This is the fourth of seven prediction and analysis articles for the Oscars being given out at the upcoming 85th Academy Awards on February 24th, hosted by Seth McFarlane (full site). This quick article follows the writing and directing categories. At times, the screenplay categories are tough ones to call because some awards shows, like the Golden Globes, combine original and adapted into one category. They each get their chance to shine at the Oscars.
Like last year, I offer the categories of snubs and happy nominations to go along with a choice of "who should win" and "who will win." This season, I've been doing my due diligence by tracking what movies and people have won the precursor and lead-up awards to the Oscars on my "2012 Awards Tracker" page. For a full breakdown of earlier 2012-2013 award results, please check that page and tab. Enjoy and good luck with your Oscar pool!
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Chris Terrio- Argo, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin- Beasts of the Southern Wild, David Magee- Life of Pi, Tony Kushner- Lincoln, David O. Russell- Silver Linings Playbook
AWARDS TRACKER (number of earlier award wins): 10- Argo, 8- Lincoln, 4- Silver Linings Playbook, 1-Life of Pi, 1- Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Who was snubbed: The critical darling surprise Beasts of the Southern Wild is the surprise film of the whole awards show and nominations. While it deserves to be there for plenty of reasons, I think it stole a worthy spot from Stephen Chbosky adapting and directing his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Chbosky's movie is a superior overall work and, in my opinion, a superior screenplay as well. It was one of my favorite films of last year (my full review) and it just dropped on DVD and Blu-ray. Be sure to check it out.
Happy to be there: At the same time as it's a surprise, director Benh Zeitlin and his writing partner Lucy Alibar should be pleased as punch for just getting a nomination at all. The nomination is the reward itself, because it's a long way behind the other four nominees in this category for scope and stature.
Who should win: Purely on a level of difficulty and creation, David Magee's screenplay for Life of Pi should win. For years, Yann Martel's wondrous novel was thought "un-filmable" and was stuck in developmental hell at 20th Century Fox. Magee delivered a solid final product that kept the novel's beauty, religious notes, and complicated point-of-view. That this film was even made as well as it was trumps David O'Russell, Chris Terrio, and Tony Kushner retreading fairly straight-forward novels.
Who will win: This is has been a neck-and-neck, back-and-forth, and two-horse race between Argo and Lincoln. These two works have been splitting the initial awards all the way up to this month. The final award to push a favorite forward was this past weekend's WGA Award from the Writers Guild of America. They chose Argo by Chris Terrio and, therefore, so will I. Four of the last five WGA winners have gone on to take the Oscar. I'll take that trend and those odds. This further shrinks Lincoln's potential wins.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The nominees: Michael Haneke- Amour, Quentin Tarantino- Django Unchained, John Gatins- Flight, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola- Moonrise Kingdom, Mark Boal- Zero Dark Thirty
AWARDS TRACKER (number of earlier award wins): 8- Zero Dark Thirty, 6- Rian Johnson, Looper, 3- Django Unchained, 2- Moonrise Kingdom, 2- Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master, 1- Amour
Who was snubbed: Based on the tracking of the minor award winners leading up to these Oscars, the two screenplays that have a beef with not being among the final nominees are Rian Johnson's work with Looper and the quirky tale of P.T. Anderson's The Master. I do like when the Academy honors a work that is out of the box for screenplay and not a contender for Best Picture. Christopher Nolan's Memento was that years ago and Looper deserved that recognition and seat at the table this year. I could take or leave The Master and I'm glad that ugly movie was nearly shut out of nominations.
Happy to be there: Looper and The Master's spot was taken by John Gatins's original work for Flight. While it hasn't won a thing up to this point, making this nomination and recognition quite a coup, I'll totally OK with it earning this spot. Another movie that should feel a swell of pride in this category is Amour. Like A Separation last year, it's a recent, yet rare trend to see a foreign film earn acclaim for a screenplay. While the support for Amour across the board (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay) is growing, I don't think it pulls out a come-from-behind win here. Michael Haneke will get his golden statue, but it will say "Best Foreign Language Film" on it. There's no need to honor the movie twice over other deserving works.
Who should win: Of these nominees, I loved Moonrise Kingdom. If I was giving out the awards, the always-quirky and often-brilliant Wes Anderson, along with Roman Coppola, would finally get his due the way Alexander Payne did last year for The Descendants. The film is Anderson's most joyous and most accessible film to date. He deserves that credit.
Who will win: The awards tracker "tea leaves" would suggest that Mark Boal's work for Zero Dark Thirty should be running away with this contest, but buzz on that movie has cooled and shifted sharply since its January release. That and Boal won this very award just three years ago for The Hurt Locker. Even Boal's WGA win this past weekend is not enough, even with all that logic and trend I spoke of last category with Chris Terrio's screenplay for Argo. I'm calling for the surprise winner right now. The surging favorite that I think will win is Quentin Tarantino's original screenplay for Django Unchained. It only has three minor awards wins, but they are big ones: the Golden Globe (in a category combining original screenplays with the adapted ones where it beat everything), the Critics Choice, and the BAFTA. It's been 17 years since Tarantino walked up that Oscar stage to accept this same Academy Award for Pulp Fiction's original screenplay. His knack for peppy dialogue and repartee has only gotten bigger and better since then. Django Unchained is his broadest and most ambitious film and it will complete his comeback circle. I'm going out on a limb with this prediction, but I think Tarantino steals a win from Zero Dark Thirty.
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
THE NOMINEES: Michael Haneke- Amour, Benh Zeitlin- Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ang Lee- Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg- Lincoln, David O. Russell- Silver Linings Playbook
AWARDS TRACKER (number of earlier award wins): 11- Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), 9- Ben Affleck (Argo), 3- Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master, 3- Lee, 2- Russell, 1- Haneke, 1- Spielberg, 1- Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
Who was snubbed: You're probably living under a little bit of a rock if you haven't heard about the two GINORMOUS Oscar snubs here for Best Director. The top three minor award winners in this category, Ben Affleck for Argo, Kathryn Bigelow (the first woman to ever win this award) for Zero Dark Thirty, and, to a lesser extent, Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master, were all grossly omitted from competing for the highest award. The largest mistake is Affleck and the movie world has let the Academy know it. Since his Oscar snub, Affleck has won directing award after award to amplify that mistake, including the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the Directors Guild of America's top honor. I guess voters really hated Ben Affleck, The Actor, and let Ben Affleck, The Director, know about it.
Happy to be there: In a way, each of the five nominees should be happy they survived the sharp guillotine that chopped off Bigelow, Affleck, and Anderson. Still, there were always going to be five nominees, so some are supposed to be here anyway, most notably Russell, Lee, and Spielberg. Just as before with the screenplay nominees, both Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild should be happy to be here. They likely stole the spots that belonged to Affleck and Bigelow.
Who should win: If you ask just about any voting or not voting, they are going to reiterate that the Best Director of 2012 isn't even here to win, and that's Ben Affleck. However loud we rant, he's not on the list. We have to move on. Of these five nominees, I think this is the place to honor David O. Russell and Silver Linings Playbook. Ang Lee has won this award before (Brokeback Mountain) and we all know Steven Spielberg's resume (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List). While Russell did adapt a very good book into a screenplay, I think the most difficult aspect that succeeds in Silver Linings Playbook was extracting and harnessing the difficult, emotional, and endlessly interesting performances he received from fellow Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and the rest of the ensemble cast. Silver Linings Playbook will likely go down as an "actor's showcase," but I think this movie couldn't have happened successfully without Russell.
Who will win: In terms of actually predicting who will win Best Director, handicapping this race is incredibly difficult without Bigelow and Affleck. I think this one of the hardest awards to pick for the whole show, mostly because of the historical implications. Only three films in the history of the Academy Awards (and none since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989) have gone on to win Best Picture without their director nominated in this category. What does that say about Argo and Zero Dark Thirty's chances for the big one? Even more often in Oscar history, the winner of Best Director tends to (but not always) match the winner for Best Picture. Does that mean picking Steven Spielberg anoints Lincoln over Argo or Zero Dark Thirty? If you ask Steven himself, he will tell you "no." In 1998, he won Best Director for Saving Private Ryan only to see his film upset by the upstart Shakespeare in Love for Best Picture. Fellow nominee Ang Lee will tell you the same thing. He won this for Brokeback Mountain, but was shocked by Crash in 2005. If Argo is the big favorite that it is, that means the very same thing could happen to either Spielberg or Lee for an unprecedented second time. That said, I don't think that "lightning-striking-the-same-place-twice" vibe will scare voters to Russell or Haneke. Even though it will be close, give the slight edge to Steven Spielberg and Lincoln over Ang Lee for Life of Pi. Lee's 2005 win is more recent than Spielberg's 1998 win, meaning he's more due. This will be Hollywood's chance to stay in the good graces of their most popular filmmaker and shower some fake praise at his feet. Don't worry. Ben Affleck will still get the last laugh.
NEXT UP: The female acting categories!