Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
An argument could be made, as IndieWire did last week, that this is easily the most unpredictable race of the entire year. With Hoffman winning the Critics’ Choice Award, Waltz winning the Golden Globe and Jones nabbing the SAG “Actor,” relying on precursors isn’t nearly as useful as it normally is. To make matters worse, each nominee has won before, so there is hardly a veritable “lifetime achievement” factor to consider. So forgive me if I ask you to take my prediction with a grain of salt.
Were I to choose the most vulnerable of the five nominees, I’m afraid it would be a near-dead heat between Arkin and Hoffman. While everybody loves Arkin, and while everybody loves him in the movie surrounding him, his presence as a wise-cracking Hollywood coot is a little too lightweight when compared to the other work in this category. Feel free to say “Argo fuck yourself” to Hoffman too; while his presence is palpable, it’s at the service of a movie I doubt many Academy voters bothered to grapple with, provided they even gave it a chance.
Jones is the one many are calling out as the likely favorite. His win wouldn’t surprise me a bit, though I can’t quite scrub from my brain the unfortunate statistic that as of today, Steven Spielberg has yet to direct a single actor to an Oscar. That will probably change thanks to Mr. Day-Lewis, but will the Academy be so kind to the crew under Spielberg’s employ? It’s very possible, but I’m still hedging my bets. Christophe could very easily waltz away with the Supporting Actor Trophy as well; he’s arguably the lead of Django, after all. But there are two compromising qualities to his nomination that give me pause: first, his inclusion on the shortlist was itself a surprise – many thought DiCaprio would get a shout-out for sure. Second, Harvey Weinstein has openly lamented his failure to promote both Django and The Master this awards season (yet another reason, incidentally, to discount Hoffman). But Harvey isn’t exactly a slouch of a campaigner, so I’m thinking this is just his nice way of saying he has bigger fish to fry right now.
And that fish is a fish named Bobby. There are two near-indisputable facts about De Niro being vollied about this season: first, the two-time Oscar winner is a national treasure. The second is that his deeply affecting performance in Silver Linings Playbook is a much-needed reminder of that first fact. You can’t tell me that the Weinstein Machine isn’t peddling that narrative as hard as it can, and I am willing to think that earning De Niro his first piece of institutional recognition in over three decades will be Harvey’s most successful campaign of the night. I don’t deny this is a risky bet; De Niro’s not won any of the precursors, and there’s little hard evidence to state comfortably that this race is his to lose. But this category is no stranger of surprise (Arkin over Murphy? Spacey over Harris?). In the spirit of De Niro’s own character, I’m inclined to bet against all the odds, and in his favor.
Predicted Winner: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Preferred Winner: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Write-In Vote: Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Hathaway’s going to win this one. Easy enough, no contest, class dismissed. You might think her role as Fantine is too small, too inconsequential to her film’s greater workings, and that might make winning a bigger challenge. But you forget that this is the category daring enough to honor Shakespeare in Love’s Judi Dench and Network’s Beatrice Straight for giving glorified cameos. What’s more, Hathaway’s is the performance of the twenty nominated this year that most stridently bellows the plea: “Give the Oscar to MEEEEE!!!!”
To be fair, though, I quite dug Hathaway’s transparent schtick. Flamboyant and earnest and more in tune with the material than her director, she was just about the only thing I loved – or even particularly liked – about Les Misérables’ spirit-murdering kitsch. But even I would argue there are at least two performances I find more deserving to win. The amount of effort Sally Field gave into retaining her role as Mary Todd in Lincoln, even as the project nearly abandoned her, is already quite storied; storied enough that she almost deserves the Oscar out of pity. But for the Academy “pity” isn’t quite enough this time. They might like Field, but this time, they only “like like” her. Let’s talk now about Amy Adams, who gives one of the most transfixing performances of the year in The Master and presents a genuinely transfixing persona utterly impossible to pin down. But like her spousal counterpart in the other supporting category, hers is a movie criminally under-seen and under-valued.
It feels almost gratuitous to say neither Jacki Weaver nor Helen Hunt stand a chance. Weaver’s surprise Silver Linings nod last month (rightly) inspired more than a few raised eyebrows, so she’ll just have to enjoy hearing her name called merely before the envelope gets opened. It’s a genuine pity Hunt didn’t gain more traction, seeing as her sex therapist role in The Sessions inspired her best work in ages. Unfortunately, a voting block as conservative as the Academy is very particular about the sex workers in their movies; to earn an Oscar, they must wallow in as much sorrow and misery as humanly possible. Unfortunately, the profession of Hunt’s character – one chosen, one happily practiced – is a bit too rosy for this contest.
I’m being slightly facetious here, but only slightly. My point is that Hunt will lose, as will her three of her co-nominees. And they will lose because they are not named “Anne Hathaway.”
Predicted Winner: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Preferred Winner: Amy Adams, The Master
Write-In Vote: Cecile De France, The Kid With a Bike