Okay, so this is thoroughly subjective and non-comprehensive, because I haven’t seen all the nominated films/performances and I’m not covering all the categories. But here are some of the races I have the strongest feelings about:
Best Picture: I think it’s down to Argo and Lincoln. I know there are some quibbles about Argo‘s historical accuracy (that seems to be the theme of this year’s Oscars; see this weekend’s New York Times article), but to me the embellishments fall within the realm of plot devices necessary for an effective thriller. Argo is also riding the wave of incredulity over the lack of a Best Director nod for Ben Affleck, so that may give it a boost. I wonder why Zero Dark Thirty isn’t benefitting from similar outrage; is it because Kathryn Bigelow won for Best Director so recently and because there’s a “most improved” sentiment toward Affleck?
I still feel like Silver Linings Playbook is rather overrated, and Les Miz better not pull off a surprise win. I thought it was tinny and airless and, frankly, kind of ugly-looking. Tom Hooper’s penchant for static shots (he loves the one with the actor off-center in the frame and about eight feet of wall to the side of or above her) and the decision to record the actors singing live resulted in a movie that’s somehow even more stagey than the actual stage production (which I adore). I really wanted to like Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I was turned off by the suffering-porn.
Best Director: Obviously I’m glad Hooper didn’t get a nod here. I typically hate 3D, but what Ang Lee did with it in Life of Pi quite literally made my jaw drop, so I wouldn’t be upset if he wins for the technical accomplishment. But I suspect this one’s going to Steven Spielberg, even though I have some issues with the choices he and screenwriter Tony Kushner made about relegating African-Americans to the sidelines in a story about the abolition of slavery. Spielberg drew a magnificent performance from Daniel Day-Lewis and, with Kushner, crafted political and legal minutiae into a spell-binding narrative.
Best Actor: I wish Denzel weren’t up against DDL in this category, because he gives a searing performance as the damaged, righteously angry, yet vulnerable Whip Whitaker. As it stands, though, no one can compete with DDL, who incarnates Lincoln.
Best Actress: I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t watched Amour yet, so my preference for Emmanuelle Riva, based only on what I’ve heard about her performance, is kind of meaningless at this point. I can say that Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence did not blow me away; Quvenzhané Wallis was fierce but didn’t exactly show a huge range. I’m not trying to be mean to the young girl – I just think it’s a natural consequence of her age and the fact that the script didn’t allow for much range. I’m sort of ideologically opposed to Naomi Watts winning for The Impossible because I’m offended by how the movie turned a tragedy that took almost 300,000 lives into a story about one white family, not to mention that it cast the Spanish family whose experience the movie is based on with peaches-and-cream Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts. I know Hollywood does stuff like this all the time, but that doesn’t make me any less bothered by it.
Best Supporting Actress: I suppose there’s no way Anne Hathaway doesn’t win this? Unfortunately, all the advance buzz made it difficult for me to judge her performance on its own terms; I ended up feeling rather underwhelmed. Even though I initially thought Sally Field’s performance was a bit off-kilter compared to the rest of Lincoln’s tone, as I consider it further, I think she actually captures the disruptive grief that threatened to overwhelm her character at any moment.
Best Supporting Actor: All the nominees seem to be doing more of their same in these performances, so I don’t feel strongly about any of them. I guess Alan Arkin, because he was reliably fun?
Best Original Screenplay: I agree with Kathryn Bigelow that depiction doesn’t equal endorsement, so I don’t believe Zero Dark Thirty promotes torture. I think Mark Boal’s script captures an ambivalence about torture and the war on terrorism more broadly: it acknowledges on-the-ground imperatives but also suggests the soul-damaging consequences, especially through the non-triumphal manner in which it depicts the actual moment of bin Laden’s killing and Maya’s apparent sense of emptiness afterwards.
Best Adapted Screenplay: I wish Stephen Chbosky had been nominated for his bittersweet, heartfelt Perks of Being a Wallflower. Among the actual nominees, I think Tony Kushner is the strongest. As I said in my review of Lincoln, I like the non-biopic, narrow but deep scope of the film, and the way the battle over abolition echoes future civil rights struggles in our country.