They all coulda been contenders, but only one will walk away with the title. Elizabeth Renzetti handicaps the candidates.
Silver Linings Playbook
A film about mental-health issues, especially one starring the Sexiest Man Alive, is bound to grab headlines, and Silver Linings Playbook’s headlines have generally been favourable. The film, based on a novel by Matthew Quick, managed to avoid the controversy of the other Oscar front-runners.
Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (both nominated for Oscars) as two misfits finding their way through a world that doesn’t understand them, and Robert De Niro (also nominated in the best supporting actor category) as Mr. Cooper’s dad. When Mr. De Niro broke down and cried during an interview about director David O. Russell’s son’s mental-health issues, the heart-twisting images stole the spotlight.
Heavyweight friend in its corner
Heart surgeon and health guru Mehmet Oz wrote a glowing piece about the film for The Huffington Post, largely seen to be orchestrated by the film’s uber-savvy, wildly competitive producer, Harvey Weinstein.
Jennifer Lawrence should be practising her acceptance speech in front of a mirror (unless Emanuelle Riva quietly steals it from the whippersnapper.)
Ben Affleck directed and starred in the thriller about the CIA’s attempts to rescue six Americans hiding out in the Tehran home of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, during the Iranian revolution. The CIA agent played by Mr. Affleck concocts a cover story about a terrible science fiction movie called Argo in order to rescue his compatriots.
Mr. Affleck’s popularity with fellow movie-makers, and the Hollywood subplot, are thought to be enough to compensate over concerns about Argo playing fast and loose with certain historical events. It was named best film at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAS, the British film awards.
“Argo’s momentum was timed perfectly,” says Sasha Stone of the website Awards Daily. “If left to dangle out there for a couple more weeks, people would get sick of it, and wouldn’t want it to be the best picture winner. But right now it’s still riding high on the buzz and happiness people feel for Ben Affleck.”
Heavyweight friend in its corner
George Clooney, producer
Best picture. And if it wins, somebody on stage better thank Ken Taylor.
Zero Dark Thirty
Even before it was released, the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden drew heavy fire for its depiction of torture during interrogation, and whether that did (or didn’t) lead to information useful in finding him. Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain wrote a letter slamming the film for “perpetuating the myth that torture is effective.”
Initially well-received by critics, it lost momentum in the Oscar race after pundits and politicians began to bicker about its political import. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Sony Pictures had to decide whether to defend its film or keep silent, and chose the latter – perhaps to its detriment. As the film lost momentum to Argo, its screenwriter Mark Boal and its director Kathryn Bigelow began a concerted effort to defend its blend of fact and surmise. “Without the freedom of fiction we couldn’t share this story with the millions who deserve to understand it, question it or debate it,” Mr. Boal said during a lecture to university students.
Still, it might have been too little, too late. Ed Asner orchestrated a petition urging Academy members to ignore the film when voting.
Heavyweight friends in its corner
Filmmaker Michael Moore – not exactly a defender of violent coercion for political ends – wrote in support of Zero Dark Thirty, “It will make you hate torture. And it will make you happy you voted for a man who stopped all that barbarity.” Former CIA chief Leon Panetta called it “a good movie,” but added that viewers “have to understand that it isn’t a documentary, it’s a movie.”
Editing, maybe. Although if there is film karma, one day Zero Dark Thirty will transcend controversy and takes its rightful place in the pantheon. (Which film does history remember more kindly, Pulp Fiction or the rival that snatched the 1994 Oscar, Forrest Gump?)
Lincoln is “doomed to be the film that’s respected and admired but not loved,” says Steve Pond, author of The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards. A talky, complex, ambitious account of Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to have the 13 Amendment passed, the movie that bears his name is only slightly shorter than the Civil War.
Daniel Day-Lewis performs another of his Houdini tricks, disappearing entirely into a historical character, and is widely considered the front-runner in the best actor sweepstakes, while Sally Field, playing Mrs. Lincoln, is nominated in the best supporting actress category and will get the chance on Sunday night to find out if the world likes her, it really likes her.
Lincoln, based on the book Team of Rivals by historian Doris Kearns Godwin and adapted for the screen by Tony Kushner, has drawn its share of controversy: Columnist Maureen Dowd criticized the filmmakers for changing two Connecticut lawmakers’ historic votes on the 13 Amendment for the sake of dramatic effect. Mr. Kushner defended his bending of the record, telling Ms. Dowd that “history doesn’t always organize itself according to the rules of drama.”
Heavyweight in its corner: He may be a lettuce-eating shadow of his former self, but it doesn’t get much bigger than Bill Clinton, who called Lincoln “a brilliant film.”
Best bet: Daniel Day-Lewis will soon be able to use his raft of Oscars to balance a table (he already has two.)