For a while now, television has succeeded in making movies look bad, what with its opportunities for complex characters and enriching plotlines — but not so fast, TV!
Movies were pretty damn good in 2012, which means the Oscars have a shot at not being a substitute for Ambien this Sunday night, unlike last year, when everyone except The Artist and Co. went home unhappy. The big winners probably won't surprise anyone, Hurt Locker-style, but neither will they raise the hairs on the back of your neck in anger at the injustice of it all, like Crash's 2005 win did. Argo will likely nab best picture, because Ben Affleck shakes the right hands, and his snub for best director needs to be atoned for (at least if the film's wins at the run-up awards, including the Golden Globes and the Director's Guild, are any indication). Also, it's a movie about how a movie saved people's lives, and the Academy loves to congratulate itself more than it likes to congratulate anyone else, even though Lincoln, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty are all better pictures. And because there are so many strong contenders, and therefore so many deserving people who will be going home statue-less, it's only right that we make a subjective list of whom the Oscar should go to but probably won't.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playback
Zero Dark Thirty
What should win: Zero Dark Thirty
Why: If this choice was based purely on how delightful a movie was to watch, then we'd have to go with Silver Linings Playbook. If it was a matter of being moved by oratory skills and deft writing, then Lincoln couldn't be beat. But endings matter, and while there's an awesome dance-off in the former and historic legislation in the latter, Osama bin Laden gets killed in Zero Dark Thirty. Director/writer Kathryn Bigelow and cowriter Mark Boal play out a national revenge fantasy without being cavalier or madly heroic in the process, and the only upside to its snubbing this award season is the comforting notion that the country is less jingoistic than it was ten years ago. The outcry over what some critics saw as the explicit endorsement of torture, which was arguably a factual depiction of it, surely hurt the film's chances. It's tense and relentless and blissfully free of romance, and the denouement lends every scene of corkboard-organizing and tactical jargon a thrilling momentum. If Spielberg, or even Affleck, were attached to this one, it's hard to imagine it being overlooked.
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who should win: David O. Russell
Why: Because Kathryn Bigelow isn't nominated, and Lincoln is a fantastic play that doesn't necessarily need Spielberg at its helm — screenwriter Tony Kushner and star Daniel Day-Lewis left much more of an impression. But Silver Linings was odd and funny and treated the tricky subject of mental illness with sensitivity and humor. O. Russell managed to get a fresh performance out of a veteran star like Robert De Niro and a surprising performance out of The Hangover's Bradley Cooper. In a year of formidable, serious films, Silver Linings offered some uplift, but without falling into too-quirky territory in order to do so. This doesn't mean we forgive the screenwriter-director for calling Lily Tomlin a cunt on the set of I Heart Huckabees, though.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)
Who should win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Why: No one else could have done what he did. Day-Lewis arrived onscreen as if he had this performance in him his entire life (although that could be said about most of his roles). When the first trailers for the film debuted, his Lincoln was a little jarring — was the president's voice really that fragile? — but it worked, and Day-Lewis wore all of Lincoln's stress and conveyed all of his charms. There's no way he won't win, and we can't even pretend like someone else should.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Lings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Who should win: Quvenzhane Wallis
Why: Excluding Watts, whose nomination here is peculiar, this is a strong category. Chastain locked into some kind of strange, nearly sick intensity for the part of a CIA agent in relentless pursuit of bin Laden, but she and Lawrence are both on the come-up, so in some ways, they cancel each other out. Riva and Wallis bookend the category in terms of age, and Riva's heartbreaking turn as a stroke victim in Amour might be the most accomplished performance of the five. But Wallis was truly mesmerizing. It could certainly be argued that she isn't so much acting as being a kid who lacks self-consciousness — and the absence of later success for child stars suggests this is generally the case — but that lack of self-consciousness is something all actors try to recapture and she shouldn't be overlooked because of her youth.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Why: Because it would break this five-way tie of former winners, all of who are great, but none of whom really distinguish themselves in this category. Leonardo's performance in Django was a total departure for him (it marked his first time playing a villain), and he lit up the screen for the time he was on it. How he wasn't nominated is beyond us.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Who should win: Jacki Weaver
Why: To see the look on Anne Hathaway's face. She's been campaigning hard for this award, she probably feels she's owed it for making the best of the raw deal she got while hosting the Oscars with James Franco a few years back, and she's the best thing about Les Mis. She has this in the bag, but her naked ambition makes her slightly hard to root for. Jacki Weaver, on the other hand, is totally subtle and great, even though her chances are nil.
"Before My Time" (Chasing Ice)
"Everybody Needs a Best Friend" (Ted)
"Pi's Lullaby" (Life of Pi)
"Suddenly" (Les Misérables)
Who should win: Adele and Paul Epworth for "Skyfall"
Why: It stands on its own as a good song apart from the cinematic schmaltz, which so few of these nominees ever do. And it immediately draws you into the movie, as all James Bond openings are supposed to. P.S. Whose terrible idea was it to take the Les Misérables soundtrack and add a song to it? Sacrilege.
Keep in mind most of these picks, except for Daniel Day-Lewis, are guaranteed to wreck your ballot on Sunday — but we feel really good about Fresh Guacamole for Best Animated Short if that helps. Check back for a post-Oscars wrap-up on Monday.