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Oscar predictions: the shoo-ins and the should-have-beens

Categories: Movies

Argo Argo seems to be the shoo-in for best picture in part because Ben Affleck plays the game well. (Warner Bros./Associated Press)

What long strange ride it's been. Remember back when Les Miz was first announced? That's it, the Oscar-watchers said. The race is over. The director of The King's Speech filming one of the most-loved musicals of our time? Done.

But then we got a look at Hooper's Les Misérables Unplugged production. The whisper-singing and countless close-ups didn't sit well with audiences.

Then there was the Toronto International Film Festival, where Silver Linings Playbook wowed the crowds. Jennifer Lawrence turned in another firecracker performance. Bradley Cooper proved there was a fine actor hiding beneath the perennially stubbly chin. It's Mental Health meets Dancing With the Stars. Not to mention Robbie De Niro reminding us why he used to be one of the greats of the acting world.

But if there was a hint of things to come at TIFF, it had to be Argo. The red carpet was packed and director/actor Ben Affleck worked it like a pro. The spy caper neatly overcame the objections to its lack of historical accuracy, to the point where it almost seemed as if ambassador Ken Taylor was lobbying on its behalf.

And what of The Master? The bizarre, breathtaking duet between the leader and his disciple? A multi-layered movie wrapped around the roots of Scientology. (Surely director Paul Thomas Anderson deserves extra points for courage?) Filmed and presented in glorious 70 mm and at Oscar time....an afterthought. A footnote in the awards season that became Argo vs. everyone else.

So here we are. Voting is closed. The ballots are being counted. As I type these words, flying towards L.A. at 900 kph, it's as good a time as any to commit.

BEST PICTURE:

WILL WIN: Argo

Hollywood loves two things, a comeback story and itself. In the year when Zero Dark Thirty got waylaid by the torture debate, Argo offered an uncomplicated view of daring-do performed by a dashing American agent, aided by a little Hollywood know-how. The fact that former late-night punchline Ben Affleck directed the crowd-pleasing film made it all the better. Argo getting snubbed for best director only cemented the film as the underdog that morphed into overlord. Some times nice guys finish first and Affleck played the race perfectly.

Zero Dark Thirty Zero Dark Thirty was hurt by the torture debate. (Columbia Pictures/Associated Press)

SHOULD WIN: Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's complicated look at the long and twisted path that led to Osama Bin Laden did exactly what great films are supposed to do. It asked questions, it pushed and provoked us. The film features quietly calibrated performances and an absolute mastery of action elements that makes Argo look like The A-Team.

BEST DIRECTOR:

WILL WIN: Ang Lee

While Steven Spielberg is the favourite in this category, Lee has been gaining traction for making the unfilmable book Life of Pi a half-a-billion and counting blockbuster. Truth be told, the safe money is on Spielberg, but Lincoln was flawed (F.E.S. false-ending-syndrome) and Daniel Day Lewis will deservedly suck up most of the attention for his Fireside Al version of the American President. Life of Pi is a movie with no real stars, except the film itself. The dazzling blend of themes and visuals will go to Lee's credit and could net him another Oscar.

SHOULD WIN: Michael Haneke

Since neither Zero Dark Thirty, The Master nor Moonrise Kingdom are even nominated (Eli pounds head on monitor for moment), I'll go with Haneke's freeze-the-blood-in-your-veins look at a married man's last act of devotion.

BEST ACTOR:

WILL WIN: Daniel Day Lewis

Lewis has already won dozens of awards for his performance as Abraham Lincoln. It's worth noting Lewis turned down Spielberg a number of times before he returned with a better story courtesy of Tony Kushner.

SHOULD WIN: Joaquin Phoenix

Watching Phoenix's performance as Freddie the shattered veteran in The Master was a glimpse of something wild. Perhaps his ticks or the snide snarl put off voters, but this role wasn't acting, it was possession.

BEST ACTRESS:

Amour Emmanuelle Riva in Amour. (Sony Pictures Classics/Associated Press) WILL WIN: Emmanuelle Riva

The Amour actress won the BAFTA and she's an legend of cinema who happens to turn 86 the night of the Oscars. To quote Stan the Man, "'Nuff said." Safe money is on Jennifer Lawrence, with many voters justifiably seduced by the unvarnished talent on display in an actress still in her 20s. But J-Law will be around for countless Oscars to come.

SHOULD WIN: Jessica Chastain

It's unfortunate the mud of the Oscar campaign has covered up Chastain's subtle performance as Maya, the agent who kept the pressure on to find Bin Laden. You can debate accuracy all you want, but there's no question what was real as Maya finished her journey in that empty airplane on the tarmac.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

 Tommy Lee Jones in his grumpy Lincoln performance. (DreamWorks/Fox/Associated Press)

WILL WIN: Tommy Lee Jones

Yes, he comes across as Captain Grumps-A-Lot, with a scowl so mighty some think he's ceded his Oscar opportunity to Christoph Waltz. But I think Waltz's role is too familiar while Jones' performance as the head of the Abolishionist movement in Lincoln will give the Academy the chance to reward one of its most dedicated professionals.

SHOULD WIN: Robert De Niro

There is a scene in Silver Linings Playbook where De Niro's character breaks into tears, when talking with his son about football. The scene was not written that way. De Niro told director David O. Russell he was going to try something. After years of becoming a parody of himself, De Niro's actor's instincts are back.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

WILL WIN: Anne Hathaway

Yup, that was a nice song. Hopefully the editor who suggested trying the scene with only the close-up gets to hold the award.

SHOULD WIN: Helen Hunt.

For fearlessness in the role of the sex surrogate in The Sessions, a movie filled with humour and honesty that deserved a better run.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

WILL WIN: Django Unchained

This could be a place for Quentin Tarantino to pick up the affection for his Spaghetti Slavery epic. Far too bloody for some of the Academy's older voters, the script's voice is his and Tarantino knows how to spin a yarn.

SHOULD WIN: Zero Dark Thirty

For its remarkably restrained portrayal of the hunt for America's Most Wanted, Zero Dark Thirty is the anti-Argo. Less jingoism, and rich in detail.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

WILL AND SHOULD WIN: Lincoln

Tony Kushner has already been rewarded numerous times this awards season and chances are he will be again. Not only is Lincoln a fascinating story of down-and-dirty politics, it's also an ode to oratory. A love letter to a time when leaders spoke in paragraphs, not sound bites. Daniel Day Lewis wouldn't have found Lincoln's voice if Kushner didn't find it first and both deserve the praise.

BEST SCORE:

WILL WIN: Life of Pi

Amour The Life of Pi soundtrack by Canadian Mychael Danna adds the sounds of India to the mix. (Fox/Associated Press)

Perhaps the Academy is looking for new blood, or responded to the multicultural mix that Toronto composer Mychael Danna created for the Life of Pi. Either way, the odds-makers have Danna leading the pack, pulling ahead of five-time Oscar winner John Williams.

SHOULD WIN: Skyfall

The Life of Pi sound track is lovely but no music moved me this year like Thomas Newman's equal parts inventive and nostalgic score for Skyfall.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Searching for Sugar Man

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Amour (Sorry War Witch)

BEST FILM EDITING: Argo

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Wreck-It Ralph

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