While year-end critics votes confer credibility and point attention at must-see films, the Academy goes its own way. Both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review anointed "Zero Dark Thirty" their best picture and Kathryn Bigelow best director, while Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" nabbed NYFCC nods for Daniel Day-Lewis, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and supporting actress Sally Field--followed by multiple SAG, Golden Globes and BAFTA nominations. The Globes confer winning momentum on their nominees heading into the Oscar corridor. Those who are omitted don't get the extra push. The Globes do not reflect any more than the critics groups what Academy members are actually thinking.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild," shut out by SAG and the Globes, is looking like a long shot for the Oscars, although it did land a Producers Guild nomination, along with "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Skyfall." Left off that list were "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Anna Karenina," "Flight," "Amour," and "The Master."
TWC's "Django Unchained," "Quartet," and "The Master" all scored better with the HFPA than with SAG--the Weinsteins landed 15 Globe nominations over six films. Even as a comedy contender here, "Silver Linings Playbook" remains the Weinstein's strongest Oscar candidate--but Russell did not land a best director Globe or BAFTA nod, while Tarantino was included among the BAFTA top five directors. "Django Unchained"'s five Globe nominations gave a much-needed boost for the film, which was neglected by critics groups and shut out by SAG and DGA (which was partly a deadline issue--the movie hit the awards circuit late and screeners weren't ready).
Truth is, the SAG vote is more reflective of where the all-important actors are in this race than the HFPA or BAFTAs. Is SAG and Globe nominee Nicole Kidman really a player for her gutsy no-holds-barred performance in "The Paperboy"? The Academy actors could go there, but the movie, with a Metacritic score of 45, isn't a strong contender.
But the actors in the Academy could well push "Les Miserables," the follow-up from Oscar-winner "The King's Speech" filmmaker Tom Hooper, over the top. It is not insignificant that the first screenings over Thanksgiving weekend for the just-completed "Les Mis" and "Thirty" were for SAG actors, who responded well to both. "Hurt Locker" follow-up "Zero Dark Thirty" is an effective and dramatic recreation of the CIA investigation that led to Osama Bin Laden's demise and NBR-winner Jessica Chastain is now giving "Silver Linings Playbook" star Jennifer Lawrence some competition in the best actress race.
Hooper's ruthless tearjerker is showing wide appeal beyond theater junkies and musical fans, and will easily outgross Tim Burton and Stephen Sondheim's darkly dramatic "Sweeney Todd" ($52 million domestic, $100 million foreign) and head in the direction of accessibly entertaining Abba-fest "Mamma Mia!" with Meryl Streep and "Les Mis" star Amanda Seyfried ($144 million domestic, $458 million foreign). Hugh Jackman's emotionally powerful performance as a factor in the best actor race should also fuel ticket buyers.
The eventual nominees will be fueled by a magic mix of expert marketing and publicity plus audience, critic, and guild response leading to ultimate Academy votes. Contenders "Lincoln," "Life of Pi," "Argo" and "Silver Linings Playbook" held strong aganist the year-end competition, while fall entry "The Master," with more critical than popular acclaim behind it, was ignored by the NYFCC and NBR and saved by the Los Angeles Film Critics from sliding into oblivion. The AFI Awards left "The Master" off their ten best list but included "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom," which have better shots at Indie Spirit wins than Oscars. "Skyfall," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Hobbit," and "Anna Karenina" have strength with the craft branches. And "The Sessions" will build its strength via SAG and the dominant Academy actors' branch.
"The Sessions" is a magnificent film that deserves to be nominated for writing, directing, acting and picture. But this modest-scale drama lost ground against bigger competitors like "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Mis" outside of actor (where John Hawkes must contend with the towering Day-Lewis and Jackman) and supporting actress (where Helen Hunt now faces serious rival Anne Hathaway).
Lionsgate/Summit's impeccably-made Spanish true story "The Impossible" is another actor play--Naomi Watts is extraordinary as a mother fighting for survival for the sake of her son. But "The Impossible"'s superb special effects were shut out of the VFX contest; it couldn't compete against such Hollywood big-budget epics as "Life of Pi" and "The Dark Knight Rises."
I never considered The Weinstein Co.'s "The Master" to be a best picture contender. I have heard too many Academy members downplay its achievements--and admire the acting. So, again, LAFCA winners Joaquin Phoenix and supporting actress Amy Adams are in the race, and Globe nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman should wind up with a supporting nom.
Michael Haneke's "Amour" is on an early roll, winning the Palme d'Or, best foreign from the NFCC and NBR and Best Film from the LAFCA as well as a Globe foreign film nom. The DGAs did not nominated Haekee, but the BAFTAs did. The heart-breaking drama boasts two beloved actor contenders bound to win sympathy from Academy seniors, Emmanuelle Riva, who shared the LAFCA best actress prize with Jennifer Lawrence, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Haneke's last film, "White Ribbon," was nominated for foreign as well as cinematography. He could earn a directing or more likely an original writing slot. This movie will reach into Academy voters' hearts and 85-year-old Riva, who starred in "Hiroshima Mon Amour," a movie that many Academy voters remember, may get a nomination (which would make her the oldest best actress or actor nominee ever; "Cocoon"'s Jessica Tandy was 80).
As usual, the actress field is weak and wide open. The list of actress suspects is all over the place: anything can happen. Chastain leads the fray; Rachel Weisz entered the race via the New York Film Critics for her intense performance as a woman desperately in love with the wrong man (Tom Hiddleston) in "The Deep Blue Sea," but didn't land noms from SAG or the Globes, so the film may not wind up being widely viewed.
"La Vie en Rose" Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard is looking strong, with SAG and Globe noms, for her performance in Jacques Audiard's "Rust and Bone." But is there room for two great French actresses in the best actress top five? Sony Pictures Classics is pushing both Cotillard and "Amour" star Riva as Best Actress. While it was overlooked at Cannes, "Rust and Bone" is admired by many who've seen it and earned a Globe foreign nom. But it's a challenging film that may put off some viewers.
Small-scale family dramedy "Silver Linings Playbook," which is slowly building steam at the box office, should make it to best picture. LAFCA co-winner and "Winter's Bone" nominee Lawrence is a slam dunk for an actor nom, as is her co-star Bradley Cooper; just about everyone falls for them in this romantic drama from "The Fighter"'s Russell, who may have to settle for a writing nod (he won the NBR for his adapted screenplay and was runner-up at LAFCA) if he doesn't land in the director top five (he and Hooper missed the Globe and BAFTA lists, and Russell was not given a DGA nod). Robert De Niro should also land in supporting.
Full Oscar predictions are below.
Actor in a Leading Role
Actor in a Supporting Role
Actress in a Leading Role
Actress in a Supporting Role
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Writing (Original Screenplay)
Animated Feature Film
Animated Short Film
Documentary Short Film
Live-Action Short Film
Makeup and Hair