Of all the major players in this year’s Oscar game, Lincoln has arguably had the most mercurial ride, beginning as a sight-unseen frontrunner, performing few remarkable feats in the precursors, leading the Academy’s pack with the most nominations (12), and now, standing to perhaps fall short in many races, including Best Picture. Throughout the power shifts, the two men who’ve managed to remain all but untouched are lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis and screenwriter Tony Kushner, both of whom have a certain, insurmountable something their competitors don’t. For Kushner, it’s a whale of a way with riveting, yet painstaking, political discourse, which, somehow, has even wooed the mainstream masses into making Lincoln a formidable box-office hit. By now, most awards watchers are aware of Kushner’s grand task of translating Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and how Steven Spielberg’s finished film is the whittled-down version of an initial 500-page script. Give or take Life of Pi, whose “unfilmable” nature speaks more to the triumphs of Ang Lee than scripter David Magee, no other project here can boast such an epic quest to the screen, and that’s just one reason voters are almost certain to swoon for Kushner.
Others may be the elegant vernacular for which Day-Lewis proves the perfect conduit; the razor-sharp, contemporary respect paid to an era oft-sugared and trivialized in textbooks; the gracious lack of preaching that could have easily echoed through those White House halls in lesser hands; and whatever apt parallels one chooses to draw to our times. In short, it’s going to take a whole lotta love for another hopeful to keep Kushner from the podium. With Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s expansion of Alibar’s play Juicy and Delicious, consensus will be that the nod is the award, so Kushner’s own team of rivals comes down to Argo and Silver Linings Playbook, neither of which show a smidge of fatigue as they barrel toward a Best Picture showdown. For his movies-save-all thematic through line, his articulation of a so-nuts-it-must-be-true narrative, and the abundance of smoke he blows up Hollywood types’ asses, Chris Terrio could see his script benefit from Argo’s crowded cheerleading squad; however, Ben Affleck, who’s poised to become history’s most extolled Best Director snubbee, seems to be the film’s chief beneficiary. That makes David O. Russell the most logical spoiler, his adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel syphoning away the largest number of Kushner’s votes. The same folks who planted a Silver Linings Playbook cast member into every acting category may well champion the script, too, in all its crowd-pleasing, yet caricaturish, grotesquerie. But, still, we’re not convinced, as this trophy seems destined to go to the nominee “clothed in immense power,” a triumph of beautiful language in a category designed to reward it.
Will Win: Lincoln
Could Win: Silver Linings Playbook
Should Win: Lincoln