It's Oscar week and only two movies are opening in Memphis, neither of them made available for screening in time for our deadlines. That sounds like a good excuse to move a portion of our annual online Oscar back-and-forth into print this year.
So here, just in time for your Oscar pools, we'll give our picks — and rationales — in the top eight categories. For more on what and who we think should win and what and who should have been nominated, go to memphisflyer.com/blogs/ singallkinds, where we'll have daily posts Tuesday-Friday leading up to Sunday's Oscar broadcast.
Chris Herrington: I might as well make a mockery of any "Oscarologist" pretensions right up front: Lincoln leads in nominations. Zero Dark Thirty leads in controversy. Argo, overlooked in the Best Director category, which is usually a death knell, is apparently now a frontrunner. But I'm calling a surprise: Silver Linings Playbook is a film people seem to really love and is the only one nominated in all major categories. In a split field, I think it squeaks through.
Greg Akers: Maybe it's because of how I felt when the nominees were announced — that Lincoln would roll to victory — that I still think I'm going out on a limb by not picking it. You call Argo a frontrunner, and it's hard to argue that it isn't: The film and director (Ben Affleck) have won every industry indicator award in the build-up to the Oscars. So I guess Argo is actually the safe bet and one that I will take. It's just crazy that six weeks ago it seemed like it had no shot when Affleck got shut out. (Last time a Best Picture winner didn't net a director nomination: Driving Miss Daisy.)
Akers: Since Affleck didn't get nominated for Best Director, this is a wide-open category. Well, actually, not really. I would be shocked — shocked! — if Steven Spielberg didn't take this one. Lincoln is both Oscar bait and actually terrific. A case could be made that Argo's Oscar-season blitzkrieg is precisely a consequence of Affleck's Director snub.
Herrington: With Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty's Kathryn Bigelow surprisingly left off the short list, I also have a hard time seeing anyone but Steven Spielberg winning here, even though Lincoln might be the least director-driven good film of his career. If I had to pick a spoiler: David O. Russell, only because I suspect Silver Linings Playbook might steal the night.
Best Original Screenplay
Herrington: This is where the apparent Zero Dark Thirty backlash confuses me most. My minimal contact in Oscar handicapping suggests this is the category where the film is most likely to win, but shouldn't Mark Boal's CIA-aided screenplay be the aspect of the film that most troubles the film's opponents? Would a win here be dissonant while Bigelow goes unnoticed for director? Misogynistic? In my confusion, I'm calling it for Michael Haneke for Amour, which has arguably the most overall strength of this category's nominees. And screenplay seems like the area where artier faves are more likely to prosper.
Akers: I agree with your thoughts on the Zero Dark Thirty controversy as it pertains to Boal and Bigelow. The fact that there's a controversy at all seems politically fabricated and something that I don't think will get in the way of Zero Dark Thirty winning. The controversy seems so "January." If it's anyone else walking away with it, I suspect it will be Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Akers: This is one tricky category to call. Well, maybe not. I think Argo will crush it here, again. But this will be a great indicator of which way the Academy will tip for Best Picture, as the other leading contenders, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, are featured in this category. Thirteen of the last 17 Writers Guild winners have won this category. Argo won the WGA. I'm a sucker for "advanced analytics."
Herrington: This feels like one of the stronger categories, and I won't be surprised if Argo or Silver Linings Playbook wins, but Lincoln has the most nominations and Tony Kushner's thoughtful, eloquent screenplay, almost as much as Daniel Day-Lewis' title performance, is its calling card. If Spielberg wins in Director but Kushner is bypassed here, it will be a disservice to what's best about the film. Disagreements like this are why I'm terrible at predicting the Oscars.
Best Supporting Actor
Herrington: This seems like a two-way race between Silver Linings Playbook's Robert De Niro and Lincoln's Tommy Lee Jones, even though The Master's Philip Seymour Hoffman gives the meatiest performance — not a girth reference — under consideration. I flipped a coin, and it came up Jones, but I'm going to buck chance for the less reliable strategy of following my gut and say Robert De Niro takes this for giving his most purposeful performance in more than a decade and in a film driven by its actors.
Akers: You almost convince me to pick De Niro. But you didn't. I actually think (and my picks suggest this) that Silver Linings Playbook is a paper tiger. I think it will win one major Oscar (we'll get to that shortly) but suspect its strong nomination showing says more about its ensemble nature than its real bona fides. (It's a terrific movie, though.) I hate myself for doing it, but I'm going to play it safe and pick between Tommy Lee Jones (who won the SAG) and my choice, Christoph Waltz (who won the Golden Globe and BAFTA) for Django Unchained. I'm a coward.
Best Supporting Actress
Akers: The only for-real lock of the night, Anne Hathaway wins for Les Misérables. I presume I don't have to expound.
Herrington: Sally Field has a shot here, but I don't think she really stands out that much amid a deep, great cast of supporting characters in Lincoln, despite having the only prominent female role. The smart money is indeed Anne Hathaway, who steals Les Misérables so thoroughly with her brief, early turn that the rest of the film never recovers from her subsequent absence.
Herrington: You really think Hathaway is the biggest lock of the night. Over Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln?
Akers: I do, but that's not pretending that Daniel Day-Lewis isn't a monster lock as well. Abraham Lincoln has got to be on the Mount Rushmore of most difficult Americans for an actor to successfully portray. Seems like it'd be so easy to fall into homespun caricature. What DDL does is remarkable — making Lincoln human and accessible while still pointing to the way he became an icon the instant he was killed — and may be even more impressive than the last time he proved he was the greatest actor on the planet, in There Will Be Blood.
Akers: It's gonna be either Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence, two young actresses (though they must look ancient to Quvenzhané Wallis) who have the promise to be nominated lots of times over their careers. This is the one category where the affection for Silver Linings Playbook plays into a win. It's an actors' movie, and Lawrence gets the best of it in the film as Tiffany, a prickly-pear, slutty widow with a heart of gold.
Herrington: A tough call, but Jennifer Lawrence seems to be the most beloved thing about a very beloved film. Hollywood wants to launch her into megastardom, and she might be worthy of it. While I responded very strongly to the film's updated screwball sensibility, it feels like Lawrence's role is too slight by Oscar standards up against the likes of Chastain and Amour's Emmanuelle Riva, but I'll stick with her.