Now that the nominees have been announced, the Oscar discussion shifts to predicting winners.
This week, I’ll look at the actor races, then next week I’ll handicap the Best Picture and Best Director categories.
And just to be clear on something: The Oscars don’t really determine the bests of the year. They’re just a commercial for Hollywood. But hey, the college football season is over and this is more fun for me than the NBA, NHL or NFL (Go Falcons!).
Before we get to the actor races, let’s see how I’ve done so far in this series (warning: gratuitous self-back-patting follows).
Turns out I’ve been fairly spot-on so far. (I warned you.) I included all of the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees in my lists of contenders. “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” all were nominated.
And as predicted, perfect filmmaking craft did not translate into a nomination for “The Master.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s opus did, however, produce three acting nominations and a segue for me.
In my opinion, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in “The Master” is the best of the year. Phoenix displayed greater command of his body and face than any actor in any category. The role required him to cycle through an acrobatic range of emotions, yet be restrained during some of the movie’s most intense moments. It is an astounding performance.
But it isn’t the kind of performance likely to win an Oscar. Portraying one of the most popular presidents in American history — now that wins statues.
Daniel Day-Lewis is the odds on favorite for his lead role in “Lincoln.” Day-Lewis is the male equivalent to Meryl Streep. Each one of their roles is so strong it’s surprising when they don’t win an Oscar.
Day-Lewis’ only serious contender seems to be Hugh Jackman, who delivers an impressive musical performance in “Les Miserables.” If anyone else wins, it might be because these two split the vote.
The Best Supporting Actor race looks to be about as competitive as the Alabama-Notre Dame game. Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones all gave great performances this year.
But Christoph Waltz’s turn in “Django Unchained” was simply brilliant and elevated the entire movie. Even Quentin Tarantino would likely tell you “Django” would not have worked without Waltz. The same cannot be said of the other actors.
The Best Supporting Actress category is probably the most predictable. It seems a foregone conclusion that Anne Hathaway will win for “Les Miserables.”
No one even knew Hathaway could sing before this movie, and while her voice is decidedly not up to Broadway standards, it was quite powerful when combined with some gut-wrenching tears, facial contortions and a shaved head.
Amy Adams’ quietly menacing matriarch in “The Master,” Sally Fields’ subdued strength in “Lincoln” or Helen Hunt’s ... um, exposed sex therapist in “The Sessions” might have outside chances, but their odds are long.
The least predictable, most interesting race is for Best Actress. One could make a case for each one of these nominees.
Jessica Chastain carries “Zero Dark Thirty” and stands toe-to-toe against every male actor in the movie, including heavyweight James Gandolfini. Naomi Watts’ role in “The Impossible” is the most emotionally and physically demanding of the year.
Jennifer Lawrence is wounded, complicated, yet winning in “Silver Linings Playbook.” Emmanuelle Riva, already a legend in France, steals everyone’s heart in “Amour.”
But if this year’s Academy Awards offer a big surprise at all, it might come in the form of a Best Actress award for Quvenzhané Wallis for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Wallis is the youngest lead actor nominee ever, male or female, and would be the youngest winner in any acting category.
The Academy likes to be seen as willing to reward emerging talent, and it especially likes the publicity it can produce. Wallis is certainly deserving, and she very well might become the darling of this year’s Oscars.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.