

Contrary to popular belief, this isn't Kushner's first Oscar nomination, as he was previously cited for co-scripting Steven Spielberg's 2005 Munich. But given the clout of the Lincoln project, which found the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Angels in America simplifying knotty history (mostly culled from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln) to such a degree that even mainstream audiences turned out in droves for the film, it's hard to believe he won't win this time. Even seven of the countless critics' groups that ignored Lincoln in the Best Picture category gladly handed this award to Kushner. Of the rest of the field, Silver Linings Playbook could benefit from an unlikely sweep, while Argo, which took the esteemed Writer Guild Award this past weekend, could stand to have this award in its corner if it makes a serious bid for Best Picture.

Prediction: Lincoln.
Preference: Argo.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Amour, Michael Haneke; Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino; Flight, John Gatins; Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola; Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal.

The disgraceful swift-boating of Zero Dark Thirty pretty much kills Boal's chances — that, and the fact that he recently won for The Hurt Locker. Flight has no shot, and while Moonrise Kingdom is certainly one of the most original films of the year (as per category name), this was its only nomination, meaning it can be easily overlooked. Django Unchained is, perhaps surprisingly, a strong contender, based on its win in this category at the Golden Globes and any sympathy that might come Tarantino's way for missing out on a Best Director nod. Yet I'm inclined to lean toward Amour: It's that rare foreign-language release to nab a Best Picture nomination, and Haneke is increasingly recognized as one of the best writer-directors on the international scene.

Prediction: Amour.
Preference: Zero Dark Thirty.

BEST DIRECTOR

Michael Haneke, Amour; Ang Lee, Life of Pi; David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook; Steven Spielberg, Lincoln; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

We all know the story here — no Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), no Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), no Tom Hooper (Les Misérables), and especially no Ben Affleck (Argo). Any minimal outrage over the snubbing of the first three — OK, maximum outrage over the slight of Bigelow — has fallen by the wayside, but for Affleck, it's become its own compelling narrative. Among countless other honors, Affleck won the Directors Guild Award, which before this year had matched the eventual Oscar pick a staggering 58 out of 64 times. Oops; that percentage goes down this year. With Affleck out of the way, it's anybody's guess, with Zeitlin the only one with seemingly no chance. Haneke has a miniscule one, but he seems more likely to score with his script. Just as it did for Meryl Streep last year, Harvey Weinstein's relentless publicity machine could nab it for Russell, who was here very recently for The Fighter. And I have a good feeling about Lee, who won for Brokeback Mountain even though the movie was shamefully overlooked for Best Picture — showering the beloved Life of Pi with prizes might be a way to make amends. But I'll settle on Spielberg, a legendary director who deserves to have a third Oscar before his career is over. I just wish it were for something more deserving.

Prediction: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln.
Preference: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild.

VICTIMIZED: Unless misogyny managed to take a foothold, Anne Hathaway should easily win for her excellent work in Les Misérables.  - UNIVERSAL
  • Universal
  • VICTIMIZED: Unless misogyny managed to take a foothold, Anne Hathaway should easily win for her excellent work in Les Misérables.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, The Master; Sally Field, Lincoln; Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables; Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook.

A not-unexpected whiff of misogyny has hit this year's Oscar season, as evidenced by the disgusting treatment of Hathaway by both the media and the public. The clear frontrunner in this category since Day One, she's been lambasted lately for "wanting the award too much," whatever the fuck that means. Gee, funny how the same people complaining about her omniscient presence on talk shows and red-carpet events aren't similarly criticizing Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg, Ben Affleck and Robert De Niro, all of whom are doing the exact same thing. At any rate, it would be a disgrace if Hathaway loses because of nastiness. The one who stands to gain would easily be Field; it's hard to envision any of the others having even a remote shot.

Prediction: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables.
Preference: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin, Argo; Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook; Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained.

Since the Academy usually likes to spread the wealth (Daniel Day-Lewis an obvious exception), it's easy to imagine how someone who has never won an Oscar could have snagged this had he just been nominated (Django Unchained's Leonardo DiCaprio or Argo's John Goodman, for instance). But because all five nominees are past winners, the Academy will be forced to go back to one of the same wells. Arkin's role is too slight; Waltz won recently for another Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds; and Hoffman stars in a movie that, aside from the acting (three nods total), didn't exactly impress the voters. De Niro already has two Oscars, but they both were given in the 20th century, and Academy members might want to honor him for finally appearing in a decent movie after a decade-plus of almost consistently nothing but dog doo. The best bet is Jones, whose only previous (and deserved) win was for his supporting stint in 1993's The Fugitive. He's a popular and well-respected veteran, and while his turn in Lincoln is actually one of his weaker performances, it's the sort of scenery-chewing that Oscar voters usually can't ignore.

Prediction: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln.
Preference: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained.

BEST ACTRESS

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Naomi Watts, The Impossible.

Wow, what an incredible lineup, with all five worthy of the award. For a good while, the race was between Chastain and Lawrence, with the latter seemingly on the inside curve. But the media's deep-sixing of Zero Dark Thirty — and, by extension, Chastain — coupled with the ascension of the Austrian import Amour as a viable contender allowed the dynamics to switch to a bout between Lawrence and Riva. This one's near-impossible to predict. At 85, Riva is the oldest acting nominee ever, and she turns 86 on Oscar night — voters might not be able to resist such a Hollywood ending. But Lawrence had a terrific year, conquering the box office with The Hunger Games and the critics with Silver Linings Playbook — the latter proving that her Oscar-nominated turn in Winter's Bone was no fluke. The Academy adores both the young hotties and the seasoned vets, but a flip of a silver coin has me penciling in the Silver star.

Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.
Preference: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.

BEST ACTOR

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

By the time this article hits newsstands and the Web, the final balloting for Oscar voters will be over. And unless Day-Lewis was caught during those final days burning puppies with cigarettes and beating up Emmanuelle Riva, then no way he's losing this. You still want an upset special? Fine; let's say Jackman.

Prediction: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln.
Preference: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln.

Ben Affleck (right) directs John Goodman on the set of Argo. - WARNER BROS.
  • Warner Bros.
  • Ben Affleck (right) directs John Goodman on the set of Argo.

BEST PICTURE

Amour (Sony Pictures Classics); Argo (Warner Bros.); Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight); Django Unchained (The Weinstein Company); Les Misérables (Universal); Life of Pi (Fox); Lincoln (DreamWorks); Silver Linings Playbook (The Weinstein Company); Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia).

Amour will doubtless win Best Foreign-Language Film, so it won't also win here. For Beasts of the Southern Wild, the nomination is the reward. Django Unchained and especially Zero Dark Thirty became lightning rods of controversy upon their releases, and with so many other sound choices at its disposal, the conservative Academy will stay away from further wading into those waters. And while Les Misérables was considered a likely winner before its release and even now has proven to be an audience favorite, it's been criticized in too many circles to claim the top prize. That leaves four films in the running. Silver Linings Playbook is the closest thing to a feel-good movie in the bunch, and Harvey Weinstein is making sure the don't-worry-be-happy Academy damn well knows it. Life-affirming in its own unique way is Life of Pi, which scored an impressive 11 nominations and might be the default candidate of choice for those not caught up in the Argo vs. Lincoln debate. And speaking of Argo, it's been on an incredible tear, scooping up award after award. Detractors insist that it's because of the Affleck snub, choosing to ignore that the movie had already won several Best Picture honors before the snub occurred. But will the Academy give its top prize to a film that conceivably might not win any other awards? (Right now, it's only favored for Best Film Editing.) That's why I can't break away from Lincoln, which leads the field with 12 nominations, is guaranteed at least one major award (Actor) and is favored in two other categories (Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay). Plus, it's the highest grossing film among the nominees (which never hurts but often helps), and it's the sort of noble, historical work that the Academy feels reflects well upon itself (see: Gandhi, The Last Emperor, etc.). If Lincoln wins, you heard it here first. If Argo wins ... uh, say, didn't the celebrities look lovely in their designer duds?

Prediction: Lincoln.
Preference: Argo.

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