Ready to be entertained?
That’s what producers of this year’s Oscars are promising – a show that will feature more production numbers and musical performances.
It will be edgier, that’s for sure. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron hired funny, irreverent Seth MacFarlane (TV’s “Family Guy,” “Ted”) to be the host for Sunday’s show.
MacFarlane will even sing! That comes as no surprise, given Zadan’s and Meron’s history: They produced 2003’s best picture, “Chicago”; TV’s Broadway saga “Smash”; and the recent Broadway revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
So they know a thing or two about pizzazz. Sunday’s show is said to include a celebration of the James Bond franchise, a tribute to movie musicals, performances by Barbra Streisand and Adele and a “special appearance” by Daniel Radcliffe, Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The cast of “Chicago” is even supposed to reunite onstage.
But this is the Oscars, after all, so the focus will still be on the movies and the nominees.
And the winners, of course. It has been an unpredictable year for the Oscars, with some surprising nominations. Outguessing the Academy is almost futile.
But it’s certainly entertaining. Here are my predictions in major categories.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
“Life of Pi”
“Silver Linings Playbook”
“Zero Dark Thirty”
It’s still a surprise that “Django” made the cut, but many believe it’s Quentin Tarantino’s best film yet (I don’t agree). And it’s really nice to see the small indie “Beasts” recognized – it was beautifully transcendent.
“Zero” was a favorite to win early on but has since lost steam. The real race now seems to be among “Argo,” “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” If we follow Oscar tradition, logic would say that “Argo” is out because Ben Affleck, strangely, didn’t get a directing nomination.
“Lincoln” was the early favorite, racking up the most nominations this year (12).
But “Argo” has picked up momentum late in the race, earning best picture awards at the BAFTAs (the British Oscar equivalent), the Golden Globes and the top honor at the Screen Actors Guild awards – and rightly so. It is the rare best picture contender that tackles a serious subject – hostages in Iran – but makes it wildly entertaining. It’s a tense, thrilling ride that makes us root for the hostages every step of the way. Despite the directing omission, “Argo” seems to be the one to beat.
My vote: “Argo”
Oscar guess: “Argo”
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”
First-time nominee Cooper gave an amazing performance as an anxiety-riddled man combating mental illness and heartbreak. It’s nice to see he had it in him, and this is a deserved nom, but he’s not getting any buzz to win.
Neither is two-time Oscar winner Washington (supporting actor for “Glory,” lead actor for “Training Day”) for his riveting portrayal of an alcoholic pilot. It’s a showy role that he could have gone overboard with, but didn’t.
Previous nominee Phoenix (supporting actor for “Gladiator,” lead actor for “Walk the Line”) went all out as an animalistic alcoholic trying to understand a new religion and its leader. It was a brilliant, combustible performance, but he’s the long shot.
First-time nominee Jackman won the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy as Jean Valjean. The film’s long, single takes allowed him to show a full range of emotions in a single song. He might win if this were any other year.
But this is a year that had “Lincoln” and a beautiful performance by Day-Lewis (previous lead actor wins for “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood”). His complete transformation into the president is a marvel to behold.
Day-Lewis has won nearly all the precursor awards and should win again Sunday, joining an elite group of three-time Oscar winners (Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman and Meryl Streep).
My vote: Day-Lewis
Oscar guess: Day-Lewis
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Quvenzhane Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Nine-year-old Wallis (whose first name is pronounced “kwuh-ven-zuh-nay”) is the youngest best actress nominee ever with her first acting role. And it’s an astounding, revelatory performance (when she was just 6), full of rage and wonder. But she’s the long shot here.
Previous nominee Watts (lead actress for “21 Grams”) gave a wrenching performance as a tsunami survivor trying to reunite with her family. Strong work, but not good enough to win. She also is handicapped with a role that may not seem “lead” enough.
Riva gave a beautiful, heartbreaking performance as a stroke victim. If she were to win, she would become only the third performer to win an Oscar for a non-English-speaking role (Marion Cotillard did for “La Vie En Rose” and Sophia Loren did for “Two Women”). Even though she’s my personal favorite, she’s somewhat of a long shot.
That puts the real race between Lawrence and Chastain – and it’s a close one. Either is deserving of the Oscar.
Chastain as an obsessive CIA operative was an early favorite – she won the Golden Globe for drama lead actress and several critics’ awards. While she was completely captivating, she seems to have lost a little steam. She could pull an upset, though.
But Lawrence right now seems to have a slight edge. She was fiercely enthralling as a troubled dancer, bouncing between rage and determination. Her youth may hamper her chances, but she won the SAG and Golden Globe awards and seems poised to win here, too.
My vote: Riva
Oscar guess: Lawrence
Alan Arkin, “Argo”
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
All are previous winners.
Arkin (supporting actor for “Little Miss Sunshine”) gets a rare nod for a comedic performance as a crusty studio honcho. He made “Argo” fun, but he’s the long shot here.
Hoffman (lead actor for “Capote”) was charismatic as the leader of a religious cult and typically chameleonlike – he has the impressive ability to disappear into a role. A much-deserved nom, but he’s not getting any buzz to win.
De Niro (supporting actor for “The Godfather, Part II” and lead actor for “Raging Bull”) could be an upset with his strong turn as a gambling-addicted father. It’s his best performance in years.
But I think it comes down to Waltz and Jones.
Waltz (supporting actor for “Inglourious Basterds”) gave a funny and colorful performance that was the best thing about “Django.” He won the supporting actor Golden Globe. He also won the BAFTA, and he could possibly win here, too.
But Jones (supporting actor for “The Fugitive”), who won the SAG supporting actor award, gave a wonderfully feisty yet dignified performance as radical Rep. Thaddeus Stevens. In a category that’s probably the hardest to call this year, I think Jones will win.
My vote: Jones
Oscar guess: Jones
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Previous nominee Weaver (supporting actress for “Animal Kingdom”) was a surprise here, but she made the most of a role that gave her little to do except look concerned all the time. Still, it’s a solid performance, but she’s a long shot.
So is three-time previous nominee Adams (supporting actress for “Junebug,” “Doubt” and “The Fighter”) for her role as a wife who must stand by her husband no matter what. It was a fine performance, but not an Oscar-winning one.
As a sex therapist who helps a paraplegic man lose his virginity, previous winner Hunt (lead actress for “As Good As It Gets”) bravely bared body and soul. It’s a fine return to form and worthy of the nomination, but she won’t win.
Two-time previous winner Field (lead actress for “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart”) gave what I consider the best performance of her career, as a perpetually disturbed first lady – so consumed with grief that she can hardly breathe. Stellar work.
But previous nominee Hathaway (lead actress for “Rachel Getting Married”) gave a performance that was breathtaking, pouring every ounce of herself into her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” The scene is so heartfelt, so devastating, it practically seeps with heartache. Hathaway won the Golden Globe and SAG awards and will win here, too – hands down.
My vote: Hathaway
Oscar guess: Hathaway
Michael Haneke, “Amour”
Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Without a shoo-in director tied to a best picture nomination, this category is somewhat open.
First-time nominee Zeitlin’s nom was a nice surprise. He gave “Beasts” a dreamy, fable-like feel and coaxed a wonderful performance from his young lead. He’s the long shot, though.
So is first-time nominee Haneke (pronounced HA-nuh-kuh), though it’s great to see his talent recognized. His stark style and sparse use of camera movement added intimacy to the tragic “Amour.” He could possibly benefit from a best foreign language film win.
Previous winner Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) gave a wondrous sense to “Pi” and managed a broad, sweeping story on two timelines. It’s beautiful work, even though his film’s narrative stumbled in the third act. He probably won’t win.
Previous nominee Russell (“The Fighter) guided all his key cast members to Oscar nominations in a very character-driven story and deftly balanced comedy and drama. He could get his first Oscar in an upset.
But without Affleck being nominated here for “Argo,” most signs point to Spielberg, who gave us a sprawling, historical epic that still had heart. He will probably win his third directing Oscar (after “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List”).
My vote: Affleck (not nominated)
Oscar guess: Spielberg