Is it too early to deliver Oscar picks given that the nominations haven’t even come out and the Golden Globes aren’t for a month? Well, sure, if you want to be all sensible about it. But that’s just no fun.
Throwing caution (and a good deal of logic) to the wind, we’ve decided that now is the time to make our final Oscar picks and come up with the odds-on-favorites and critical choices that will take home those little, gold men. Of course, the Oscars are nothing without dark horses, so please take to the comments if you're a die-hard fan of any flicks we've overlooked.
In the interest of organization, we've sectioned off each movie by the classic Oscar stereotype: the critical darling, the shoo-in, the dark horse, the wild card, and the legacy nomination. Read on to see which flick is which.
Photos (Clockwise from top left): Courtesy of Universal Pictures; 20th Century Fox; The Weinstein Company; Fox Searchlight Pictures; Columbia Pictures; 20th Century Fox.
With so many heavy-hitters with Oscar wins or nominations already under their belts up against each other, the competition this year will be a bit of a battle royale...and fascinating to watch.
Critical Darling: P.T. Anderson, The Master
This complex and fastidiously-created work features an Academy fave (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a return to glory (Joaquin Phoenix), two juicy pieces of surefire Oscar bait. The only problem is the fact that The Master can be read as a scathing indictment of Scientology — a sensitive topic in Hollywood, where the religion is quite popular. Remember, too, that ever since Anderson bad-mouthed the voters for choosing No Country For Old Men over his brutal, uncompromising masterwork There Will Be Blood, the establishment's been a tad miffed at him.
Wildcard: Ben Affleck, Argo
The industry set loved Argo, and Affleck has been a part of this game since Good Will Hunting. He probably won't win, even though most of L.A. theoretically wants to give it to him. Nonetheless, he's an interesting choice to bandy about.
Shoo-In: Ang Lee, Life of Pi, or Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
He previously got a nod for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and took the prize for Brokeback Mountain. Life of Pi also has the mixed blessing of being the only "feel-good/life-affirming" flick of the bunch. That said, after a year that's seen media heavily touting women's rights, Hollywood might feel good about itself for giving Bigelow another Oscar for her carefully-crafted spy thriller.
Dark Horse: Tom Hooper, Les Misérables
He's got the expansive, acclaimed period piece on his side. Yet, the fact that he picked up a golden man only two years ago might take him out of the running. That, and the fact that Academy doesn't love musicals. (Chicago won best picture, but not best director)
Legacy: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
During an election year, Daddy Spielberg's movie about American politics at its best (and worst) will certainly get some major love. Also, since Lincoln is the director's first real knock-out since Munich, and his subject is so beloved, odds look pretty good..
Courtesy of Warner Bros.; 20th Century Fox.
This is one of those years where leading men delivered Oscar-worthy performances in very, very disparate films. From singing to flying to running a country, this category's got it all. It'll be a tough race, but there are some pretty clear front-runners.
Critical Darling: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Though he didn't get a SAG nomination, the enigmatic Phoenix is a weird, but deserving choice. We'd love to see him take home the statue, though it's unlikely. Moreover, he and Hollywood had a pretty bad breakup after he didn't win this award for Walk The Line (anyone remember I'm Still Here?).
Wildcards: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, or John Hawkes, The Sessions
The fact that Bradley Cooper's name is even being brought up in the Oscar race is a huge surprise. But anyone who's seen Silver Linings Playbook gets it (obviously, and SAG gets it, too). One of the most talented actors today, John Hawkes, was nominated for his role in Winter's Bone and killed it in Martha Marcy May Marlene, so his quiet portrayal as a sexually awakened quadriplegic in The Sessions could be another My Left Foot in the making.
Shoo-In: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
If we were betting, we would say that this is really a two-person race between Day-Lewis and Jackman. Again, this is Daniel Day-Lewis — a man who is nominated almost every time he is in a movie — playing one of America's most beloved presidents. Oscar catnip.
Dark Horse: Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
The other half of the two-man race, the singing Aussie has good odds for his commanding performance in Les Mis. Also, people just love him. But then again, the Academy doesn't love singing and dancing quite as much as they adore biopics. Just facts.
Legacy: Denzel Washington, Flight
Oscar wins are old hat to Washington, so another award would be a lovely tribute to his career that seems to be finally, at long last, getting back on track. Washington was also good friends with Tony Scott, the late director, and the Academy might see it as a fitting tribute.
Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company; Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Oddly, none of these amazing performances by truly talented ladies came out of an established box-office hit. Oh well. At least we (and the critics) loved them.
Wildcard: Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
In a film that could have easy slipped right off the rails and into the swamp, the six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis' fierce, raw work kept the fantastical-yet-gritty story and special effects rooted. Would the Academy award an actor in grade school? Probably not. But it's happened before, and she did give the most moving performance of the year, so you really never know.
Critical Darling: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Sure, her big win this year was her strong work in the money-making Hunger Games, but it's her dark, delicious turn in Silver Linings Playbook that turned critics on. Already an Oscar-nom vet thanks to her riveting job in Winter's Bone, it's nice that she's getting the nod for a part that demonstrates her comedic chops. This is just the sort of vicious (yet humorous and touching) performance the Academy loves. Girl's got a chance.
Shoo-In: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Ever since she opened the industry’s eyes in Terrance Malick’s challenging The Tree of Life, Chastain has been everywhere. Though new to fame, she has everything that wins awards: Maturity, skill, depth, beauty, and a tough, complicated performance (in Zero Dark Thirty).
Dark Horse: Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
It’s unlikely you’ve seen Rust and Bone, but many Academy voters certainly have. They also adore Cotillard, too, who swiped Best Actress for La Vie en Rose, a film that was also well out the public’s eye at the time. Watch out for this one.
Legacy: Sally Field, Lincoln
Though her role as Mary Todd Lincoln was relatively small compared to the other nominees, it was pivotal and well-rendered. Voters love a good comeback story, and Field's re-emergence as a credible actor is tailor-made for a nomination.
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures; Sony Pictures Classics.
You know, this darn category gets harder to predict all the time. Like, seriously, who needs 10 nominations? Not us. Hopefully, the Academy will rectify that this year. In any case, we’ve got a pleasant variety of styles, subjects, and genres represented here. Which, of course, only makes it that much harder. Nonetheless…
Dark Horses: Zero Dark Thirty or Silver Linings Playbook
Not even in wide release, Zero Dark Thirty is already being hailed as the best-made film of the year. Being dark and very controversial by nature, though, it might have a tough time outdrawing Les Mis in this category. Silver Linings, unexpectedly, also has a shot. It’s the sort of film that would win Best Picture if, say, Dustin Hoffman were starring and it was 1982.
Shoo-In: Les Misérables
In the last 40 years, only one musical has won Best Picture (Chicago, though many felt it didn't deserve the win). But Les Mis isn’t just a song-and-dance pic. It’s a risky, rich, massive, glossy spectacle from a Best-Director winner. Academy members like it when a gamble pays off (and makes them burst into tears). In a field of 10 choices, the option with the most fervent fans will win. This year, that option is Les Mis.
Critical Darling: The Master
Critics and viewers alike still wonder aloud if they actually liked Anderson’s thorny, anticlimactic follow up to There Will Be Blood. Historically, that means your children will worship it. But for now, Hollywood has beef with Anderson (this generation’s Kubrick) to send this problematic work out of the running (though the Academy knows well enough to give it a nomination and a good amount of deference).
Wildcards: Argo, Life of Pi, or Beasts of The Southern Wild
Perhaps overrated, but nonetheless solid, Argo has the potential to be the scrappy little guy that could (plus, the Academy hearts movies about making movies). Life of Pi was financially and critically underwhelming, but offers something spiritual that other candidates don’t. Finally, Beasts is truly novel and beautiful, the kind of film that can quietly sneak up and become a contender.
A Spielberg movie? About UM-MERR-KA? Come on. A few years ago, the Academy would just give it to Lincoln directly. But this is a time of smaller productions, left-field winners, and Les Mis, so it’s no lock. Still, with Spielberg, Day-Lewis, Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and music by John Williams, this flick comes with an Oscar pedigree nearly unmatched in history.
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company; Universal Pictures.