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Daniel Day Lewis (#110 of 22)

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Director

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Director
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Director

After Argo collected nearly every major industry award in the lead-up to the Academy Awards, in the process emerging as this year’s Best Picture frontrunner, it came as a shock to everyone to see Ben Affleck shut out of the running here given how often Best Director and Picture coincide. It’s with some irony, then, that two filmmakers who’ve emerged as the main contenders in Affleck’s absence are also among the very few previous winners here whose films were denied Best Picture trophies: Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg. But let’s try to rid our minds of the deplorable notion that Spielberg and Lee are contending for an award that belongs to Affleck. Stripped of this context, an Affleck-less battle for Best Director has all the makings of otherwise good Oscar drama.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actor

The larger-than-life aura that Daniel Day-Lewis breathes into the characters he portrays seems also to have in recent years extended to the actor himself, whose notorious choosiness about selecting roles only buoys the virtually mythical status he carries in the acting world. So when the announcement came in 2010 that Day-Lewis was set to play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited film about our 16th president, few of us doubted that the extolled actor would go on to claim his third Oscar. With the preeminent voice of modern acting playing one of the most revered figures in American history in a film from the world’s most famous filmmaker, the performance was embedded with an air of inevitability long before production photos or clips surfaced. But what’s most intriguing about Day-Lewis’s depiction of Lincoln is how toned down he is in the role. His performance resounds through quieter timbres and softer movements than we’re accustomed to from the actor. Moreover, Day-Lewis reveals a human side of Lincoln that deepens the president’s legendary standing while offering a window into his tortured soul. That his performance is exactly the kind of commanding portrait we’ve come to expect from Day-Lewis, but also acutely nuanced in ways he rarely expresses, only solidifies his imminent victory.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

Blergh. Weeks ago I dreamed a dream where all the particulars of my presently contentious relationship with Anne Hathaway, a typically smart and endearing performer who was robbed of an Oscar in 2009 for Rachel Getting Married, were manifest. At the actual Oscar ceremony, which resembled a standing room-only dinner party, I hugged Hathaway, who I referred to as my sister, as she paraded around in her Catwoman outfit, working the room with the same jacked-up excitement she exhibited days earlier opposite Chelsea Handler and Jon Stewart and hinting at all the things she’s going to do to her hubby once she gets home. Someone, probably Christopher Plummer, announces the winner in this category and the award goes to Sally Field, for illuminating through her two excellent meltdowns in Lincoln, one opposite Tommy Lee Jones, the other opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, the essence of the Steven Spielberg film as a study of the conflict between public and private modes of behavior in the arena of American politics. Shock ripples through the room, and while I should be sad for my sister, who puts on a predictably brave face, I can barely sustain my excitement at Oscar turning his beefed-up buttocks to a performance every bit as cloying as Anne’s contrived acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

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.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actor

Whether the reason boils down to Oscar politics or an overall lack of enthusiasm, it certainly looks like Joaquin Phoenix is about to be snubbed for his work in The Master, despite the mind-boggling excellence of his performance as Freddie Quell. From stature to facial contortions, Phoenix startlingly became someone else while tackling the film’s lead role, in a manner beyond the typical transformative acting that annually courts hyperbole. Without looking all that different beyond considerable weight loss, Phoenix adopted a whole new aura as the spiritually starved WWII vet, and spoke his lines with barks and snarls that seemed uncannily natural, as if a pit bull just happened to don Phoenix’s skin. The actor’s now-infamous dis of the Oscar process couldn’t have helped his chances, but it seems Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie has, in general, lost steam, its lack of a PGA nod being the most recent evidence. The man most likely to benefit from Phoenix’s misfortune is Bradley Cooper, whose turn in Silver Linings Playbook is frothy by comparison, but just the sort of crowd-pleasing lead performance Oscar loves. A likable actor, Cooper’s bound to be seen as triumphant for stretching beyond Hangover territory, and with the Academy increasingly honoring flexible comic stars (think Jonah Hill and Melissa McCarthy), his nomination should in fact be an easy get.

Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

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Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables
Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

With its Oscar clout and inevitable crowd-pleasing matched by widespread critical ire, Les Misérables is easily the year’s most divisive awards contender. The film does have its champions, like the oft-snarky New York Post critic Kyle Smith, who gave it the top spot on his 2012 top 10 list, but by and large, Les Mis has endured ample lashings from reviewers, as diverse as David Edelstein, Richard Corliss, and our own Calum Marsh. The divide between journos and tearful devotees has become one of the season’s buzziest narratives, most recently prompting helmer Tom Hooper to “respond to his critics,” whose qualms, as expected, couldn’t stop the musical from squashing the box-office competition on Christmas Day (the movie raked in $18.2 million, history’s second-largest holiday opening). What does it all mean for the movie’s Oscar fate? To be honest, probably not much. It seems unfathomable that Les Misérables won’t end up on the Best Picture shortlist, an outcome that was in the cards before a frame of footage was seen (or, arguably, before a frame of footage was shot).

Oscar Prospects: The Impossible

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Oscar Prospects: The Impossible
Oscar Prospects: The Impossible

If there’s a film this season that’s poised to nab Oscar’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close vote, joining a generously wide Best Picture field for its cloying take on a recent tragedy, it’s definitely J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible, a markedly odd prestige picture with enough capital-A acting and capital-I issues to distract from its dire mix of sentiment and insensitivity. Charting one family’s struggle to survive amid the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this epic, fact-based tearjerker is already raking in critical acclaim, despite its pedestrian retooling of the disaster-movie formula. On this site alone, venom has been spat regarding the central family’s ethnicity, which was changed from Spanish to British in a move that reeks of commercial compromise. The contentious racial topic may well miff some Academy members of color (and the astute ballot-casters who love them), but likely not enough to quell the movie’s apparent wave of supporters. (Get it?) One should hope that savvier voters will simply dismiss the film for reasons more foundational than whitewashing, for The Impossible is essentially a topical twist on a Roland Emmerich deathfest, wherein viewers are subjected to endless weather-fueled carnage, with the salvation of the core cast serving as self-satisfied consolation. Indeed, this is all inspired by a true story (as an emboldened pre-film title card is sure to hammer home), but, true or not, the strength of a story is in the telling, and what’s peddled here is the convenient eminence of folks to whom, in comparison, all other survivors pale.

Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

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Oscar Prospects: Lincoln
Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

Though it boasts the strongest pedigree of all 2012 awards contenders, Lincoln doesn’t play like obvious Oscar bait while you’re watching it. Masterfully realized, the tame and talky saga spends most of its duration bucking the epic-biopic formula, unfolding with minimal spectacle and with characterization that’s as communal as it is subject-focused. From look to language, it’s no trophy-seeking construct, but a first-rate political drama made with consummate skill. So, how nice that it’s been so ardently embraced by critics, racking up—at this writing—more perfect-score reviews than any other Oscar candidate this year. That critical push is going to help voters take notice of all the un-showy aspects of Lincoln’s production, including Rick Carter’s Art Direction, Joanna Johnston’s Costume Design, and, yes, Steven Spielberg’s Direction. Say all you want about Argo and Life of Pi, but this is your Best Picture frontrunner, poised to be the film with the most nods come January 10. It looks to be a downright lock in at least nine categories, and a handful of other races seem well within its reach. Had it featured some CG cannons or, say, a fresh diddy to be sung by Sally Field, you’d likely be seeing it in damn-near every lineup.

Oscar Prospects: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Oscar Prospects: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Oscar Prospects: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Will the Academy really go for a star-free, Sendak-esque allegory, whose rugged charms are tied to its loose lack of answers? At this point, it certainly seems like it. There will be those who’ll struggle with what’s behind the journey of young Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), but the openness of this film’s metaphors (ecological statement? simple coming of age?) grant it a broad accessibility, with oodles of obstacles represented by those encroaching horned hogs. What’s more, the movie is anchored by a powerful father-daughter story, which steadily stops short of piling on mush, and brings gracious warmth to a tough and unforgiving film environment. Beasts of the Southern Wild is this year’s all-bases-covered, Oscar-y indie, boasting worldly subject matter, a standout lead performance, dizzying critical acclaim, and true originality of vision. It ably fills a necessary slot in the Best Picture field, and the refreshing truth is that it’s also arguably the year’s best film thus far. Backlash is inevitable, and already well underway in certain circles, but it’s hard to imagine any major buzz derailment. Films with this much widespread love historically reach the finish line, and thanks to a recent media push from Oprah Winfrey, you could say that any levees restraining the movie’s influence have officially been broken.