Oscar polls are now closed, and this is an easy Academy Awards year to predict. "Argo" will win Best Picture, Daniel Day-Lewis will win Best Actor, "Amour" will win Best Foreign Language Film.…
And this is also a difficult Oscars to predict. Jennifer Lawrence will win Best Actress, unless Jessica Chastain or Emmanuelle Riva beats her; Tommy Lee Jones will win Best Supporting Actor, or maybe it'll be Christoph Waltz, or maybe Robert De Niro …
Hanging over everything is the Oscars' unusual voting timetable this year, in which members cast their nominating ballots before they saw what the Hollywood guilds were going to do, and their final ballots long after most guild awards had been announced.
The result was a voting pattern unmoored from the guild awards, and one that could defy conventional wisdom if Academy members spent the month between nominations and final voting actually watching all the contenders.
Many Academy members and Oscar-watchers are expecting some big surprises at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24, and the air of uncertainty led to some massive spending in the late stages of the race.
With more than the usual amount of trepidation, here are TheWrap's predictions as to what we'll see on Oscar night. I may change my mind between now and Sunday, in which case I'll let you know.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
It didn't get a Best Director nomination, which could mean it's vulnerable. It might have trouble getting to four total wins, which is the minimum number all but one of the Best Picture winners have had during the last two decades. (Only the much-maligned "Crash" won fewer than four.)
And yet there's no way to pick anything other than Ben Affleck's Iran-set drama. If any of its main competitors — "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Life of Pi," "Zero Dark Thirty" — had a single major victory from any of the guilds, I might reconsider. ("ZDT" won at WGA award, but so did "Argo.") But if you win the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, you're winning Best Picture, regardless of how many other Oscars you'll muster up.
If I had a vote: Without question, I'd go for the gripping and unsettling "Zero Dark Thirty." The rest of my top five, in order, would be "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Amour" and "Lincoln."
Achievement in Directing
Prediction: Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"
The fact that Ben Affleck isn't on the ballot throws this category into turmoil for Oscar voters. Given the field-leading 12 nominations for "Lincoln," the category seemed to be Steven Spielberg's to lose – but as much as voters admire and respect his film, they don't seem to love it, and as a result I think he is going to lose.
The huge Actors Branch could sway things in favor of "Silver Linings Playbook" director David O. Russell, whose film has been coming on strong in a typical Harvey Weinstein-engineered surge. But I suspect that the rest of the Academy will lean toward the spectacle of "Life of Pi," and give Ang Lee his second Best Director award without a corresponding Best Picture win. (The first came when he won for "Brokeback Mountain" but "Crash" took the best-picture prize.)
If I had a vote: The fact that Kathryn Bigelow isn't on the ballot throws this category into turmoil for me. Following the logic that the best director is the one who directs the best picture, I should go to the number two film on my list and pick Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" – but I think I'd bypass the young Mr. Zeitlin in favor of David O. Russell's magic touch with actors in "Silver Linings Playbook."
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Prediction: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
Even the folks who are predicting lots of upsets think this one is a slam dunk. The world-weariness with which he imbues Lincoln not only makes for a magnificent performance, it seems to rein in the whole film, saving Spielberg from his more grandiose tendencies and producing a quieter, sadder, better movie. Day-Lewis will unquestionably become the first person to win three Best Actor Oscars.
If I had a vote: Some performances are just undeniable. Joaquin Phoenix is a fearsome force of nature in "The Master," but there's no way around it: Daniel Day-Lewis.
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Prediction: Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"
Who knows? Jennifer Lawrence is the presumed frontrunner for her delicious turn in "Silver Linings Playbook," Jessica Chastain is hot on her heels for her relentless but understated performance in "Zero Dark Thirty," and Emmanuelle Riva could be the feel-good story of the night if she wins for "Amour" on her 86th birthday.
I suspect that smart money is still on Lawrence. But I'll take a chance and say that when they're actually looking at the names on a ballot, Oscar voters will decide that Lawrence and Chastain will have plenty more shots at this award, and they'll cast their votes for the woman who will never be back.
If I had a vote: This is hard. I think Riva, Chastain and Lawrence all gave spectacular performances, and I'd be happy with any of them winning. I'm tempted to go with Riva, since I expect it'll be her last opportunity, but I simply can't turn away from the fierce, implacable Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty."
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Prediction: Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
This is an even tougher call than Best Actress. Tommy Lee Jones has been the closest thing to a favorite for much of awards season, but "Lincoln" doesn't have much momentum, he's been absent from the campaign circuit and he's known as a prickly personality.
"Silver Linings Playbook" costar Robert De Niro, on the other hand, has been working unexpectedly hard, and the Weinstein Company is trying the same "he's overdue" line that worked for Meryl Streep when she won for "The Iron Lady" last year (though he only had two nominations during the 32 years since his last Oscar).
Christoph Waltz, meanwhile, delivers the kind of performance in "Django Unchained" that they Academy loves – heck, they gave him an Oscar for pretty much the same performance three years ago for "Inglourious Basterds." But the only other actors to win two supporting awards in a four-year span were Jason Robards in 1976 and '77 and Walter Brennan in '36, '38 and '40.
Flipping a three-sided coin, I think the voters will welcome back De Niro.
If I had a vote: I'd be tempted to go for De Niro, not because he's overdue but because he's great in "Silver Linings." But "The Master" really ought to win an acting award, so my pick would be Philip Seymour Hoffman for his charismatic if unhinged cult leader.
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Prediction: Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Even the folks who don't like Tom Hooper's movie and can't tolerate all those closeups have to concede that Hathaway completely nails "I Dreamed a Dream," and maybe even justifies her closeups. Sometimes (remember Jennifer Hudson?), one song is all it takes.
If I had a vote: I'd go for Helen Hunt's nuanced work in "The Sessions," which deserved more than one acting nomination.
This is a tough three-way race between "Argo," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Lincoln," but the BAFTA and Writers Guild awards for Chris Terrio suggest that "Argo" has all the momentum in this category, too.
If I had a vote: "Silver Linings Playbook" is a lively, human, funny, moving slice of life, and it started with the book by Matthew Quick and the script by David O. Russell.
Prediction: "Zero Dark Thirty"
Another three-way writing race, and the WGA win for "Zero Dark Thirty" may have been slightly tainted by the fact that Mark Boal's chief rivals, Quentin Tarantino for "Django Unchained" and Michael Haneke for "Amour," weren't eligible. But if WGA voters went for "ZDT" when their ballots were due three weeks ago, I have a feeling that Oscar voters did the same later than that, when the criticism of Boal's film had lessened and high-profile defenders like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stepped up.
If I had a vote: The austerity and elegance of "Amour" is impressive, but "Zero Dark Thirty" is a bold, challenging, disquieting blend of journalism and storytelling that deserves to be celebrated, not lambasted.
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Prediction: "Wreck-It Ralph"
Pixar's "Brave" showed unexpected strength at the guild awards, and it could well become the company's seventh Best Animated Feature winner in its last nine films. But the energy, wit and freshness of "Wreck-It Ralph" (another product of the Disney/Pixar empire under John Lasseter) should help it to overcome the fact that on the surface it appears slighter and jokier than its main competition.
If I had a vote: "Wreck-It Ralph" is just too much fun.
Achievement in Cinematography
Prediction: "Life of Pi"
Is "Life of Pi" this year's "Hugo," a Best Picture nominee winning the cinematography Oscar for its lavish, beautiful 3D images? I think so – though unlike "Hugo," I also expect "Pi" to land a marquee Oscar or two.
If I had a vote: "Pi" is beautiful. "Anna Karenina" is visually spectacular. But how can you not vote for poor Roger Deakins, who is currently 0-for-9 at the Oscars even though he's one of the landmark cinematographers of the last 20 years? Not that you need "he was robbed" as an excuse to recognize the boldness of the makeover he and director Sam Mendes give to the action-movie genre with "Skyfall."
Achievement in Costume Design
Prediction: "Anna Karenina"
If you figure the two Snow White movies cancel each other out, that leaves "Lincoln" (admirable but too drab for this category), "Les Miserables" and "Anna Karenina." Typically, this is a category where something as vibrant and lavish as "Anna" would come out on top, unless the overall affection for "Les Miz" (eight total nominations to four for "Anna") gives it enough of a boost.
I suspect it'll be another vote for the vibrant and the lavish.
If I had a vote: Like the voters who could give "Les Miz" a real shot, I'll go for the designs that are integral to" the big, bold movie I liked the best. "Anna Karenina."
Achievement in Film Editing
If "Argo" wins this one, you won't need to stay up for Best Picture. If it doesn't, the night will get very interesting very quickly. But by juggling tones and heightening tension and assembling a virtuoso mid-movie sequence cutting between Hollywood and Tehran, I think William Goldenberg will win the Oscar and seal the night for "Argo."
If I had a vote: I'd vote for Goldenberg, but not for his work on "Argo." To me, his work on "Zero Dark Thirty," on which he collaborated with Dylan Tichenor, is the state of the art in keeping an audience on the edge of its seats.
Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Prediction: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Do voters like "Les Miz" enough to give it a victory over the acres of facial hair and scores of fake noses in "The Hobbit?" They might. But after Peter Jackson's last Middle-earth movie, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" won 11 Oscars, doesn't "The Hobbit" have to win one? I think this will be the one.
If I had a vote: I didn't like the 48 frames-per-second, but the makeup and hair still looked effective in that unforgiving format. "The Hobbit."
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
Prediction: "Life of Pi"
Never underestimate the Academy's love for John Williams ("Lincoln"), and don't discount the coattails effect of a potential "Argo" sweep. But Mychael Danna's music was so key to the emotional impact of "Life of Pi" that he should take this one.
If I had a vote: As much as I'd like to vote for the sly job Thomas Newman did of blending the old and the new in "Skyfall" (and as great as it'd be to see his own 0-for-10 streak come to an end), Danna's work on "Life of Pi" makes it hard to vote for anybody else.
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
A James Bond song has never won an Oscar. A new song from a big musical ("Suddenly" from "Les Miz") ought to have a leg up. But Adele's "Skyfall" is a hit, and a classic Bond song fronting the most-honored Bond movie ever. And who doesn't want to see the soulful and commanding singer walk onto the Dolby stage and turn into a giggly North-London girl?
If I had a vote: "Skyfall." For "Goldfinger." For "Thunderball." For "Live and Let Die." For all the Bond songs overlooked by the Academy. And for a damn fine addition to the legacy.
Achievement in Production Design
Prediction: "Anna Karenina"
Like Costume Design, this should be a showdown between "Anna Karenina" and "Les Miz" – except that "Life of Pi" could sneak in her as well, since its visuals were so spectacular. If voters don't take to "Anna" enough to give it more than one award, "Pi" could be the spoiler. But this and costume often go hand-in-hand, so I'll take the same film for both.
If I had a vote: The "Life of Pi" nomination says that production design is not just opulent interiors and gorgeous sets, and I think that should be rewarded. I do love "Anna Karenina," though …
Achievement in Sound Editing
Prediction: "Life of Pi"
This is another category in which "Argo" could show across-the-board support: When "The Hurt Locker" beat "Avatar" here three years ago, it was a clear sign which film would win the night. It could also be the best chance for a "Skyfall" Oscar outside of song, or another sign that "Life of Pi" is beloved for its impeccable crafts. I suspect the last of those things will happen.
If I had a vote: For working on a quiet movie in which sound is key, and for creating the island of 100,000 meerkats, the sound editors of "Life of Pi" get the nod.
Achievement in Sound Mixing
Prediction: "Les Miserables"
Big musicals often win in this category. You'd be hard-pressed to find a musical much bigger than this one. And the technique of recording the vocals live made things harder for the mixers and wins them degree-of-difficulty points. Barring a tech-category sweep for "Life of Pi" (which is possible), "Les Miz" should take it.
If I had a vote: Sometimes, the quieter you are the more crucial your sound becomes. I think a sound-category sweep for "Life of Pi" is warranted.
Achievement in Visual Effects
Prediction: "Life of Pi"
"The Hobbit" had more effects – and if "Pi" threw its CG tiger Richard Parker into the pot, "The Hobbit" upped the ante with Gollum and hordes of other creatures. But "Pi" is loved in a way that "Hobbit" is not, and voters have already seen (and voted for) Gollum.
If I had a vote: I recognize that the scale of the "Hobbit" accomplishment may be bigger, but for me the most startling and impressive visual effect of the year is Richard Parker's head coming out of the water in "Life of Pi."
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Last year, "A Separation" was the obvious winner. This year, with nominations for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay to go along with its foreign-language nod, "Amour" is even more obvious.
If I had a vote: "Amour," of course.
Best Documentary Feature
Prediction: "Searching for Sugar Man"
In a year in which none of the hard-hitting, thoughtful docs ("The Gatekeepers," "The Invisible War") ever established itself as the one, awards kept going to the friendly, entertaining doc. It's likely to continue at the Oscars, though the emotional clout of "Invisible War" and "How to Survive a Plague" give them a fighting chance.
If I had a vote: In a strong, smart category that could have been twice as big without diluting its quality, I have to admit that I'm drawn to the friendly, entertaining doc too. Maybe "Searching for Sugar Man" keeps winning because it's just a great story, but I find it as irresistible as all the other awards voters.
Best Documentary Short Subject
Prediction: "Open Heart"
With the other shorts categories opened up to voting by the entire Academy, the doc shorts will have by far the fewest voters of any Oscar category. Those few who watch all the nominees in a theater tend to go for the films that illuminate heartbreaking issues but also leave them with hope – and while you could say that about "Inocente," "Mondays at Racine" and "Open Heart," the last of those films packs the kind of punch often shown by winners in the category. ("Racine" is a powerful contender as well.)
If I had a vote: With its depiction of a group of children from Rwanda flown to Sudan for life-saving heart surgery, "Open Heart" is both wrenching and uplifting.
Best Animated Short Film
Prediction: "Head Over Heels"
While great animation will get you nominated, an emotional story wins the Oscar in this category – at least in the past, before screeners were sent to everybody and voting was opened up to the entire Academy. The smart money seems to be on "Paperman" or "Adam and Dog," but the one student film in the bunch, "Head Over Heels," pulls at the heartstrings in the way voters often respond to, despite its technical roughness.
If I had a vote: "Fresh Guacamole" is less than two minutes long and it has almost no chance of winning – but when I think of this group of nominees, Pes' delightful stop-motion cooking lesson is the one I remember most vividly.
Best Live-Action Short Film
With two of the entries telling tales of third world children in peril, the nominees that stand out are the ones that go in a different direction. "Death of a Shadow," with an almost unrecognizable Matthias Schoenearts in the lead, is the most lavish and imaginative. But "Curfew" has the black humor, the New York setting and the bit of uplift shown by a few other recent winners ("The New Tenants," "God of Love").
If I had a vote: For me, the boldest, the most imaginative and the most haunting nominee is the underworld tale "Death of a Shadow."