‘Argo,’ ‘Silver Linings Playbook,’ ‘Lincoln’: Who Will Win On Oscar Night?

Ramin Setoodeh and Marlow Stern predict what will go down at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.

Best Picture

Ramin: This turned out to be such a hard year for predicting the Oscars! The winner was supposed to be Argo, until it was Silver Linings Playbook, until it was Les Miserables, until it was Zero Dark Thirty, until it was Lincoln. But after the guild awards were announced, the momentum swung back to Argo, which I am grateful for, because even if it’s not the best movie of the year, it’s one of the best, and so much better than the C-SPAN presentation that was Lincoln. If I could choose, I would have voted Les Miserables, the epic and excessive (in the best way) movie musical. I still remember the night in late November that we both saw it at Lincoln Center, and we thought it had the Best Picture Oscar in the bag. Oh well. We dreamed a dream. I’ll still be cheering when Affleck takes the podium.

Who should win: Les Miserables

Who will win: Argo

Marlow: It really is a difficult year in the Best Picture category. Much of the confusion, I think, is due to the Academy’s bizarre weighted voting system, as well as the nine nominees. It’s so odd. The whole point of expanding the category from five to eight to 10 nominees was to include blockbuster fare—thereby upping the Oscar ceremony’s dwindling ratings—but since the Academy is still failing to recognize films like The Dark Knight Rises, it’s proven futile. And this year, pundits in the media have treated the Oscar race like a political one, flooding the Internet and airwaves with hit piece after hit piece. The media first praised Zero Dark Thirty, then criticized it for its torture scenes, and then gave it the proverbial media-waterboarding…over and over again. The way that film was treated is ridiculous. I, too, am not a big fan of Lincoln. Yes, it made the inherently boring act of ratifying a bill far more compelling than it should be, but it felt like taking a nice stroll through an incredibly detailed wax museum. It’s an emotionally hollow film. And, speaking of politics, the Argo bandwagon has become entirely political. Following Affleck’s Best Director snub, it’s almost as if producer George Clooney rallied all his Hollywood pals behind the film, as it proceeded to sweep all the guild awards. Argo is a very good geopolitical thriller—I’d give it a B+—but it doesn’t deserve the Oscar, either. The most wildly original and mesmerizing film of the year, in my opinion, is still the post-Katrina fairytale Beasts of the Southern Wild. It’s the only film I’ve seen this year where I left the theater both emotionally sated, and with the feeling that I just witnessed something entirely unique. But alas, it doesn’t stand a chance amid all the Hollywood machinery.

Who should win: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Who will win: Argo

Best Director

Ramin: Ok, let’s move on. The director category could be the biggest surprise of the night, since the person who deserves to win—Ben Affleck—wasn’t nominated. Neither was Kathryn Bigelow. So where does that leave us? Steven Spielberg has been the presumed frontrunner since the nominations were announced, and he probably will get the award for Lincoln. If you want to win your Oscar pool, pick him! But I have a strange feeling that Spielberg feels too safe a choice; he already has two Oscars for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Those articles on the historical inaccuracies of his film won’t help either. Maybe it will be Ang Lee, because Life of Pi is such a sprawling achievement, and the Academy loves him. But I’m going to pick David O. Russell. A vote for him is a vote for actors, since he made one of the best ensembles of the year. And he’s been the most visible on the campaign trail, talking about mental illness and stopping at the White House for a photo op with Joe Biden.

Who should win: Ben Affleck, Argo

Who will win: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Marlow: As far as Best Director goes, George Clooney once choked out David O. Russell on the set of Three Kings for berating an extra and Clooney is, ironically, the producer on Best Picture competitor Argo. So they meet again. I loved Silver Linings Playbook and think Russell is a fantastic filmmaker who manages to wrangle the best performances out of his actors—look at the fire he lit under De Niro—but I’m reluctant to dole out the Best Director Oscar to someone who decided to stage every big emotional scene of his film in the middle of a road (Get it? They’re at an emotional crossroads!). And did you say Ben Affleck deserves to win? Look, Argo is a fine achievement, and a major leap forward from a straightforward genre film like The Town, but there is no way Affleck deserves to win the Best Director Oscar over the rest of the field. If you compare the direction in a film like Argo with that of Zero Dark Thirty, another geopolitical thriller, it’s not in the same league. Kathryn Bigelow deserves this award for Zero Dark Thirty. She managed to compress the hunt for Osama bin Laden into a riveting 160-minute picture. But alas the Academy, in true political fashion, didn’t nominate her because of the film’s touchy subject matter. So, of the nominees, Michael Haneke deserves the award for his understated and masterful direction in Amour. But the Oscar will probably go to Spielberg for Lincoln in what will be another picture/director split, a la Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan at the ’99 ceremony.

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Who should win: Michael Haneke, Amour

Who will win: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Actor

Ramin: Daniel Day-Lewis will win for his performance as a Madame Tussauds wax figure in Lincoln. You can expect an understated acceptance speech when he becomes the first man to have picked up three lead-actor statues, following his victories for 2007’s There Will Be Blood and 1989’s My Left Foot. (Jack Nicholson has three Oscars as well, but one of those is supporting.) It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Day-Lewis’ performance, it’s just that—like everything in Lincoln—I wish there was more soul. I’d be curious to see what a Joaquin Phoenix acceptance speech would look like, even if The Master was such a terrible movie, it made me seasick. Will he even show up? For me, my favorite male performance was Hugh Jackman in Les Miz. Anne Hathaway has been winning all the trophies, but his movie musical hero is timeless.

Who should win: Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Marlow: Daniel Day-Lewis will indeed make history and win his third Best Actor Oscar statuette for his portrayal of Honest Abe. I thought he was very good in Lincoln. It was a finely calibrated performance with great attention to detail. (While I’m not entirely sure—nor is anyone else—how the hell Lincoln actually acted, from what I’ve read, it seems to be pretty spot-on.) However, it paled in comparison to Joaquin Phoenix’s feral turn in The Master, which is, in my estimation, the best performance by any actor—male or female—this year. Phoenix fully inhabits Freddie Quell, a disillusioned paint thinner-guzzling WWII Navy veteran prone to fits of rage. Freddie is pure, unadulterated id; a “beast”, as the charismatic mystic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) describes him. The “processing” scene where Lancaster asks Freddie a series of probing questions is like a master class in acting, as Phoenix goes from frustratingly curt to emotional wreck in a matter of minutes. This is Phoenix’s third nomination, after Walk the Line and Gladiator, and despite his ire toward the Academy, he deserves the Oscar for delivering the year’s finest performance.

Who should win: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress

Ramin: May the odds be ever in her favor. After The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence has been great in everything. I even liked her in House at the End of the Street, the low-budget Silence of the Lambs rip-off that came out last fall. She’s going to win an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook (a part she landed over Rachel McAdams and Blake Lively). In the last few days, some bloggers have started wondering if there could be an upset in this category—Emmaneulle Riva won the BAFTA, and the Oscars are on her 86thbirthday. But foreign-film actresses don’t usually win this category. Jessica Chastain is great, but I don’t think the Academy likes Zero Dark Thirty enough to award her the prize. And 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis is too young. It’s J-Law all the way.

Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Who will win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Marlow: I feel bad for Naomi Watts. She is one of the finest actresses around, struggled for a decade to break into Hollywood, and probably should have won for 21 Grams (over Charlize Theron in Monster). That scene where she freaks out on Sean Penn (“I am paralyzed here!”) stuck with me for days. And she delivers another heroic, unglamorous turn as a tsunami victim torn apart from her family in The Impossible, but alas, Jennifer Lawrence is an absolute force of nature as Tiffany, a widow/recovering sex addict, in Silver Linings Playbook. Unlike her competition—Chastain’s performance is very measured, and Riva’s mostly consists of portraying an old woman’s physical decline—Lawrence fires on all cylinders. Her Tiffany is funny, sassy, courageous, and heartbreaking, and Lawrence is so gifted she can make huge emotional left turns at the drop of a hat. The scene where she verbally undresses a room full of angry Philadelphia Eagles fans after a loss, including acting legend Robert De Niro, and then casually pops a beer after, is evidence of her natural gift. That Lawrence is only 22 is just remarkable.

Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Who will win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor

Ramin: Weirdly, this is an actual race, but with no stakes, since all the nominees are already Oscar winners. I guess it’s a showdown between Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln and Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook. Either can win, but Jones’s SAG victory gives him an edge. And I think a Day-Lewis/Jones ticket will be how many Academy ballots read. I know I’m in the minority for saying this, but I really loved Alan Arkin’s performance in Argo. He plays the loudmouth jackass producer so perfectly, you don’t realize how much of the movie he carries. It’s his character that personifies all the Hollywood parts of the story, and there’d be no Argo without Arkin.

Who should win: Alan Arkin, Argo

Who will win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Marlow: Wasn’t he just doing his usual Alan Arkin shtick, though? He was still very good, no question, but if I had my pick I’d give the Oscar to Robert De Niro for his OCD sympathetic father in Silver Linings Playbook. I’ve said this before, but I am shocked—SHOCKED—that De Niro isn’t the runaway favorite to win the Oscar here. He’s our greatest living actor and hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar in 21 years. Plus, following a string of not-so-good films in the 2000s, this is a comeback role of sorts. Has he really lost that much favor over the last decade that people forget how brilliant he is? I’m sensing a certain lack of respect here for Mr. De Niro in not making him the shoo-in, and it’s upsetting. I love the scene where he has to shake his legs before getting out of bed in the middle of the night to regulate his son (Bradley Cooper) mid-freak-out, slapping him silly. Or the scene where he tearfully confesses that he’d love for his son to join him watching football? Heartbreaking. This is the De Niro we all know and love—the cinema icon.

Who should win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Who will win: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actress

Ramin: Sally Field is probably getting more votes than people expect as Mrs. Lincoln. But Anne Hathaway should (and deserves) to prevail for Fantine.

Who should win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Who will win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Marlow: This is the weakest that this category has been in years, which explains why Jacki Weaver somehow slipped in for making “crabby snacks and homemades” and getting elbowed in the face by Bradley Cooper. And this is also the most anti-climactic category in play this year because not only is Hathaway deserving of the award for her outstanding turn as Les Miz’s doomed prostitute, Fantine—and her jaw-dropping, convulsing rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream”—but she will win, too. I just hope her speech isn’t too agonizing to listen to.

Who should win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Who will win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Tune in to the 85th Academy Awards on Sunday at 7pm E.T. on ABC.