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Could Bill Murray & Keira Knightley Be Oscar Winners? We Prematurely Predict Best Actor & Actress At The 2013 Academy Awards

Could Bill Murray & Keira Knightley Be Oscar Winners? We Prematurely Predict Best Actor & Actress At The 2013 Academy Awards

At the Academy Awards, Best Picture might be the big prize, but the ones that both the winners and the audience have the most emotional connection to tend to be the acting prizes. Seeing a beloved star, or a fresh-faced newcomer, finally pick up a statue more often than not ends up leading the mainstream media coverage; it’s always more moving than some producer’s acceptance speech.

This year, we saw Meryl Streep finally win her third, and Christopher Plummer win his first, becoming the oldest actor ever to pick up a statuette. Those might have been predicted a while off by many. Meanwhile, two relative unknowns, Jean Dujardin and Octavia Spencer, also became Oscar-winners. Anyone who claims that they predicted those twelve months ago is a liar. Once again, the awards season can be guessed at, but it also springs up all kinds of surprises.

After our picks for Best Picture yesterday, we’re going to take our now-annual stab at picking the acting categories, starting with best actor and actress. Last year, we didn’t do too badly, with four of the Best Actress nominees (if you count Viola Davis, who we’d pegged in Supporting), and three of the actors (albeit Brad Pitt for “Tree of Life,” rather than “Moneyball“). But like anything this far out, it’s educated guesses and luck rather than anything else.

The next twelve months promise has a number of meaty parts to choose from, with several previous winners coming back with roles that seem made for the category. Right now, Best Actress seems a little weaker, but that could all change by the time the awards season kicks off. So, with the usual caveats in place, below we’ve run down the major contenders for the two lead acting prizes, once more in descending order of likelihood.
 
Best Actor

Strong Contenders
Bill Murray – “Hyde Park On Hudson”
The other big presidential biopic of the year, this sees Franklin Delano Roosevelt being portrayed by Bill Murray, in a relatively straight role. And given that Murray was widely deemed to have been robbed nine years ago when he failed to win for his sole nomination to date, “Lost In Translation,” and given that biopics are normally a goldmine in this category (eleven of the last twenty winners of Best Actor and Actress played real people), Murray can probably go ahead and order his tux.

Daniel Day-Lewis – “Lincoln”
Given that the man has two Oscars already, and only missed out by the skin of his teeth for “Gangs of New York,” any Daniel Day-Lewis performance is going to get awards attention. But when that role is the part of a lifetime, President Abraham Lincoln, and directed by Steven Spielberg, it’s pretty much a lock. The question is, will the Academy feel that he’s been been honored too recently (“There Will Be Blood” five years ago) to take the prize again, particularly with such strong competition?

John Hawkes – “The Surrogate”
The toast of Sundance this year, John Hawkes‘ performance as journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, confined to an iron-lung because of polio since childhood, who becomes determined to lose his virginity, has all the makings of the kind of performance that Oscar eats up with a spoon. A few years ago, it might have slipped by, but veteran character actor Hawkes arrived on Academy radars with a nomination for “Winter’s Bone,” though he missed out this year for “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” The only hurdle would seem to be the subject matter: will the Academy embrace the combination of sex and disability?

Clint Eastwood – “Trouble With The Curve”
When you realize that Clint Eastwood has never won an acting Oscar, you’ll realize why we’ve pegged him this high for a film that’s mostly under the radar at this point. He’s been nominated twice — for “Unforgiven,” and “Million Dollar Baby,” but never picked one up, and given that he was already thought to have retired from on-screen appearances once before, this could well be the Academy’s last chance to honor one of the movies’ greatest stars? Does the film — a “Blind Side“-ish tale about a baseball scout losing his sight — sound particularly enticing? No. Will that matter? No.

Philip Seymour Hoffman – “The Master”
Another relatively recent winner (for “Capote” in 2006), Hoffman has reunited with Paul Thomas Anderson, for what could be the role of a lifetime: a charismatic intellectual in 1950s America who founds a Scientology-like religion. But will this film grab voters in the same way that Day-Lewis did as Daniel Plainview? Religion is a hot-button issue, even if the Scientology parallels have been dialed down since early drafts, and the film might well be less accessible, particularly given how strong the subject matter is. He’s still a formidable threat though.

Hugh Jackman – “Les Miserables”
Of all the roles in musical theater, Jean Valjean, the escaped convict turned wealthy factory owner caught up in revolution around whom everything revolves, is one of the real doozies. And Tom Hooper‘s film version provides the first cinematic musical role for Hugh Jackman, who’s had great success as a stage song and dance man over the years, so this certainly provides the Australian star, and former Oscar host, his best chance at a nomination. Indeed, in a weaker year, he might be the frontrunner. But musicals are so execution dependent, and Jackman might end up going the way of Daniel Day-Lewis in “Nine” if the film doesn’t work.

Terence Stamp – “Song For Marion”
Arguably this year’s Gary Oldman, Stamp has been nominated once before, but it was fifty years ago, for his screen debut in “Billy Budd.” Few would deny that the British actor is due, and we’ve been saying since we read the script that Paul Andrew Williams‘ “Song For Marion” provides the perfect vehicle for the actor. But we didn’t know then how fiercely competitive the year would turn out to be, and if the film fails to please crowds as “The King’s Speech” did, Stamp’s nomination could fall by the wayside. Then again, he has the best narrative of any of the contenders, and sometimes that’s the most important thing.

Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Great Gatsby”
Always the bridesmaid at the Oscars, Leonardo DiCaprio has often found himself missing out for his mega-hits (“Titanic,” “The Departed,” “Inception“), and beaten out by others when he is nominated. He’s perfectly suited for the title role in Baz Luhrmann‘s F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, but is this Leo’s year? He was shut out for “J. Edgar” because of strong competition and the film in general being poorly-received. If Luhrmann’s film doesn’t work, Leo’s chances will go with it.

Possibilities
Denzel Washington – “Flight”
Neither Denzel Washington or Robert Zemeckis have really been awards forces in a decade, but their first team-up, a drama about a substance-abusing airline pilot who becomes a hero after landing a damaged plane safely, certainly seems like it could be either’s best shot for a long time. But, the film doesn’t currently have a 2012 release date, and it’s likely studio types are waiting to see a cut before they determind if they have a horse in the race. But if they do, Denzel can’t be counted out and it’s certainly a much more substantial role than the action fare he’s been doing of late.

Bradley Cooper – “The Silver Linings Playbook”
Cooper has been ruling the multiplex the last couple of years with “The Hangover” films and “Limitless,” but 2012 sees him tackle serious fare. Sundance entry “The Words” and Derek Cianfrance‘s “The Place Beyond The Pines” are both on the way, but it’s his lead in David O. Russell’s film as a high school teacher released after four years in a mental institution, that could see him head to the Oscars. The Weinsteins have given it a prime Thanksgiving slot shared in recent years by “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech,” but we feel like Cooper may need to earn his stripes a little more before he gets a nomination. He, and the film, could well end up surprising, though.

Long Shots
Ben Affleck – “Argo”/”Untitled Malick”
If anyone in 2012 seems likely to pick up George Clooney‘s polymath mantle, it’s Ben Affleck: he’s starring in the latest Terrence Malick film, while also directing and leading “Argo.” Can either provide him with his first acting nomination? Perhaps. The risk is that they might cancel each other out (Clooney had two roles last year, but in different categories), and while “The Tree of Life” made it to nominations, none of them were for acting. Indeed, Malick’s films have never won a single acting nomination. “Argo” may be his better bet, as the lead among a strong ensemble, but it doesn’t strike us as the kind of part that gets a nomination.

Jamie Foxx – “Django Unchained”
Foxx has one Oscar already, but Quentin Tarantino‘s “Django Unchained” provides by far the actor’s best chance, post-“Ray,” for another. Indeed, had Will Smith taken the role that QT wrote for him, he’d be in a very good position — a major star, playing against type in a big way. But it’s a less surprising move with Foxx, and we maintain that the film is a tough sell for Academy voters, given its powder-keg racial subject matter, and pulpy treatment.

Robert Pattinson – “Cosmopolis”
Starring in a David Cronenberg film has never been the way to Oscar, but “A Dangerous Method” was certainly the director’s most palatable film to date (some would argue too much so…), and things won’t get too much freakier in his Don DeLillo adaptation. Indeed, the lead role, of a limo-bound billionaire, has the potential to be a real tour de force. But will Robert Pattinson be able to gain real respect by pulling it off? Word on “Bel Ami” from Berlin was fairly weak, but we’re genuinely rooting for him to pull this one off. We suspect even if he does that this won’t be a nomination year for him, but you never know. 

Also In The Mix: Brad Pitt has another shot with Andrew Dominik‘s “Cogan’s Trade,” but it doesn’t feel like Oscar material to us. Robert Redford could make a comeback with the impressively cast thriller “The Company You Keep,” while Matthew McConaughey‘s been on the comeback trail. His ace performance in “Killer Joe” won’t go anywhere, but could either “Mud” or “The Paperboy” earn him a nomination? Colin Firth‘s had good form in the category, but his best chance “The Railway Man,” still hasn’t started filming, so may well not end up making it to theaters in time.

Ryan Gosling and Tom Hardy both get new chances with “The Place Beyond The Pines” and “The Wettest County,” respectively, and while it’s an unknown quantity, Guy Pearce has the chance to pick up his first nomination for Drake Doremus‘ untitled next film. And finally, could Christian Bale get recognition for “The Dark Knight Rises“? Almost certainly not, but stranger things have happened.

Best Actress

Strong Contenders
Keira Knightley – “Anna Karenina”
While we we’re still not quiet certain of the Oscar chances for the experimental “Anna Karenina” (which is not to slight the film), the title role is a doozy no matter how much Joe Wright plays with form, and he’s already gotten Keira Knightley one Oscar nomination for “Pride & Prejudice.” The actress hasn’t got the nod since, but she gets stronger and stronger each time around, and the film’s her best showcase in years. In what’s looking like a thin year in this category at this point, she might even be the front-runner, unless critics wildly take against the film.  

Viola Davis – “Won’t Back Down”
Widely expected to win this past weekend for “The Help,” Viola Davis lost out to Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady” in the end. But fortunately, she has another film in the pipeline, albeit one not on many radars yet: Walden Media‘s inspirational drama “Won’t Back Down.” Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal play parents who help take over the kids’ failing schools. It seems like the kind of “Blind Side“-ish tale that could connect with voters, and Davis losing out this year may help her out next time around. On the down side, it’s written and directed by “Beastly” helmer Daniel Barnz, but then, Tate Taylor didn’t exactly hurt “The Help” much.

Laura Linney – “Hyde Park On Hudson”
While all the headlines on “Hyde Park On Hudson” lead with Bill Murray playing FDR, Roger Michell‘s film isn’t exactly lacking in acting talent elsewhere. The film centers on Roosevelt’s rumored extramarital relationship with his distant cousin, Margaret Stuckley, and it’s three-time nominee Laura Linney who has that role, opposite Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt. Linney’s never won, and the film seems to display the kind of tragic, thwarted love that always plays well, but it’s conceivable that she could end up going supporting, although our money’s on lead for now.

Helen Hunt – “The Surrogate”
Helen Hunt is arguably the Best Actress winner of the last few decades who’s had the most disappointing post-Oscar career (on second thoughts, Halle Berry might beat her to that one…) Choices like “Pay It Forward” failed to keep her on the A-list, and she’s been barely seen on the big screen in the last few years. But Sundance reviews of “The Surrogate” suggested that Hunt, who plays the forward-thinking sex therapist of the title, might well be heading back to the Oscar stage this year. As with co-star John Hawkes, the frank, explicit material could hurt her more than help her, but that’s arguably less of a deal-breaker for an actress than for an actor (see: Berry in “Monster’s Ball“)…

Possibilities
Sandra Bullock – “Gravity”
No actress in 2012 has to face a tougher physical challenge than Sandra Bullock in Alfonso Cuaron‘s “Gravity” — the 2010 Oscar-winner has to carry the vast majority of the film on her own, acting mostly against CGI, while being suspended in an approximation of zero-gravity, in a spacesuit. There’s no reason to think she won’t be able to pull the part off: the big question is, will Academy members be able to get past the genre nature of the film?

Carey Mulligan – “The Great Gatsby”
Since breaking out in “An Education” (for which she was nominated for Best Actress), Carey Mulligan has turned in excellent performances in everything from “Never Let Me Go” to “Shame,” but further Oscar gold hasn’t followed. But if ever a part could give her another chance, it’s Daisy, the love of Jay Gatsby’s life, in “The Great Gatsby.” If she wasn’t already the most sought-after actress in Hollywood, it’s the kind of part that would make her so, and no one’s doubting her skills at this point. It’s possible that she might campaign in Supporting Actress, but given that she has a good chance there too, for The Coen Brothers‘ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” we imagine she’ll want to spread the love.  

Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “Smashed”
While alcoholism drama “Smashed” didn’t quite get the same buzz as fellow Sundance hit “The Surrogate,” it got very enthusiastic reviews, most notably for lead, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who carries the picture as a schoolteacher trying to kick the bottle. With Sony Pictures Classics, who took Carey Mulligan and Anne Hathaway to nominations in the last few years, picking the movie up, this could gain momentum as the year goes on, if the critics in general match the Park City enthusiasm. All that being said, she’s a brand-new name in Academy circles, which may not help against familiar faces like Knightley and Linney.

Rachel McAdams – “Untitled Terrence Malick Project”
As we said above, Terrence Malick has not, as yet, led to any actors getting an Oscar nomination. But from what little we know about his next, which seemingly focuses on good old-fashioned affairs of the heart, it might be more relatable to Oscar voters. And Rachel McAdams might be the biggest beneficiary of that. That is if she’s given more to do than Jessica Chastain in “The Tree of Life,” and if the film actually comes out in 2012.

Long Shots
Meryl Streep – “Great Hope Springs”
A week ago, we’d have pegged this much higher, but then Sunday night came, and for the first time in thirty years, Meryl Streep won an Oscar. While that doesn’t rule out the idea of an eighteenth nomination this year, there’s no longer the same overdue factor to push that along, and a principally commercial film like David Frankel‘s comedy “Great Hope Springs” may play more like “It’s Complicated” than “Doubt.” That being said, only a fool would bet against Meryl entirely.  

Kristin Wiig – “Imogene”
Having been nominated for her “Bridesmaids” screenplay this year, could Kristin Wiig follow it up with an acting nod in 2013? “Imogene” certainly provides her with the opportunity to stretch her wings, a dark comedy-drama about a woman who pretends to kill herself in order to win back her ex-boyfriend, and is forced to move in with her mother (Annette Bening). The independent film comes from “American Splendor” duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who’ve had a spotty track record, but it sounds like it could be a slightly more palatable “Young Adult,” and Wiig is the toast of the town right now, so this could end up surprising.

Andrea Riseborough – “Shadow Dancer”
Another highly-praised Sundance flick was James Marsh‘s “Shadow Dancer,” in which rising star Andrea Riseborough is said to give a storming performance as a single mother involved in the IRA who’s blackmailed into becoming a double-agent for the British government. In what seems like a quiet year, Riseborough could break out, but the film isn’t really Oscar’s home territory, and the picture was bought by small distributor ATO (“Casino Jack,” “Terri“), who’ve never handled a serious Oscar campaign before. Riseborough has got a nomination coming one day, but we’re not sure it’ll be this one.

Also In The Mix: We’re unclear if Jennifer Lawrence will be lead or supporting for “The Silver Linings Playbook,” but either way, she could end up picking up a second nomination. Meanwile, Helen Mirren has another possibility with “The Door,” although we suspect it’s too European to really cross over, while in a line-up unusually free of big-name biopics, Amanda Seyfried is playing “Lovelace,” which might be an attention-grabber to say the least. A nomination for Quvenzhane Wallis, the young star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” would be nearly unprecedented: she’s the same age as the current youngest acting nominee, Justin Henry (“Kramer Vs. Kramer“), but the film’s getting an awful lot of love. Finally, maybe it’s just us, but Emily Blunt looks delightful in what we’ve seen of “Five-Year Engagement” — could a Renee-Zellwegger-in-“Bridget-Jones’-Diary“-style nomination be on the way?

And our super-early predictions, for clarification:

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis – “Lincoln”
Clint Eastwood – “Trouble With The Curve”
John Hawkes – “The Surrogate”
Philip Seymour Hoffman – “The Master”
Bill Murray – “Hyde Park On Hudson”

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock – “Gravity”
Viola Davis – “Won’t Back Down”
Helen Hunt – “The Surrogate”
Keira Knightley – “Anna Karenina
Laura Linney – “Hyde Park On Hudson”
 

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