It's Oscar-time again! Once more, I have seen almost none of the contending films, but I won't let a little thing like that stop me from prognosticating. After all, I've never read a book, but that doesn't stop me from writing this thing every day.
This year, for help in making my calls, I turn to Nate Silver, the New York Times' guru of statistical prognostications, who has taken his talents for predicting electoral outcomes and turned them to the even more politically charged field of the Hollywood awards circuit. Silver applies a fairly logical method to picking the Oscars. Essentially, he looks at various awards that have already been distributed, and uses these results to "weight" the likelihood of films winning an Academy Award. Since "Argo," for example, has been racking up awards left and right, and since many of the people who voted for "Argo" to win these other awards are also among those who will vote on the Oscars, it makes sense to pick "Argo" as the winner for "Best Picture," which Silver does, and so will I.
Best Director gets tricky. Generally, the director of the Best Picture is a solid bet to win Best Director. Of course, Ben Affleck, who directed "Argo," was not even nominated. I'm not entirely sure why he was snubbed. Some might say he wasn't snubbed at all. Simple math means some deserving directors will not receive nominations. When the Academy expanded the field of Best Picture candidates from five to as many as ten, it did not expand the number of nominees for Best Director (or actor or any other categories). So with nine films competing, at least four directors will go un-nominated. Whether you consider Affleck's non-nomination a snub depends largely on how likely you consider it that "Argo" would have been nominated in the old days of five nominees. I consider it very likely, and thus a serious snubbing. Not sure why. Ben Affleck seems like a perfectly likable guy and at least as capable as other middling actors-turned-directors who have previously been nominated. (I'm looking at you Kevin Costner!) The other big snub, by the way, would be Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty"), but we can attribute that to her less-than-condemnatory representation of torture, which will be frowned upon by Hollywood liberal types.
So, getting back to the actual nominees: Silver gives a VERY slight edge to Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln"), but I'm going to go ahead and take his close second, Ang Lee ("Life of Pi"). My reasoning? "Life of Pi" was nominated for a ton of awards, so the Academy will want to give it one of the "biggies." It won't win Best Picture, and it wasn't nominated for any of the other "Big Six." (Why the computer-generated tiger didn't get a nod for Supporting Actor escapes me, but there it is.) Spielberg's already won twice, and "Lincoln" will win in the Best Actor category.
Best Actor is a total lock. Daniel Day-Lewis is the male Meryl Streep, and if she could win last year for playing Margaret Thatcher in a movie that nobody bothered to see, he's effectively guaranteed his third win for transforming himself into Abraham Lincoln in a movie that was actually a hit.
Jennifer Lawrence is Silver's pick for Best Actress. I'm almost positive this has nothing to do with the fact that she's in a film called "SILVER Linings Playbook." I'll accept that pick.
This category has a couple of interesting storylines: There is Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), who would be the youngest winner in history, and Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour"), who is very very old. As DOS pointed out, giving Wallis the award would be ridiculous: A five-year-old does not study a script and create a character; she listens to a grown-up (the director) who tells her to make believe she's doing whatever it is he wants her to do. She's not acting: She's playing. As for Riva, I know nothing about her, and I'm sure she's wonderful. Some think she could contend simply based on her longevity (I guess she's big in France)--that this will be sort of valedictory moment in a successful career. But the fact that she is old and has never won an Oscar is insufficient reason to give her one now. To put it another way, if Peter O'Toole's never won an Academy Award, why should she?
Best Supporting Actress is another absolute lock: Anne Hathaway will win.
Best Actor, on the other hand, is the real toss-up. Even Silver is more or less stymied on this one. He gives a slight edge to Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") over Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") and Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"). "Django," incidentally, is the one nominated film I HAVE seen, and I will attest that Waltz is--to use the technical term--fucking awesome. He did, however, just win an Oscar three years ago ("Inglorious Basterds"), and I doubt he'll win another one so soon (and for another Tarantino film at that).
(DIGRESSION: Honestly, if I were to give anyone an acting nomination for "Django," it wouldn't have been Waltz, good as he is. And, no, it wouldn't have been Jamie Foxx or Leonardo DiCaprio, either, good as they both were. No, the truly remarkable performance in that film belongs to none other than Mr. Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a--I believe the polite-ish term is "House Negro," with a perfect combination of Uncle-Tom sycophancy and pure malevolence. Tasty! EOD)
As for Philip Seymour Hoffman (who, I was under the impression, was actually more of the lead in "The Master"), I'm sure he, too, was terrific. Let's face it, though, there are too many Scientologists in the Hollywood elite to expect an award to go to someone who essentially played L. Ron Hubbard--and not in a flattering way.
I think this award will go to Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"). Silver gives De Niro only the slightest chance of winning, but I think he's got this one wrong. In a field where there is no overwhelming consensus, no obvious choice--and in which all the nominees have previously won Oscars--I think this award WILL be a valedictory for a man who has long been a Hollywood icon and who hasn't won an award in thirty years.
So there you have it, folks. Who will do better, the Solipsist or the Silver Man? And, if I do better than Silver, do I get the job calling the next presidential election? Only time will tell.