The 85th annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 24 at 7 PM. Before host Seth MacFarlane kicks things off with his impression-free opening monologue (*fingers crossed*), here’s a rundown of the night’s major categories and a few other notable races to better prepare you for the night ahead.
The Great Eight
Best Motion Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
- Will win: Argo
- Could win: Lincoln
- Should win: Argo. Of the year’s two major foreign operations films, Zero Dark Thirty is the best, but its bloodlust and unnecessary Hollywood moments are problematic. Argo knows it’s a Hollywood extravaganza and balances tension with humor to great success on its way to a feel-good ending. Ben Affleck’s Best Director snub has vaulted his film to frontrunner status and he’ll ride the momentum to the night’s big prize.
- Should have been a contender: Moonrise Kingdom; The Master; Skyfall; Cloud Atlas; Holy Motors
- Typo: Beasts of the Southern Wild. The year’s requisite indie pick, when so many more worthy choices were available.
- Actually won: Argo
Achievement in Directing
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Michael Haneke, Amour
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
- Will win: Spielberg
- Could win: Russell
- Should win: Spielberg. He and Lee are the only two that truly belong on the list, and Pi is more an achievement of special effects and writing than direction. So Spielberg gets his third Best Director statuette, even though his film is more an achievement of acting and writing than direction.
- Should have been a contender: Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom; P.T. Anderson, The Master; Ben Affleck, Argo; Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty; Tom Hooper, Les Miserables; Andrew Dominik, Killing Them Softly; Leos Carax, Holy Motors
- Typo: Zeitlin. Academy voters are officially out of their damn minds. Maybe Best Lack of Direction.
- Actually won: Ang Lee
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
- Will win: Day-Lewis
- Could win: This one’s been locked up since DDL signed on.
- Should win: Phoenix. Which is a more difficult acting assignment: portraying an American icon or creating a wholly new character? Each has distinct merit, but Phoenix’s Freddy Quell, with his reptilian saunter and troubled face, is a true marvel. Day-Lewis’s achievement is undeniable, and though he’ll surely win, the rapport between Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master is some of the most extraordinary head-to-head acting in the history of cinema.
- Should have been a contender: Denis Lavant, Holy Motors; Jack Black, Bernie; Richard Gere, Arbitrage; Mark Duplass, Your Sister’s Sister or Safety Not Guaranteed
- Typo: Washington. He’s not bad in Flight, but he’s not good, either.
- Actually won: Daniel Day-Lewis
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Will win: Lawrence
- Could win: Chastain or Riva
- Should win: Chastain. Zero Dark Thirty has a real chance of leaving the Oscars empty handed, which would be a shame for such a remarkable achievement. As its eerily focused center, Chastain’s CIA agent keeps the faith while those around her falter in the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Coming off a year in which she could have been nominated for any of her five breakout performances, Chastain puts it all together here. Her final, wordless scene is stronger than most of her competitions’ nominated work overall and blasts Lawrence’s miscasting away.
- Should have been a contender: Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister; Melanie Lynskey, Hello I Must Be Going; Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed; Greta Gerwig, Damsels In Distress; Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks; Cecile de France, The Kid with a Bike
- Typo: Wallis. Staring off into the distance and reading cornball dialogue isn’t acting.
- Actually won: Jennifer Lawrence
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin, Argo
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
- Will win: De Niro
- Could win: Jones
- Should win: Hoffman. He and Joaquin Phoenix are two parts of a whole in The Master. To honor one is to honor the other, though it’s almost certain that neither will get the chance this year.
- Should have been a contender: Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie, or The Paperboy; Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths; Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers; Alec Baldwin, To Rome With Love; Omar Sy, The Intouchables; Michael Fassbender, Prometheus; Javier Bardem, Skyfall
- Typo: All are deserving of nominations, though Arkin could be bumped to honor McConaughey’s powerhouse year.
- Actually won: Christoph Waltz.
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams, The Master
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Sally Field, Lincoln
- Will win: Hathaway
- Could win: It’s a done deal.
- Should win: Hathaway. Yes, the single-take rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” really is that good. Her award is the Academy’s way of telling Les Miserables “thanks for playing,” a consolation prize for a film that deserved far better than the shrugs it received.
- Should have been a contender: Ann Dowd, Compliance; Judi Dench, Skyfall; Frances McDormand, Moonrise Kingdom; Eva Mendes, Holy Motors
- Typo: Adams. And yet her cute monotony is powerless to derail the juggernaut that is The Master!
- Actually won: Anne Hathaway.
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
- Will win: Boal
- Could win: Haneke
- Should win: Anderson and Coppola. Anderson’s third quietly-earned nomination in 11 years is a minor reward for his best-reviewed and most successful film at the box office thus far. Django is a 1st draft posing as a final version and the other three are so rooted in reality that they feel out of place. Better to reward the most imaginative kids at the party, something that won’t happen but, if it did, would be the best Oscar moment ever.
- Should have been a contender: Rian Johnson, Looper; Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths; P.T. Anderson, The Master; Whit Stillman, Damsels In Distress; Leos Carax, Holy Motors
- Typo: Gatins. Alcoholism has been written about in fresh, creative ways since nearly the birth of cinema. Details from many of those works are recycled in Flight for your redundant enjoyment.
- Actually won: Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.
Argo, Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi, David Magee
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell
- Will win: Kushner
- Could win: Russell
- Should win: Kushner. To make the legislative process as exciting as Kushner did is one of the year’s premiere accomplishment. His language is the best thing going for Lincoln and, more than Day-Lewis, vaulted Spielberg back to top director status. Not to be overlooked, Pi‘s Magee took an extremely literary novel, deemed that wonderful word “unfilmable” by the bulk of its readership, and made it work. In another year, his achievement would be honored, but this is unquestionably Kushner’s time.
- Should have been a contender: Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, Bernie; Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski, Cloud Atlas
- Typo: Alibar and Zeitlin. Screenplay? That movie had a screenplay?
- Actually won: Chris Terrio for Argo.
Other Categories of Note
Best Animated Feature Film
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
- Will win: ParaNorman
- Could win: Frankenweenie
- Should win: Frankenweenie. ParaNorman is a fine, imaginative film with character creations that are consistently interesting to view. Frankenweenie does all of that a notch better and with a hell of a lot more heart, marking a wonderful return to form for the once-slumping Tim Burton.
- Should have been a contender: The Secret World Of Arrietty; Rise of the Guardians
- Typo: Wreck-It Ralph, though Brave is a close second. Both made a ton of money and made a bunch of kids squeal with delight, but they had more holes than the ozone.
- Actually won: Brave.
Achievement in Cinematography
Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained, Robert Richardson
Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda
Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall, Roger Deakins
- Will win: Deakins
- Could win: Kaminski
- Should win: Deakins. The Coen Brothers’ longtime DP has been nominated nine prior times without a win. Skyfall‘s stunning imagery was crucial to making it arguably the best Bond film yet and may just be obvious enough to earn Deakins the Oscar.
- Should have been a contender: Robert Yeoman, Moonrise Kingdom; Greig Fraser, Zero Dark Thirty; Mihai Malaimare, The Master; John Toll and Frank Grieb, Cloud Atlas
- Typo: Kaminski. The camera has to move, Janusz. (At least Beasts wasn’t nominated here…)
- Actually won: Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi.
Best Documentary Feature
5 Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man
- Will win: Searching for Sugar Man
- Could win: How to Survive a Plague
- Should win: Searching for Sugar Man. A more impressive list may be comprised from the notable titles that weren’t nominated. Of those that were, the musical mystery Sugar Man is the clear standout, though its more serious competition may wind up winning.
- Should have been a contender: Detropia; Side By Side; Bones Brigade: An Autobiography; Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry; The Imposter; Jiro Dreams of Sushi; Shut Up and Play the Hits
- Typo: 5 Broken Cameras and The Invisible War aren’t great works of cinema, but tell important stories. Does that make them worthy of nominations, especially considering those that didn’t make the cut?
- Actually won: Searching for Sugar Man.