Oscar Predictions #1, by Nathan Vass

Here are my predictions and analyses for the 85th Annual Academy Awards in all categories except the shorts. This write-up has nothing to do with my actual opinions of how good the various films are. This is the Oscars, after all.

For in-depth discussion on the quality of the films themselves, refer to my top ten for the year here.

Winning Oscars has to do with a lot more than merely being great; here I take into account all the other factors one has to consider when making predictions. This year has a number of elements that set it apart from other years. I hope you find the read enjoyable.

Visual Effects

Life of Pi, hands down. If the film wins one award, this’ll be it. Industry attitude toward The Hobbit and Peter Jackson is generally tired and negative, and none of the other three nominees contain visuals that wow to the degree that Pi‘s does. I don’t see much room for discussion here.

Sound Mixing

This refers to mixing done on set and in post, for the final track. In a nutshell, it refers to the use of existing sounds captured on set. With Les Mis being the first musical with entirely on-set recording, that film has this award in the bag. No real contest. Skyfall had excellent sound work, but it won’t be able to beat Les Mis. The others have no business beating it out.

Sound Editing

This refers to the creation of sounds not recorded on set, like footsteps, ADR, animal noises, gunshots, and so on- just about anything these days. With that in mind, you have five very worthy nominees. I see the most exceptional ones being the third act of Zero Dark Thirty, and all of Skyfall; Argo and Django both had very complex soundscapes as well (where else will you hear the sound of a hammer smashing into a preserved skull?). I see the topical nature of Zero giving it the edge.

Remember, however, that although we may know the difference between the two sound categories, the voters may not: winners are voted on by all members, while nominations are nominated only by those within their field. That means sound editors nominate the sound editors, but everyone votes amongst those five nominees for the winner. Do you think Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael J. Fox are experts in the realm of sound mixing and editing? Could they hold a conversation with Gary Rydstrom about sound for longer than ten minutes? No. They’re going to vote on the movie with “the most sounds” or the one that sounded the nicest to their pretty ears (Chicago, Ray, etc). From that standpoint, the movie with “the most sounds” is probably Skyfall, but Zero happens to be a much better film that also has undeniably excellent sound work; I see it taking the award.


Adele, no question about it. Suddenly, from Les Mis, is too blatant of a ploy to win the award- it’s the only tune from the film not original to the play, and therefore the only one eligible for this award. Had Les Mis been an excellent film, it would have a fighting chance, but the film just doesn’t have what it takes. It helps that Adele’s song was a good one, and that no Bond song has won before- I see that as a benefit here, as it stands for all non-winning Bond songs. It also happens to be perhaps the best of any of them; this is also a bone that voters can throw to Skyfall, as it may not win any other awards. Unlike Les Mis, Skyfall is perceived as a quality picture with good reviews and box office that’s worthy of the award.


Nobody liked Anna K (except me), and the music didn’t leave a strong enough impression to break out of that perception; Desplat writes what seems like several scores every month, and nobody will feel bad if he doesn’t win for Argo; and the score certainly isn’t the high point of the film- though a win at that point in the ceremony could single out Argo as a film that will take home more than just Best Picture. All Thomas Newman scores sound the same, and Williams seems to have gone out of vogue; that leaves Pi’s Mychael Danna, who’s never won, and will lose Best Song to Adele. It’s his.

Hair and Makeup

This should be eaten up by Cloud Atlas, which had not just the best makeup of the year but among the best I’ve ever seen. They made Halle Berry a white person, for Pete’s sake. They made Jim Sturgess Asian, and Hugh Grant a woman. There were times when you couldn’t tell which A-list actor you were looking at. It’s not nominated, however, and wasn’t even on the Shortlist. Had it crossed $100m domestic, it’d be here. You could bet on it. The political means a lot at the Oscars, and it’s for that reason that I don’t see Hobbit winning, though it might be deserving; I don’t feel enough of the Academy saw the film, and the general sentiment in Hollywood is too strongly against it. Hitchcock is a non-starter here. The film didn’t make enough waves. This is going to Les Mis.


By far the most important tech award. No movie can win Best Picture, statistically speaking, if it isn’t also nominated for Editing. While watching the show, if the movie that wins Editing is also up for Picture, you can safely assume that that film will take top honors. Which means one would assume that Argo would eat this up.

However! We might have a split this year, because it’s pretty difficult to argue that Argo’s editing is better than Zero Dark Thirty’s. The latter is a phenomnal achievement in both kinds of editing- structural organization and scene-by-scene cuts. You’ve got a 160-minute movie with nary a dull moment, and an explosive third act that’s undeniable. If this were being voted on by the editing branch only, I might think Zero would have it (and I would be wrong: Argo won the Eddies). This is further complicated by the fact that Zero and Argo are edited by the exact same person, William Goldenberg. With that in mind, they might just vote for the film they like the most. The same damn guy’s gonna get the award. Thus, Argo.

I firmly believe the more deserving recognition would be for the other film, however (which was also co-edited by Dylan Tichenor, PTA’s regular editor), and would be thrilled to see it do so.


This award seems to always go to the most deserving period piece. That’s difficult to argue with. It doesn’t matter that no one (again, except me) likes it: we can all tell that the most deserving period piece out of this bunch is Anna K. Every moment of the film was gorgeous to look at, and the costumes were sublime. Hands down, the winner.


As someone trained in photography, it’s hard for me not to let my personal bias get in the way here. Life of Pi, in my opinion, is not a deserving winner. That would be Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which, regardless of content, we have to agree was an amazing technical accomplishment. If you had a chance to see it in 65mm, you’ll no doubt agree.

Looking at what we have nominated here: I felt Anna K is the best shot film, technically and creatively, of the five. Seamus McGarvey makes the claustrophobic set a soaring, fluid, magical place, as his camera swoops and careens around its actors. It’s not going to win. Robert Richardson is amazing on Django, as he always is- perhaps our most interesting living cinematographer, creating the most visually interesting work for Scorsese, Tarantino, Stone, and others. However, he won last year, for Hugo. He’s not going to win two years in a row for a movie that’s not a BP frontrunner.

Skyfall is shot by Roger Deakins, on his first foray into digital. it’s a beautiful-looking film, as all Deakins’ films are, but it’s limited by its format; digital just doesn’t look as good as film, especially when it’s trying to do emulate film. Having said that, I’d love to see Deakins actually win an Oscar- incredibly, he has none. That leaves Life of Pi, which is a visual feast not because of its camerawork but because of its effects. Is Gwyneth Paltrow going to make that distinction? I’m going to be optimistic and go out on a limb here and succumb to my wishful thinking and say that yes, she will, and she and others like Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas will reflect on Deakins storied career- no.

Nope- remember, Life of Pi is nominated in every applicable tech category. The Academy loves it. It’s going to win. It can’t win any above-the-line awards, so it’ll win as many tech awards as it can. And this is one of the ones it can win.

Sets (Production Design)

The prognosticators are split over this one. Half are going with Anna, and the other half is choosing Mis. I say it’ll land with the more popular film, and with Anna currently standing at $12m and Mis with $145.7m, it’s easy to see which melodrama people are responding more to. Les Mis for sets.


What wins here is also what wins Foreign Film: the film that is either about the Holocaust, or, if that is not available, the film that is the most uplifting. The Gatekeepers is about Israel, but it’s not specifically Holocaust-centric enough. Sugar Man, on the other hand, is exhilarating. It has the win in the bag.

Best Foreign LanguageFilm

Do we even have to ask? Let’s just get this part of the ceremony over with. When was the last time a Foreign film was nominated for Foreign Film AND Best Picture, AND had directing and lead acting awards? Not to mention writing? It can’t win Picture, so it’s basically guaranteed a win here. We know from the other noms how much the Academy loves this. No contest.

Animated Film

Usually, we can say with confidence that the Pixar effort will win. However, the consensus over Brave seems unanimous in that it is not their best film, or even a very good one on its own terms. Nobody thinks it’s bad, but that’s not really what you want to say about something that’s about to win an Oscar. Wreck-It Ralph deserves points for creativity, and this will be a rare Animated Oscar that doesn’t go Pixar’s way.

Best Adapted Screenplay

It’s Argo. It might be Lincoln, but Argo‘s screenplay is so obviously impressive, with its dexterity and nimble shifts in tone, that it sticks strongly in the viewer’s mind. Plus it’s entertaining as all get out. Kushner’s screenplay for Lincoln is great, but he buckles at the end after a magnificent 2.5 hours- which, interestingly, he also did with Munich and Angels in America.

Original Screenplay

A rare award Argo can’t win. Zero Dark ¬†has the reportage, the structure, the interest, and the topical nature. Flight was a bad screenplay- simplistic, aimless, reductive, interfering with a great Denzel performance. Moonrise doesn’t have the industry support. Django is among Tarantino’s best. Marc Boal already won the Oscar in 2010- hard for that to happen again, as promising as the film is. Amour is more of an acting showcase, but seems like the type of film they might award screenplay. A tough call. I’d be happy with 4 of these 5; Tarantino’s work here really is among his best; I’ll go with him and be optimistic. Remember, he hasn’t taken the stage since 1995.

Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway. On the basis of that one shot. ‘Nuff said.

Supporting Actor

Every single one of the nominees has already won Oscars. Waltz was too recent, and his role too similar to Basterds; he’s out. Alan Arkin won recently as well, and he doesn’t dominate the role in the way that the other roles in other films are in this category; Hoffman is a significant presence, but his film is a bit cold for the Academy; Tommy Lee is excellent but not widely liked.

Then you have Bob DeNiro, who’s done about everything he can in the last 18 years to destroy his legacy. He hasn’t quite been able to, since the first half of his career still towers over the acting landscape; he will always be one of the great actors in history. But- that was ages ago. Here, after almost two decades, we finally have him appearing in a good movie. Let’s give him an Oscar for it. It might encourage him to do it more often.

Best Actress

This is tough. Until a couple weeks ago, it was between Chastain and Lawrence. In that race, Chastain takes it, for a number of reasons that should be obvious- it’s a tougher role, Chastain’s proves herself a great actress in it, as she has elsewhere, and she basically carries the film. It’s not a female role defined by the male roles its subservient to- it is the single lead role of the film. However, it’s hampered by the campaign against the film, which has soured its reputation by inaccurately labeling it as a pro-torture piece.

Lawrence’s role, like it or not, is a supporting role billed as lead. She’ll be better later in more worthwhile material. Than you have Riva. She isn’t going to be nominated again. She may not be alive come Oscar night. She’s outstanding in a very difficult role. Will the other two be nominated again? Absolutely. Both are serious actors who care about appearing in strong films- Chastain definitely more so. Wallis is a no-go, and Watts is hampered by the reception of her film, loved in some circles but generally underseen or considered “good-not-great,” despite everyone agreeing that she’s terrific in it. Riva winning would also be a “Moment,” in terms of television awards shows; the Academy likes Moments.

I think I just talked myself into a Riva win. Let’s see what happens.

Best Actor

Day-Lewis. Only Daniel Day-Lewis is good enough to believably get a third lead actor Oscar after winning one only 7 years ago. He will get it, and he deserves to. Playing a legend as a decent, three-dimensional being is harder than it looks. It’s a lot easier to find the appeal in the monstrous, the flawed, or- yes, this is the Oscars- the mentally and physically handicapped. Lincoln faced impossible expectations. We were practically guaranteed to be disappointed. The fact that we weren’t is in large part due to Day-Lewis, who breathed life into what could’ve been a stale period piece, and brought unexpected humor and verve to a man we have a hard time thinking of as human.

Best Director

So, the winner here is almost always the DGA winner. Except this year, as we know, the DGA winner (Affleck) isn’t nominated. Write-in votes, anyone? Yes, such things are allowed, and there’s even a precedent: Bette Davis got in so many write-in votes in 1935 for Of Human Bondage that her tally was third place. Hal Mohr actually won Cinematography in 1936 exclusively off of write-in votes. Is this going to happen for Affleck? Of course not.

If the DGA noms had been announced before nominations voting closed, Affleck and Bigelow would’ve been nominated, as discussed below. But they weren’t. David O’Russell won’t win, as his film is very good but not strong enough, especially directorially; it’s being seen as mostly a showcase of acting and writing, although it does have very capable direction and especially editing. Benh Zeitlin doesn’t stand a chance, and Haneke is just too polarizing a figure.

Most people see this going to either Steven Spielberg or Ang Lee. I have trouble imagining Ang Lee taking this after winning the very same trophy for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. Steven, on the other hand, has a fair amount of respect- this has not always been the case in Hollywood, as he was for years a golden boy whom people loved to hate- and everyone agrees that Lincoln is his best film in years. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s dynamite enough to leave a strong impression. A few isolated groups have been proactive in trying to sully its reputation- yes, I’m referring to Jeff Wells and his laughable prediction of O’Russell for the win- but I feel that Steve will receive a third directing Oscar come Sunday night. His last win was 14 years ago, and most insiders know how long Spielberg has wanted to make the film.

Best Picture

argo-smallThe new schedule this year (read details here) has caused several things to happen. The biggest and most notable change to the schedule was that the voting for nominations closed before the nominations from the Director’s Guild were released. This year, Academy members had nowhere to turn to when coming up with what would be nominated for best director. In the past, they could always look up the guild nominations and just copy those. The lineup was usually 5 for 5, and in the rare year, 4 for 5. A Best Director Oscar always went to someone who was at least nominated for the DGA award.

If people thought Academy members did something other than copy the guild nominations, well, they can’t say that anymore after 2013; this being the first year that they couldn’t do so, the director nominations are hopelessly off mark as to compared the general consensus among the Guild (which has many more directors than the Academy does), as well as top ten lists, critics, and awards nominations elsewhere around the world. And the Academy is all about following the consensus.

Notice how their best picture winners usually represent the “vanilla” option. “Vanilla” refers to the hypothetical scenario wherein you have a room full of thirty people trying to agree on a favorite flavor of ice cream. They’re going to choose vanilla. Vanilla is no single person’s favorite flavor, of course, but it’s something anyone can agree on.

As for whether Argo is Driving Miss Daisy (won picture without being nominated for director) or Apollo 13 (won everything prior to Oscar night, then lost picture), I’m firmly in the Miss Daisy camp. In fact, I think it is precisely because of the fact that Affleck didn’t get nominated- no doubt a fluke resulting from the DGA-Oscar nomination schedule shifts- that Argo will win best picture.

Ben Affleck represents a career renaissance and trajectory that everyone loves. He survived the tabloid frenzy of movie-stardom to become an undeniably talented and respected director- that is, he went from man of fluff to gentleman of substance. We have to remember that the public’s first exposure to him, however, was as a legitimately talented individual, in the form of cowriter on Good Will Hunting. He broke out by winning an Oscar for that film with his friend Matt Damon. Somehow people- including Affleck himself, it seems- forgot he was a talented writer and spent about a decade in studio tentpoles like Armageddon, supporting roles wherein he was outshined by others, like Shakespeare in Love, or substandard- that’s being kind- efforts like Pearl Harbor and Reindeer Games.

There was, however, the occasional hint of talent in films like the underrated Changing Lanes. You would hear him in interviews and notice that he seemed more intelligent than his circumstances seemed to allow. For a laugh, listen to his Pearl Harbor commentary, in which he and Josh Hartnett bemoan the film they’re in, with quite a bit more self-awareness than one might expect. Meanwhile, there was the Gigli debacle, the J-Lo press circus, and the crash of the proposed Casablanca remake. He went under and stayed there for a bit.

Then, after a while, interesting things started to happen. He got notices at Venice for Hollywoodland, for which he would win best actor at that festival. Then, at his home studio of Miramax (Harvey was instrumental in the Affleck-Damon writing win in ’99), he was able to release Gone Baby Gone, which he cowrote and directed but did not star in. The direction was competent and admirable, but it was the quality of the writing that took people by surprise. The elucidation of the moral quandary that concludes the film was among the best writing of that year, and not all of it was coming from the Lehane novel. There was no getting around it: Affleck’s writing was not simply good but excellent, and seemed to be better behind the camera than he was in front of it. What gave? Wasn’t this the same guy who starred¬† in Daredevil and Jersey Girl?

If Gone Baby Gone proved his writing skills, 2010’s The Town solidified Affleck’s status as a director. The direction of several complex action scenes was highly impressive, involving intricate choreography and a skillful sense of physical geography throughout. In addition, he coaxed out excellent perfs from several actors, most notably Jeremy Renner, who, had the film had more substance, might’ve scored a supporting nom.

It’s with Argo, then, that Affleck rises to the A-list in terms of the new Hollywood directors. It’s undeniable. Here is a man transformed, who has done so with class and intelligence. The film is a showcase of craftwork in all departments, and the direction is no longer merely competent or admirable, but impossible not to notice. His editing and camera movement communicate layers of ideas and relate interlocking narrative strands with aplomb, while also maintaining a kinetic rhythm and tension to the piece.

It’s a feast with a little something for everyone who comes to the show- there’s depth for those who want it, and for those who don’t look for it, well, they’ll be wowed by the storytelling and humor. For those fascinated with aesthetics, there’s much to take away from the craftwork; folks interested in the history will find much to chew on as well. Whatever complaints we can summon up about the film pale in comparison to the film’s accomplishments. We take it for granted now that he’s as proficient as he is; people bring up his degree in Middle Eastern Affairs (from Vermont) often nowadays, as if we knew all along that he was a genius. Ten years ago, though, nobody knew that.

Affleck’s ascent represents an excellent narrative for the Academy, and they love a good story. It’s part of why he won in ’99 in the first place. The story that Harvey relentlessly pushed, framing Damon and Affleck as best friends who finally got their long-gestating script into reality, was a rags-to-riches tale everyone could get excited about. Here, Affleck’s rise to legitimacy is just as appealing.

Normally, all of this means he would win director, while Lincoln, a film destined to win best picture if there was one, would take the last award of the night. But Affleck can’t win director. The Guild dates got moved. He won the DGA, to the surprise of nobody.

Basically, he has to win something, and since he can’t win director, they’ll just have to give his film the top industry honors.

The wins at the BFCA, Globes, PGA, SAG, DGA, and WGA confirm it all. Every critic in town has Argo down for the win. Anything other than Argo for picture will be a major upset. It’s the year of Argo. And to be honest, I don’t really have a problem with that.

For more (and shorter) predictions, see Erik Samdahl’s Oscar predictions.

By Nathan Vass
Related categories: Awards & Oscars
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