Editor's note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. In this installment, Kohn trades e-mails with Indiewire senior editor and resident Oscar prognosticator Peter Knegt (their previous conversation is here).
EK: Are you tired yet? We've made it safely into a new year and have started to anticipate a full year of movies (including the 50 we previewed last Friday and loads more set to premiere at Sundance next week). But we have some unfinished business from 2012, as tomorrow's Oscar nominations will remind us, so the prognostication game is about to get a little more complicated. We've already dissected the reasons why some of the movies we loved last year won't make the cut even though this season is nevertheless noticeably diverse compared to other recent editions. I know we should expect strong showings from "Lincoln," "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Les Misérables." And "Amour" will get some love, too. But what do you expect to be surprised by? Could "Django" sneak into the best picture category? Will Jafar Panahi land his first Oscar nomination for a movie he made under house arrest? Might the Academy unearth its hidden fanboy and throw some love to "The Avengers"? I'm just riffing here, but let's talk dark horses.
PK: For the first January in quite some time, I'm actually not tired. There so much up in the air leading into tomorrow that it's actually rather exciting, at least as far as I'm concerned. Most if not all of the major categories are ripe for surprise, though I wouldn't call "Django" making the cut much of a shocker. I fully expect it to get a best picture nomination along with "Argo," "Lincoln," "Les Mis," "Life of Pi," "Silver Linings" and "Zero Dark Thirty." Those are a sort of assumed seven, and if one of them doesn't make it, that would be a surprise.
It's what happens — or doesn't happen — with the 0-3 slots that may or may not be left that will be interesting. Arthouse options like "Amour," "The Master," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom" all have shots…as do big studio hits like "Skyfall." However, I'd wager "Skyfall" has stolen the wind from "The Avengers," or, say, "The Dark Knight Rises," from managing a best picture nomination — especially with a sizable British voting bloc likely to give it a boost.
Nothing wrong with an embarrassment of riches, though. Who are you rooting for?
EK: At this late stage of the game, my hopes are riding on a Panahi nomination for all the attention it would bring him — not only to his extraordinary filmography but to the unfortunate situation of censorship he now finds himself in. But I'd also like to see a strong showing from the festival films we've covered over the past 12 months. It's been fun to watch the studios get back in the game of producing smart, adult-oriented narratives, since in the past few years the rise of The Weinstein Company has helped keep the Oscar race mostly restricted to smaller scale contenders. This is one of the few years where TWC is less of a major player, which opens up the gate for "Beasts" and "Moonrise" — two irreverent, deeply personal visions — to gain more prominence in the race. Or at least they would if they weren't buried by the marketing dollars heaped on these other, larger films. Nevertheless, I still hope they land the nominations so that the mainstream audiences paying attention to Oscar nominations get at least some basic idea of the diverse creativity populating American cinema today.
But the very idea of the "dark horse" is a strange one, anyway. Amid reports of challenges with voters using the Academy's new online voting process, it seems like this race might be narrower than the dense field of contenders initially led us to believe. Is it possible that "Lincoln" or "Argo" might clean up shop? Or do you expect that the winners, like the race, will incorporate an uncharacteristically long list of talent?
PK: The Panahi nomination is definitely possible — and one I'm keeping my fingers crossed for as well. The documentary category is always one of the toughest to call, and this year is no exception. The 15-film shortlist was probably the strongest the Academy has ever offered, so hopefully they continue to surprise us with their good judgement come nomination morning.
As for the winners, I'm trying to not even go there until next week. Though besides Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway, things definitely don't seem all wrapped up in that regard (as they have more substantially in past years).
In the meantime, though, I'll spend these last 24 hours or so hoping for a whole bunch of nominations that fall very much into the description you noted. Best actress is among the big categories that should be very interesting to watch and could give notice to a bunch of small, smart films. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are locked in, but they are truly the only locks. The other three slots could go to any of these: Helen Mirren ("Hitchcock"), Marion Cotillard ("Rust and Bone"), Rachel Weisz ("The Deep Blue Sea"), Quvenzhane Wallis ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") or Emmanuelle Riva ("Amour") — and I for one am definitely rooting for the latter two. If they both get in, and, say, "Amour" also gets Best Picture while "Beasts" also gets in for original score, I'll be a happy camper.
EK: And they'll all consider it an honor just to be nominated…or so they'll say. Every year there seems to be a certain subset of Oscar nominees willing to fight tooth and nail to get to the podium. Who can forget the cold war throwdown between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke? Or Melissa Leo's warts-and-all "Consider" ads? This year's potential nominees strike me as a less aggressive bunch — unless Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence are really as fierce as their characters…but I think they call that "acting." Who do you expect to be the most intense contenders this year?
PK: Chastain and Lawrence will probably end up forming the race everyone hypes up as the closest of calls, pitting the two actresses against each other. But it seems to me the best way the two of them should react to it — a manner that would probably suit their personalities — is the Bullock vs. Streep approach, where both actresses basically just used awards season as an opportunity to become BFFs.
The other showdown will likely involve the supporting actor race, which could give us previous winners Tommy Lee Jones, Robert DeNiro and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a three-man race. Its hard to see any of them getting down and dirty either… but at least it will give us something to bite our nails about come Oscar night. Which I know I said I wasn't going to think about until next week, but it's beginning to become easier and easier to picture those showdowns and the possibilities of speeches by the likes of Adele, Tony Kushner, Michael Haneke, Roger Deakins and Tim Burton…
But let's bring it back to tomorrow. We already noted some our wishes for nominations. I'm curious about what you hope doesn't make the cut. If you could have one anti-wish, what would it be?
EK: Maybe it's too easy a target, but I'm startled to see the lasting prominence of "Les Mis" in this conversation. The movie was deemed Oscar-bound before anybody saw it; since then, I rarely encounter anyone who actually likes it. Most critics are disdainful of Tom Hooper's approach. This animated gif of a blank-faced Tom Hooper watching Tarantino gap on and on about "Django" is a pretty great encapsulation of how uninspired Hooper's movie is. I'll concede that Anne Hathaway holds her own in that one scene in question where the camera nearly touches the tip of her dirt-encrusted nose, but it's hardly longer than most audition tapes. "Les Mis" illustrates the challenge of creating musical cinema by failing at it. I'll take the accordion sequence of "Holy Motors" over any scene in Hooper's misfire any day. But once again I'm drifting to a fantasyland where the Oscars play different rules to appease the needs of picky cinephiles like myself.
Still, in a year of incredibly diverse and fairly high quality contenders, "Les Mis" stands out for its comparative mediocrity. The only consolation for this oversight would be that the movie goes home empty-handed, although Hathaway is well-positioned to keep that from happening. I'm cool with her imminent victory, but otherwise hope the Academy is given no excuse to play a single note from "Les Mis" on Oscar night.
PK: I'm with you. Coming off the intensely undeserved DGA nom for Tom Hooper (over Tarantino, Haneke, Zeitlin, Anderson, no less), I'd love nothing more than to see some major "Les Mis" snubs — save Hathaway, who I've too come to terms with as a someone who is going to win an Oscar for those three minutes in which she belts out "I Dreamed a Dream" (by far the most impressive moment of the film, but still).
And I'd also have a smile on my face if Joaquin Phoenix manages to overcome the bad press he got for that anti-Oscar rant and takes out Bradley Cooper, who's fine in "Silver Linings Playbook" but does not deserved to be nominated in such a strong year for lead actors. I can't imagine someone listing his name ahead of assumed non-nominees Jean-Louis Trignant and Denis Lavant (or Phoenix, Day-Lewis, Washington and Hawkes, for that matter). But that said, many of them probably will.