Oscar preview: Lincoln's year

08:44 AM, Feb 19, 2013

Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Both have been nominated for Oscars in the acting categories. (AP)/

Written By Jack Garner

I am not bound to win,” said Abraham Lincoln, “but I am bound to be true.” My perception is that Steven Spielberg’s much-lauded biopic, Lincoln, is true to both the man and to history. And we’ll find out at Sunday’s Oscar ceremonies if it is bound to win.

Certainly audiences have been winners this season with several fine films to see. Interestingly, this is also an Oscar year in which audiences have seen many of the contenders. That hasn’t been true in much of the modern era, where artful film intelligence hasn’t always stood up to popcorn popularity. ABC viewers Sunday will have films to root for and a rare, vested interest in many of the categories.

Lincoln’s lead actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, is the solid frontrunner in the best actor category. In fact, I’ll eat President Lincoln’s stovepipe hat if Day-Lewis loses. But none of the rest of the film’s Oscar-leading dozen nominations is a lock — not even best picture and director.

Other films have come on strong at various other preliminary award shows. Argo, the story of an unlikely but true attempt to free hostages in Iran in the 1980s, has done especially well. Perhaps voters in other organizations have felt sympathy for Ben Affleck because he did not get the Academy Award nomination he deserves for best director. The Oscar nominations come from respective branches, and the directors ignored Affleck for inexplicable reasons. But, since everybody in the Academy votes for the winners in all the categories, some may chastise the directors and honor Ben through his picture.

These are the sorts of wacky politics that can come into play. Zero Dark Thirty, the intense saga about the investigation and raid to get Osama bin Laden, carried undeserved baggage into the nominating process. Its talented director, Kathryn Bigelow, also failed to secure a director’s nod, perhaps because some of Hollywood’s liberals have been outspoken about what they perceive as an endorsement of waterboarding and other torture methods.

It’s disappointing, because Zero shows these elements, but certainly doesn’t endorse them. By showing the brutality, the images can even be perceived to be an anti-torture statement. The attackers of Zero Dark Thirty are trying to slay the messenger.

Silver Linings Playbook is another film that might become a major player Sunday night. The romantic comedy (involving characters with mental stability issues) is the easiest-to-embrace popcorn movie in the top category. It’s a hard film not to love. And, it’s a good movie elevated to very good status by the quality of the performances of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.

Silver Linings Playbook also is the first film since 1981 to earn nominations in all four acting categories. Reds did it in ‘81 when Maureen Stapleton won in support, but Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson all lost. Reds also lost in the best picture category (to Chariots of Fire), so four acting nominations offers no guarantees. Of the 13 previous films to earn four acting nominations each, only two went on to win best picture (Mrs. Miniver and From Here to Eternity.)

The long-awaited Les Miserables was thought to be the leader out of the gate months ago, especially with the anticipation for the much-loved musical and its dynamite teaser trailer. But, with only a 70 percent Rotten Tomatoes website embrace from critics (compared to the 90s and high 80s for other Oscar contenders), it feels like the film has lost a bit of momentum. I suspect most fans of the much-traveled stage musical like the film version, but it doesn’t seemed to have been embraced by a broader audience. Its best shot for a statuette now rests in Anne Hathaway for supporting actress.

Before giving my picks for whom will (and who should) win the top six Oscars, let’s look briefly at some of the other categories:

I want Lincoln to win for its sublime and subtle cinematography, its authentic period costuming, John Williams’ Americana music score, and for the thoughtful script (by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame). I’m willing to concede, though, that in the production design category, Les Miserables or Life of Pi deserve the Oscar (production design refers, overall, to the set design and “look” of the movie.) However, I think both the costume and production design awards will go to the lush Anna Karenina, because “beauty” often seems an illogical prerequisite in these two categories.

I’d also understand if Lincoln loses in the editing category, because the films in which editing really shows its stuff are typically well-timed, swift-moving thrillers, which make Argo and Zero Dark Thirty top contenders. Of them, I think Zero will get the Oscar.

Also, in the makeup and hairstyling category, I’m stunned how the branch failed to nominate the obvious winner — Lincoln. Has any film ever leaned so heavily on a wide variety of beards and hairstyles, all seemingly authentic to period photographs?

Meanwhile, France’s very sad but exquisite Amour will win foreign language best picture; Pixar’s Brave (or maybe Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph) should win for best animation; and Adele will take the best song Oscar for Skyfall, the best James Bond theme since Goldfinger.

I’ve mentioned Lincoln for the best adapted screenplay. In the “original” script category, I like Michael Haneke’s affecting chamber piece, Amour, but I think the winner will be Quentin Tarantino’s far more rambunctious Django Unchained.

Also, I’d like to see the challenging animal and ocean effects of Life of Pi honored in the visual effects category. But I fail to understand why the category doesn’t include a nod toward the even-more-challenging water effects of The Impossible.

The big six categories:

Best Director: I hope for Steven Spielberg for his Lincoln masterpiece, and think he’ll win. I could also be happy for Ang Lee for Life of Pi, because he successfully worked with all three of the big no-nos for a director — children, animals and water. Plus, he did it in 3D. Others in the category are Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). This category is most notable for who is missing — Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow.

Best Supporting Actor: I think Tommy Lee Jones is a deserving shoo-in as the colorful and passionate abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln. If there’s an upset, it will come from either Robert De Niro, who hasn’t been this good in years, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is at the top of his game in The Master. The others are Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) and Alan Arkin (Argo).

Best Supporting Actress: This is a challenging two-actress race, between Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables and Sally Field for Lincoln. This award typically comes early, and if Field wins, it forecasts a big Lincoln night. I think it’ll be Hathaway, and I think she probably deserves it. But Fields also was great. Others in the category are Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Amy Adams (The Master) and Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook).

Best Actress: I think this is also a two-horse race, and my horse, I suspect, isn’t really in it. I personally think Naomi Watts gave the bravest, most physically challenging and most moving performance of the year in The Impossible. But I think the film entered the race a bit late and not enough saw it early enough to create momentum.

The two leading candidates are also both deserving — Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. This is my least assured pick, but I think it’ll be Lawrence. The other two are the oldest ever, Emmanuelle Riva, who turns 86 on Oscar night, for Amour; and the youngest ever, Quvenzhané Wallis, 9, for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Best Actor: This race is the easiest to predict on the program. Daniel Day-Lewis offers a majestic, profound performance in Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln is always on screen, never the actor. The other nominees, who’ve won all they’re going to win, are Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Denzel Washington (Flight), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master).

Best Picture:
Lincoln is my favorite film of the year, a brilliant portrait of the last months of a passionate, incredibly intelligent, wise and determined leader. I love the acting, the writing, the lighting and cinematography, the music — all of it. Here’s another reason: I think Lincoln will outlast the other nominees for decades to come. I hope it wins and, despite the strong early showings elsewhere of Argo and Silver Linings Playbook, I think it will win.

The candidates are: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty.

If Lincoln loses the top prize, the upset will likely come from, in order, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook or Zero Dark Thirty. But, to be honest, I’m for Abe.