22 January 2013

Oscar Zone, Vol. IV: Acting Nominations

So, with our total predictions set in stone, it's time to dig in and rant a wee bit more over the intricacies of each of the major categories - Acting, Writing, Directing, and Best Picture. We start with acting, the most glamourous of all the categories and the one that forever canonizes its winners in Oscar Lore. From now on all of these people will be "Oscar Nominees" (picture, Real Steel [2011]on DVD with Academy Award Nominee Hugh Jackman), but only a few will be Winners. For the male categories, both are nearly sure to be repeat winners, for the females, two new exciting young lasses could go home with the gold (both have also hosted SNL this year - keep reading).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

We'll rank all of these in order from the least likely to win to the mostly likely to win:

Joaquin PhoenixThe Master

Joaquin is nasty in The Master and actually does outclass everyone else here in the talent he showcased. He also proves that he has the most insane commitment to acting of anyone in his generation by the simple revelation that I'm Still Here (2010) was a hoax. This one is all about politics and Joaquin isn't helping himself. He could care less about the award and hasn't bothered to campaign at all, even calling the entire ceremony "bullshit." You're not gonna win that way, pal, but the true actor that he is, Joaquin only really cares about the craft. He knows he's better than anyone else anyway, so who cares? It's an interesting development, the result of which is that he doesn't have a chance in hell at winning this thing.

Denzel WashingtonFlight

Denzel could nab his third Oscar here after Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001). Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune at least thinks he deserves it, and to be fair, he is the only thing that saves an otherwise shitty movie. That's ultimately what may hold Denzel back here, although being a great actor in a shitty movie did nothing to stop Meryl from winning for The Iron Lady (2011) last year. It's a bit of a long shot and there's not a ton of buzz behind the film at all - we'll give him basically no chance but a bit above Joaquin.

Bradley CooperSilver Linings Playbook

B-Rad has had a slew of somewhat more serious roles recently like Limitless (2011), The Words (2012), and the upcoming The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) sprinkled between wackiness like Hit & Run (2012) and twenty-five Hangover movies. Wouldn't it be special and awesome for The Hangover, Part III (2013) to be able to boast "Starring Academy Award Winner Bradley Cooper as Phil"? That makes me want to cheer for B-Rad even more, but even with the strong positive buzz behind his performance here, he's just a bit outmatched by the next two contenders, who have a bit more serious, meatier roles.

Hugh JackmanLes Misérables

"Academy Award Winner Hugh Jackman is...THE WOLVERINE!" See, you can't get enough of this kind of schtik. Hugh Jackman is an underrated actor. Now, I know what you're thinking, how can I say that the guy who had turns in such terrible bloated affairs as Van Helsing (2004) and Australia (2008) is overrated? Really, Hugh is such a mystery and so simple at the same time. He's a blushing Australian Broadway Star who is also deeply, insanely committed to the comic book character Wolverine, as well as the major impetus for getting other stars to sign on to this week's Movie 43 (2013). He's like a Korean Bagpipe Player - a walking contradiction. But there's nothing really more perplexing to him behind that - he loves what he does and there's nothing really else to him. Les Misérables is his chance to showcase both his musical and film talents. Plus he was good in The Prestige (2006).

Daniel Day-LewisLincoln

Here we are, the big granddaddy of all acting. Daniel Day is a beast and there's only a very slim chance that Hugh upsets him here. He has decades of Academy Love behind him and has reaped up every award he needs to going into this to all but be assured of victory. Of course, it's not totally clear-cut. It's easily not as impressive as his turn as Dan Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007) which was a near unanimous lock for victory. His Lincoln will tower (literally and figuratively) over anyone else who attempts to assume that role, though, and win or lose provide the definitive portrayal of the man for some time to come. Is that worth an Oscar? Joaquin wouldn't care, but it's in the bag for Danny here.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

This category really comes down to two women who are almost eery mirror images of each other in the same stages of what should be long, illustrious careers.

Naomi WattsThe Impossible

Quick - name what The Impossible is about. Give up? If you guessed that it's a film about the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami that primarily stars White People, you'd be correct. The problems inherent with this sort of racial focus aside, Naomi has been widely nominated for both indie and mainstream roles, though her only previous nomination with the Academy was for 21 Grams (2003). Both The Impossible and her role in it has mostly slid under the radar this year, even when she's the only really established actress in this category. There's no real chance she wins.

Quvenzhané WallisBeasts of the Southern Wild

Quick - name what Beasts of the Southern Wild is about! I still couldn't really tell you. It's the kind of film that remarkably has gotten some love here, and even more remarkable is recognizing the fine performance of...however you say that young lady's name. Quvie, as her friends call her, is the youngest actress ever to be nominated in the Lead Actress category at 9 years old, although the Supporting Actress category gets little tykes like her all the time. There are plenty out there who would like to see her win, but there's not really enough mainstream momentum anywhere for her to do it. Nice way to start a career, though, Quvie.

Emmanuelle RivaAmour

And so of course in this bizarre year, we've also got the oldest nominee in this category ever, with a nearly as long name, Emmanuelle at 85 years young. Emmanuelle's heyday was in French films of the 1960s, but if she makes it to the ceremony in a few weeks she may pull off an upset here. Amour, by all means is a great film, but does it have the politics behind it to shake up some paradigms? This is a year that distinguishes itself on wholly American storytelling platforms like Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. I don't think we're going to honor an old Frenchwoman acting in this Austrian film.

Jessica ChastainZero Dark Thirty

There's no reason why Jessica can't win this, especially if Jennifer Lawrence continues being nearly as glib about her winning chances as Joaquin Phoenix. Jessica is certainly a more traditional Oscar pick and a win over J-Law wouldn't really be an upset. At this point, though, I'm just inclined to believe that Silver Linings Playbook has more positivity and appeal going for it than Zero Dark Thirty. There's a lot less controversy and plenty more love for its acting. Jessica and Jennifer couldn't be acting more differently going into this thing - it'll be a fun brawl no matter who comes out standing.

Jennifer LawrenceSilver Linings Playbook

J-Law just hosted the hell out of SNL, although she didn't have a lick of good material to work with. That's really just a testament to the ease of her acting, folks. The only major concern right now is both her Golden Globes acceptance speech, which some viewers may have interpreted as disrespectful, and likewise her SNL monologue. Or will the Academy find it refreshing? Indeed it's the kind of candor you get with J-Law. Then again, as Thelma Adams of Yahoo! News puts it, she's the 22-year old headliner of a half-billion dollar franchise - what does she care?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

This is a ridiculous category this year. Every nominee has already won a statue, and there isn't a clear favourite unlike many years where this category tends to be locked up by November.

Alan ArkinArgo

I'm not sure why Alan is here. He's not particularly great in Argo, but I suppose the Academy had to pretend that they're liking that movie. Really, without any nominations for Ben, I get the sneaking feeling that the Academy just hated this film. But, that doesn't really make sense - Hollywood loves Positive Hollywood Films! I digress. Alan's not winning, which is about the only clear prediction I can make here.

Philip Seymour HoffmanThe Master

PSH has a towering performance here, although all of these must really be measured against the Oscars the nominees won previously. Hoffman nabbed a bald man for Capote (2005), playing the eponymous character. Is he better here playing the possibly eponymous Master? It's tough to say with the roles being so completely different. Perhaps that's a testament to another deserved win? No, too much Joaquin has leaked into this one, and PSH isn't really campaigning that hard or in the moment at all. He's probably got the best chance of any of the actors nominated for The Master to win, and it's an advantage that he got called for Supporting here. The fact that this great film only received acting nominations could be an indication that the Acting Branch of the Academy dug this flick, but if that's the case, then Silver Linings Playbook beat it by one nom anyway. The Master ought to go down as one of the best films ever to never win a single Academy Award.

Christoph WaltzDjango Unchained

Going with our assessment of Actors as "Was it equal or better to their last win?" we find Christoph basically transplanting his Landa character from his previous win for Inglourious Basterds (2009), in time, geography, and disposition. There's still no actor who handles Tarantino dialogue more beautifully, but this isn't a groundbreaking performance anymore. It's impressive that he could do the same song and dance routine on the side of righteousness this time around, but there's no spark that he had the last time around. His Golden Globe win is the only reason I've ranked him above PSH, but that Foreign Press takes care of its own.

Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

I'm imagining this as like a reverse-Norbit effect. If you don't remember, there's a conspiracy out there (that I subscribe to), that Eddie Murphy lost his Oscar for Dreamgirls (2006) because of his crazy shitty performance in Norbit (2007) right before the Award Ceremony. This notably didn't work with Natalie Portman, nor for Sandra Bullock, who simultaneously won a Razzie and Oscar in the same year (for All About Steve [2009] and The Blind Side [2009]. Guess which one she won each award for!). What does any of this have to do with Bobby De Niro? Well, I think his performance in Silver Linings Playbook was magnified because of the past decade of really shitty De Niro performances. I mean, look at this list: Stardust (2007), Righteous Kill (2008), Everybody's Fine (2009), Machete (2010), Little Fockers (2010), New Year's Eve (2011). Granted, a film like Machete wasn't really terrible, but it's a totally hammy performance out of Bob. This isn't the De Niro we want to remember. Just when we've totally forgotten how great this guy is, he comes back with Silver Linings Playbook and provides a great role that isn't a mobster, serial killer, or otherwise a crazy person. De Niro hasn't been nominated in twenty years, and he hasn't won in thirty years. More and more I can see the Academy bowing and honoring history's greatest actor.

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

So let's go back to our paradigm. Which actor on this list had a role this year that was equal to or better than the role for which they won previously? The only one that comes up as a definitive yes is Tommy Lee Jones here. General history has overlooked Thaddeus Stevens, and Tom does for him tenfold what Daniel Day did for Abe. He generated a tremendous amount of buzz after the Golden Globes just by being unamused. Does the Academy care about viral scowls? Do they interpret his unamusement as seriousness toward his craft or indicative of him being a stick in the mud? The Academy looks after its stodgy own and this is all coming up Tommy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

In a batch of crazy up in the air acting categories this year, it's almost easy to forget this one - a possible lock but no clear winner.

Jacki WeaverSilver Linings Playbook

The Academy apparently has a strange love for everything Jacki Weaver does. She was also a surprise nomination with Animal Kingdom (2010). Of all the great performances coming out of Silver Linings Playbook, hers had the least buzz going into the Awards Season, and there's not a good chance she comes up with anything here. Director David O. Russell famously swept the Supporting Acting awards for his last feature, The Fighter (2010) (Christian Bale and Melissa Leo), but the love for Silver Linings, if they go anywhere, are destined for Jenn or Bob this time around.

Helen HuntThe Sessions

Where has Helen Hunt been these last few years? She of course won for
As Good as It Gets (1997), but everyone won for that movie. The Sessions is a weirder pic, and it's surprising that John Hawkes wasn't nominated while Helen was here. This is basically the equivalent to Denzel in Flight, mentioned above. Kind of a shitty movie with some good performances, though The Sessions doesn't have a big cool plane spinning out of control to open it. There's nothing especially notable that Helen does here that she hasn't done before, both in better and worse movies. Without a ton of buzz for the handicap sex romp, she'll go home without a statue.

Amy Adams, The Master

Another one that The Master won't win. This has become the Amy Adams category as of late, with her seeing three nominations in the past five ceremonies - the others being Doubt (2008) and The Fighter (2010). AND she was clearly snubbed for The Muppets (2011) last year. She deserves to bring home the gold one of these years, but the aforementioned issues with The Master will continue to plague her this year. As far as performances go, she was better in The Fighter anyway, when she lost to her fellow actress in that film, Melissa Leo. Amy's got a ton of talent and both broad and indie appeal. This isn't her year but she'll be back.

Sally FieldLincoln

I hated Sally Field in Lincoln, but then I realized that I don't hate Sally Field. She just does that good of a job as the crazy nagging wife Mary Todd to Daniel Day's Lincoln. Lincoln has three acting nominations and a lot more nominations and other critical love around it to justify a bit of an upset for Sally to win. If she wins she can join Daniel Day with her third Academy Award for Best Actress (after Norma Rae [1979] and Places in the Heart [1984]), which would be really crazy. Will she give another "you really like me" speech? I hope not.

Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Anne is the only lock I'd give to all these categories besides Daniel Ray Lewis. Every bit of Les Mis' marketing has centered around her performance and everyone who has had the slightest passing interest can picture her distinctive scene belting out "I Dreamed a Dream" like none of us knew she could do, live on set. This has caught on with the Academy and the American people alike. Anne is already America's darling - why not give her a nice pretty statue to make it official? She's overpowering Amy and Sally right now, and she ought to keep plowing through to the ceremony.

So there you go. That's the lowdown on ever single nominee. What do you think? Do you agree with my analysis or did I muff something up? Will De Niro beat Lee Jones? What about Jessica and Jennifer? The Award Ceremony comes on ABC on February 24th - until then, let's keep arguing in the comments:

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