So, it seems we finally have a full-fledged frontrunner in the best picture race. The mystery was nice while it lasted, and it’s certainly been a while since it took all the way to February to have a conifident sense of who might win Oscar’s big prize (for those not paying attention, Ben Affleck won the DGA on Saturday night — suggesting “Argo” is likely heading for a best picture win despite Affleck not getting a best director nomination). But those of you still looking for some true suspense on Oscar night, never fear.
There’s still an uncharacteristically high amount of categories where two, three or even all the contenders have totally reasonable shots at winning. We offer five examples of such below (but there’s actually a few more where they came from). Indiewire will offer full on predictions for every category in the coming weeks, but for now here’s five we’re having issues predicting:
1. Best Supporting Actor
A five man race! This category is probably the toughest acting award to call in a good decade, or at least since 2008, when the best supporting actress race was a genuine 4-way race between Tilda Swinton, Ruby Dee, Amy Ryan and Cate Blanchett. That race saw Swinton win the BAFTA, Dee win the SAG, Ryan win the Critics Choice and Blanchett win the Golden Globe. In the end, Swinton won the Oscar. Who will do so in this case in anybody’s guess.
The extra weirdness here is that all 5 nominees have already one — an Oscar first. The sentimental choice is probably Robert DeNiro for “Silver Linings Playbook,” since he hasn’t won in 30+ years and is nominated for a film the Academy clearly loves (they gave it nods in all the acting categories, something that also hasn’t happened in over 3 decades). But DeNiro has already won two, so he’s hardly in desperate need of an Oscar. He also hasn’t won any of the precursors. Those went to Christoph Waltz (Golden Globe), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Critics Choice) and Tommy Lee Jones (SAG). We won’t know who wins BAFTA until next week, but if it’s one of those 3 men, consider them the narrow favorite (notably DeNiro wasn’t even nominated there, or at the Golden Globes). There’s also Alan Arkin, who could ride an “Argo” wave to a win (if he wins BAFTA, watch out). But his performance is inarguably the slightest of the five, and he just won six years ago for “Little Miss Sunshine.” So Arkin and probably Waltz (who won just three years ago, for another Tarantino film) — while feasible winners — are the least likely.
Which leaves Jones, Hoffman and DeNiro. Entirely convicing arguments could be made for all three. As noted, the lack of precursor support goes against DeNiro, but it’s the kind of year where that doesn’t seem to matter. SAG winner Jones hasn’t won in 2 decades and is in the most nominated film at this year’s Oscars, but he may or may not have hurt by not showing up to make a speech at the SAGs, or by his sourpuss face at the Globes that became a much-shared internet gif. Hoffman is the only one not in a best picture nominated film, and one the Academy snubbed outside of the acting races altogether. But he also gives what many agree is the by far the best performance of the five… WHO KNOWS!?
2. Best Original Score
The Academy played it safe in the nominations for this category, leaving out innovative scores from outside-the-establishment composers Jonny Greenwood (“The Master”) and Dan Romer & Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) — the latter pair probably standing a good shot at winning had they actually been nominated. But in the wake of their snubs comes a very tight race, with one of the most nominated men in history (John Williams for “Lincoln,” who at 48 nominations is the second most nominated person in Oscar history; he’s won 5 already), going up against first timer Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”), recent winner Dario Marianelli (nominated here for “Anna Karenina,” and who won for another Joe Wright film, “Atonement,” in 2008), and two men who have been nominated many times but have never won (Thomas Newman, getting his 11th nod for “Skyfall” and Alexandre Desplat, getting his 5th for “Argo”).
Any of them could win, though it seems to be evolving into a three way race between Williams, Danna and Desplat. If “Argo” is indeed heading to a best picture win, they’ll want to give it a few other awards too, and this is one of the more likely options (besides film editing, which “Argo” seems good to go for). Desplat being owed certainly helps the cause. But it’s also the least memorable score here, and Desplat has definitely done better (arguably in two other 2012 films — “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Moonrise Kingdom”). Williams and Danna, however, produced quite memorable work for “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi,” respectively. Williams’ restrained score is definitely his best in a long while, and while he does have five Oscars, it’s been 20 years since his last. Danna, meanwhile, is an Oscar newbie (though he should have been here for “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Moneyball.” Which is notable in that three of the past four winners in this category also won their first Oscar on their first nomination…
3. Best Documentary Feature
Sure, Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching For Sugar Man” feels like the frontrunner here. It’s the only real box office hit, and is coming off wins with the PGA and DGA. But this category is notoriously hard to predict, and this year for the first time all Academy members were sent screeners of all the docs and can all vote in the category, which entirely changes voting patterns and gives this category no precedent. So while “Sugar Man” has the momentum, it’s just as easy to see Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras” or Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers” or David France’s “How To Survive a Plague” or Kirby Dick’s “The Invisible War” pushing through . For one, they all feel like much more “important” documentaries, which may or may not help them (last year’s winner — high school football doc “Undefeated” — also had that sense about it compared to its fellow nominees).
4. Best Original Screenplay
There was a time when Mark Boal seemed like a fairly sure thing in this category (hell, there was a time when Paul Thomas Anderson seemed like a sure thing in this category). But with “Zero Dark Thirty” slipping in Oscar buzz (and Anderson not even nominated for “The Master”), Boal is probably running third behind Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Quentin Tarantino (“Django Unchained”). He could still pull through, but it’s going to be a nailbiter. Hurting Boal is his win for “Locker” just a few years ago, and though Tarantino won back in 1995 for “Pulp Fiction,” it seems reasonable to give the man #2 this time around (they seemingly almost did in 2010, but instead gave it to Boal). But then there’s Haneke who has never won, but has three different opportunities to this year (here, best director and best foreign language film — though the latter techically goes to the country of Austria). So will voters assume he’s winning for foreign language film and vote for Tarantino? Or maybe Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola will draw sympathy that the Academy screwed over “Moonrise Kingdom” everywhere else and pull off a shocker?
5. Best Actress
Jennifer Lawrence for the win? That was the story back in September, when “Silver Linings Playbook” soared out of the Toronto Film Festival with somewhat unexpected Oscar buzz, particularly for Lawrence — who took charge in a category that had been a big mystery until then. And she held that position until Jessica Chastain popped up in mid-November even more out of nowhere for “Zero Dark Thirty.” No one had any idea whether her role was lead in the film or if she/the film were any good. All cases turned out true. So the race was soon pegged as J.Law vs. J.Cha. They pretty much evenly split the precursor awards, though Lawrence started to hold a growing edge over Chastain, particularly after “Thirty” didn’t do quite as well at the Oscar nominations (and “Linings” did better than expected). But something else happened at the Oscar nominations: L’amour for “Amour” across the board, and a nomination for Emmanuelle Riva. Riva — who will turn 86 years old on Oscar night — is the oldest best actress nominee ever, and represents a rare case where she’s both a sentimental choice and the most deserving winner. If voters actually see “Amour” (which given voting hasn’t even started yet, they have plenty of time to), Riva could very well take that Oscar from Lawrence and Chastain. Or not. Though this Oscar prognosticator’s totally impossible fantasy? Riva ties the youngest nominee in this category — Quvenzhané Wallis of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — and the two of them walk up to stage hand in hand, adorably play-arguing on stage (“I’m the man!”; “No, I’m the man”).
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Senior Editor and awards columnist. Check out his Oscar predictions in all the categories here, and this list of all the Oscar-nominated films available ON DEMAND right now.