As much as I love Oscar season, I am the first to admit that the Academy Awards can often seem a bit "elitist." Very often, many of the films nominated are art-house pictures that average moviegoers aren't familiar with. Few had heard of last year's Best Picture winner, The Artist, for example, before it received a bunch of Oscar nods.
I write an Oscar prediction column for the RPC papers nearly every year, and I pride myself on knowing the films that are up for the awards. And as good as many of the independent nominees often are, I sometimes wish the Academy would focus on flicks that people have, you know, actually seen.
And that's why this year's awards are gonna be a lot of fun.
Many of the films up for awards on Oscar night, Feb. 24, are big, crowd-pleasing 2012 hits. Lincoln, Argo, Django Unchained, Les Miserables and others are films that drew large audiences as well as the pre-requisite critical acclaim.
Here are my predictions and personal choices for the event's big categories, as well as a list of those who I thought were snubbed:
Best Supporting Actor nominees: Alan Arkin in Argo; Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook; Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master; Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln; Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained.
The winner will be: Jones. In a category of five previous Oscar winners, Jones is the strongest contender, for his memorable role as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln. Although Waltz unexpectedly won the Golden Globe in this category last month, don't expect him to repeat that "dark horse" showing at the Academy Awards.
The winner should be: DeNiro. Much as I love Waltz in Django, his character is clearly a lead role, so I can't support him in the "supporting" category. DeNiro gives one of his best and most heartfelt performances in years as a troubled but well-meaning dad in Silver Linings.
Sins of omission: Nate Parker, Arbitrage; Tim Roth, Arbitrage; Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Michael Pena, End of Watch; Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; John Travolta, Savages; Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom; Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers.
Best Supporting Actress nominees: Amy Adams in The Master; Sally Field in Lincoln; Anne Hathaway in Les Misrables; Helen Hunt in The Sessions; Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook.
The winner will be: Hathaway. Although her screen time in Les Miz is pretty brief, her performance of the song "I Dreamed a Dream" is one of the most memorable musical moments in movie history.
The winner should be: Hunt. I didn't agree with Hunt's Best Actress win for 1997's As Good as it Gets, but in The Sessions, her brave and touching performance as a "sex therapist" to John Hawkes' character illuminates the story and affects the main character's motivations and actions -- just what a supporting role should do.
Sins of omission: Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Samantha Barks, Les Misrables; Kelly Reilly, Flight
Best Actress nominees: Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty; Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook; Emmanuelle Riva in Amour; Quvenzhan Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild; Naomi Watts in The Impossible.
The winner will (and should) be: Lawrence. She was my choice for Best Actress of 2010 in the underseen Winter's Bone, and she's even more memorable as Silver Lining's Tiffany Maxwell, a quirky, wise-beyond-her-years widow who forms an unexpected bond with the story's protagonist played by Bradley Cooper. It's a strong category overall. The runner-up is probably Chastain, who won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama last month, and she's sensational as a CIA agent instrumental in tracking down Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty.
Sins of omission: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games; Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Best Actor nominees: Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook; Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln; Hugh Jackman in Les Misrables; Joaquin Phoenix in The Master; Denzel Washington in Flight.
The winner will (and should) be: Day-Lewis.
If you saw Lincoln, you met the 16th president of the United States. No offense to the four other nominees, who were all excellent (Washington is particularly amazing in the superb Flight), but this one's a no-brainer. Day-Lewis will make Oscar history by becoming the first person to ever win three Best Actor trophies (following his previous wins for 1989's My Left Foot and 2007's There Will Be Blood).
Sins of omission: Tom Holland, The Impossible; Ewan McGregor, The Impossible; John Hawkes, The Sessions; Richard Gere, Arbitrage, Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Best Director nominees: Amour,Michael Haneke; Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin; Life of Pi, Ang Lee; Lincoln,Steven Spielberg; Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell.
The winner will be: Spielberg. The legendary director will claim this prize for the third time (after Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan) for the mesmerizing Lincoln, highlighted by fantastic acting and a brilliant script by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (best known for Angels in America).
The winner should be: Russell. Silver Linings Playbook, that lovely, romantic comedy/dramedy, gives a viscerally raw and often humorous portrayal of heartbreakingly real people. And you've got to give props to a director whose movie netted nominations in all four acting categories (it's the first movie to achieve that since 1981's Reds).
Sins of omission: Ben Affleck, Argo; Peter Jackson, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained; Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Picture nominees: Amour; Argo; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Django Unchained; Les Misrables; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Silver Linings Playbook; Zero Dark Thirty.
The winner will be: Argo. The smart money is probably on Lincoln. I've never been that smart, though, so I'm betting my chips on the intensely engaging and entertaining Argo. Some say it has virtually no shot to win since its director, Ben Affleck, was shut out of the Best Director category, but the praise for -- and unexpected blockbuster success of -- this film should lead it to claim the night's top prize.
The winner should be: Silver Linings Playbook. This is the best "Best Picture" category in years -- moviegoers were blessed in 2012 with great efforts by Spielberg and Tarantino, a solid movie musical, topical stories like Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Argo, and Lincoln, many of which came really close to getting my vote here. But my favorite of this impressive batch is Silver Linings. In a race full of "big" movies, here's a small one that swept me off my feet.
Sins of omission: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, End of Watch, Flight, The Dark Knight Rises, Moonrise Kingdom, The Perks of Being a Wallflower