Just how unusual are the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards? Consider this:
Argo, the heavy favorite to win Best Picture (and a slew of other Oscars) did not receive a Best Director nomination for Ben Affleck. If the film wins, it will join the select group of movies ( Wings, Grand Hotel and Driving Miss Daisy) that snagged the big prize by seemingly directing themselves.
Silver Linings Playbook, an admittedly cracked and divisive rom-com but still a rom-com is the first movie since Reds to earn nominations in all four acting categories, along with Best Picture and Best Director.
Amour, director Michael Hanekes grim exploration of old age and death, earned a surprising five nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress for Emmanuelle Riva, making her the oldest nominee in this category in Oscar history.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, a low-budget movie starring a bunch of nonprofessional actors, enters tonight with four nominations, including Best Director for first-timer Benh Zeitlin and Best Actress for Quvenzhané Wallis, who was 6 years old during filming and is now 9, making her the youngest nominee in this category in Oscar history.
Sure, the usual Oscar-fodder films centered on history or social events are accounted for: Steven Spielbergs magnificent Lincoln has 12 noms, and Kathryn Bigelows terrorism drama Zero Dark Thirty has five. But neither one is expected to take home Best Picture, befitting a year in which the song for a James Bond movie (Adeles Skyfall) will win an Oscar for the first time in the franchises 50-year history.
Heres a rundown of the six major categories. Most years, these are fairly easy to call after the slew of industry awards that have been handed out leading up to tonight. This year, though, expect a major upset. Or three.
The one guaranteed, bet-the-farm lock tonight will be Daniel Day-Lewis trophy for his uncanny portrayal of the 16th U.S. president in Lincoln. This will be the actors third Oscar, which would tie Jack Nicholsons record. A couple of other nominees are worthy when I saw The Master in September, I couldnt imagine anyone but Joaquin Phoenix winning this one but Day-Lewis performance humanizes one of the most iconic figures in U.S. history, and he does it in a humble but commanding manner. There is no stopping this train.
Should win: Day-Lewis.
Will win: Day-Lewis.
Jessica Chastain was the early front-runner for her portrayal of a driven CIA agent who is instrumental in tracking down Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty. But the controversy surrounding the movie about its depiction of torture and boneheaded criticisms that her character is a cipher with no inner life have derailed her chances. That opened the door for Jessica Lawrence to take the lead with her performance as a manic-depressive widower in Silver Linings Playbook. But that movie is a love-hate proposition people who dont like it really dont like it and even with Harvey Weinsteins formidable marketing muscle behind it, Oscar prospects have dimmed. The edge now rests with Amours Riva, who has been making movies for 50 years and whose portrayal of a woman who suffers a stroke and loses her dignity is among her best ever. Also, the Academy clearly loves the movie. And Riva happens to turn 86 today. What better birthday gift than an Oscar?
Should win: Riva.
Will win: Riva.
Best Supporting Actor
Heres where things start getting tricky. All five of this years nominees have already won an Oscar, and all five delivered strong performances, so it will come down to Academy tastes. Robert De Niro has been campaigning hard for his performance as a gambling-obsessed father in Silver Linings Playbook. In Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene hes in (and injects humor and energy into the picture) as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who had the presidents back in his fight for abolition. Django Unchaineds Christoph Waltz is as deliciously entertaining as he was in Inglourious Basterds, but voters may deem its too soon to give the Austrian actor another award. Alan Arkin brings his funny, squawking energy to bear in Argo as a Hollywood executive, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is commanding as the leader of a growing cult in the fatally flawed The Master. Theyre all worthy, but Id love to see De Niro take it he hasnt seemed this engaged and present in a movie in decades.
Should win: De Niro.
Will win: Jones.
Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway appears in Les Misérables for just 20 minutes, but even if you didnt care for the movie, you cant deny her character is a heartbreaker. She has been the front-runner since the film started screening for critics, and she enters tonights race with a wide lead over her competition. Helen Hunt took huge chances in The Sessions as a sex therapist treating a paralyzed man, but the movie didnt catch on with audiences or voters. Jacki Weaver was the secret weapon of Silver Linings Playbook the sweet, optimistic mother who held together her nutty family and compared to her turn as a murderous granny in the Australian thriller Animal Kingdom, she obviously has great range. She deserves to win, but theres no stopping the Hathaway juggernaut.
Should win: Weaver.
Will win: Hathaway.
Argo and director Affleck have won virtually every award in existence in the weeks leading up to tonight. Hed be a slam-dunk to win this one, too. But in one of those baffling decisions the Academy often makes, Affleck wasnt nominated, which means this one is up for grabs. Id love to see Zeitlin win Beasts of the Southern Wild is a triumph of bold, dreamy filmmaking thats unlike any movie youve seen but hell have to settle for the recognition of being nominated. Haneke could upset and steal the prize if enough Academy members loved Amour: his careful direction of that film is a lot harder to pull off than it looks. But I think this comes down to the two biggest names on the list: Life of Pis Ang Lee and Lincolns Spielberg. Life of Pi was an astonishing technical feat, but the movie hasnt generated much passion. Spielberg, meanwhile, stepped out of his comfort zone to direct what was essentially a chamber drama, and he did it so well the movie has grossed more than $200 million worldwide. Also, he hasnt won this category since 1998s Saving Private Ryan, and although rumor is that Oscar voters resent his success, theres no denying the craftsmanship of what could have turned out to be a dry history lesson.
Should win: Haneke.
Will win: Spielberg.
No suspense here: Argo takes it, unless were in for another Brokeback Mountain/Crash-style upset. In recent years, this Oscar has gone to the most-liked film of the year, not necessarily the best one (think The Artist or The Kings Speech). Argo may not be a monumental achievement, but it is a perfectly serviceable thriller that also suggests Hollywood can play an active role in real-world crises. Movies can save lives! And Affleck was one of the producers on the film, so hell have his chance to take the stage and have his say. Wouldnt it be great, though, if the Academy went out of the box and picked the transporting Beasts of the Southern Wild? One can dream.
Should win: Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Will win: Argo.