Johanna: Given that the academy tends to favour movies like Forrest Gump over movies like Pulp Fiction, I would say the only film that has a shot at beating Argo is Lincoln. Which would not upset me – it’s a solid picture, well-written, full of juicy performances. A little self-congratulatory, but don’t underestimate how much Americans love their own history. The most striking film of the year, to me, was The Master – not perfect by any means, but strong and daring, with a real vision and directorial authority. The academy ignored it, except for the three main performances. And then there’s Life of Pi, which everyone loves when they see it, but seems to have zero word of mouth – even though Ang Lee would be my pick of the list for best director, because I think it’s a true directorial achievement.
Liam: Globally, Life of Pi’s huge, closing in on a half-billion box office around the world, which is insane for a film that’s not about superheroes or cartoons – but I guess because Pi and the tiger opted to peacefully co-exist, it just doesn’t get the controversy.
Geoff: I’m there with Johanna and Lincoln, actually. Spielberg has been trying to insinuate himself as a “serious” director in the most naked and needy way ever since The Color Purple, and it’s fascinating how he’s consistently done so by turning to those tried-and-true “serious” issues of race and war. With Lincoln he’s landed on them both, but with true restraint, intelligence and – here’s the really surprising thing for me – maturity. Lincoln may not go as far as Amour does in the not-telling-you-what-to-think department, but it does presume you’re thinking and it doesn’t apologize for that. In the past, I felt like Spielberg was always holding his inner grownup in check just in case it meant the kid in him wasn’t engaged. And Lincoln’s the first movie he’s made that’s totally unconcerned with keeping that kid happy.
Johanna: The beginning and end of Lincoln still wallow in that Spielberg bathos – he just can’t resist having a wary black soldier quote the Gettysburg Address, and that candle dissolve at the end is pure hooey. But in the middle, in the debate scenes, he’s figured out a way to make dialogue cinematic, and I love him for that. The script, by Tony Kushner, is so in love with language, I luxuriate in it. I thought it was a lock for best adapted screenplay – until Chris Terrio’s script for Argo just nabbed the Writers Guild award, one more step in the late-season Argo surge.
Liam: Lincoln still leads with 12 nominations, which says something for the academy’s taste. If you could see one big surprise on Sunday night, what would it be? I’d like to see something that defies all expectations – Joaquin Phoenix for best actor, or Seth MacFarlane for best Oscar host ever.
Johanna: Several of the acting categories have been considered locks from the beginning – Daniel Day-Lewis for actor, Jennifer Lawrence for actress, Anne Hathaway for supporting actress. A different outcome in any of those races would be a huge surprise. I think supporting actor is still open – which could make for a wacky speech moment given the fact that nominees Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones are all pretty taciturn dudes. And I think director is still open, too, since Argo’s Ben Affleck wasn’t nominated there.
Geoff: I’d like to see a team of highly trained Canadian seals – not the Navy kind but the real ones – storm the stage and kidnap Ben Affleck.
Liam: And, that, I think, just about seals it.