The Great Oscar Debate


Recent Oscar seasons have typically been long, drawn-out affairs where everyone knows who’s going to win far before the actual Academy Awards ceremony. Not this year, though.

Thanks to a wide number of Oscar hopefuls, this year’s roundup of nominees is proving difficult to pin down. The only thing certain? Seth MacFarlane’s turn as Oscar host will likely be as infamous as David Letterman’s 18 years ago. (Seriously, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler raised the bar for award shows at this year’s Golden Globes.)

In any case, we’re excited for this year’s ceremony—so much, in fact, that (shameless plug) we’re throwing a party at Ten Atlanta on Oscar night. We’re also bringing you our second annual head-to-head debate over who we think will win, should win, and who’s unfortunately left out. In particular, you’ll be seeing a lot of mentions of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. So whether you’re at our party, watching with a group elsewhere, or viewing this year’s ceremony from the comfort of your couch, here’s your chance to get inside the mind of a couple of film buffs who’ve seen all the nominees, so you don’t have to!

Best Picture


Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

E: Last year, the Academy went from 10 nominees per year to a sliding scale of anywhere between five and 10 nominees. Like last year, the final slate ended up having nine nominees.

A month ago, this category was a tough one to predict. Right now, though, it seems like Argo will win. Do you agree?

J: Totally agree. For me, Argo tied with Silver Linings Playbook as my favorite film of the year. I loved thatSilver Linings was quirky, but really had a serious side. Argo, though, was an edge-of-my-seat thrill ride, with great performances throughout the film.

E: It’ll be interesting to see if Argo pulls off a Best Picture win. Oscar history is against a win. The last film to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination: 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. It’s really not the frontrunner in any other category, and the last film of three total to win this award without winning another award was 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty.

Finally, Argo is following a path very similar to Apollo 13, which swept the Oscar precursors, only to lose toBraveheart on Oscar night.

J: Do you think Lincoln has a shot here?

E: Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet heavily on it. Going back to the Apollo 13Braveheart line-up: Braveheart was one of the first films to make use of screeners for voters, which helped more people see it. These days, everyone has access to plenty of ways to watch nominated films.

J: Do you think people will vote for Argo because of Affleck’s snub in Best Director?

E: I think that helps Argo. Affleck’s nominated in this category as one of the film’s producers, as is the ever-popular George Clooney. A win here is a way to award Affleck in spite of his Best Director snub.

J: I think that Argo will and should win here, even though I want a Silver Linings Playbook win.

E: I agree on what will and should win, but I’d go with Zero Dark Thirty for what I want to win. It was a better picture than Argo for me, personally.

J: Was it Zero Dark Thirty’s slower buildup to the suspense?

E: For me, yeah. Not to take anything away from Argo, but I felt like Zero Dark Thirty was better at building suspense. Argo’s all about making a mission work as quickly as possible, while Zero Dark Thirty took a lot of (frustrating) time and energy. People die or otherwise fall apart in Zero Dark Thirty in a way you don’t see in Argo.

J: I can totally understand that. I’d even go so far as to say I agree.

E: Still, I think Argo’s a deserving winner. Definitely a better choice than our last few Best Picture winners.

So, with up to 10 slots open for films in this category, what’s missing? And what maybe shouldn’t have been nominated, if anything?

J: Well, I think Skyfall was a great Bond film, and while I don’t think it could have won, I could have been nominated. I think if more people saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it could’ve had a shot too. With its acting nominations, I would’ve thought The Master might have landed a nomination here.

But what do you cut for any of those? Beasts of the Southern Wild? Possibly Les Misérables?

E: I’d be fine cutting Les Misérables and Beasts, and replacing them with Perks, along with maybe Skyfalland/or Looper.

J: You do have some love Looper. How much of that is love for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, though?

E: Maybe a little. But I think it was a really good film, period. Perks and Looper were my top two films of 2012.

Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Argo
Should Be Nominated: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Director

Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Michael Haneke, Amour
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

E: Let’s talk about the Best Director category, a.k.a. The Evening’s Biggest Question Mark.

J: Yes. There’s not much to gripe about that hasn’t already been said elsewhere.

E: But let’s say it anyway.

Fun trivia fact for this category: since its inception in 1948, the Director’s Guild Award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film (the DGA’s Best Director equivalent) overwhelmingly goes on to win this category. This year marks the seventh time in its history that doesn’t happen, following Ben Affleck’s win a few weeks ago.

J: I can understand Kathryn Bigelow’s absence here because of the controversy surrounding “torture” inZero Dark Thirty, though the controversy’s really a stretch. But Ben Affleck? Snub. SnubArgo had me scratching at my skin, trying to catch my breath.

E: Between the two, I think Bigelow actually did the better job. But Affleck’s clearly the snub everyone’s talking about. And really, I think Bigelow and Affleck missing here was less snubbing and more of a by-product of a year with a wide range of good films with no standout like we’ve seen in previous years.

J: I also can’t believe that there wasn’t a nomination for Les Misérables here, just because he had them sing live on screen.

E: Meh. Hooper’s direction was sloppy. He was overly reliant on close-ups, which bugged me to no end. I had issues with him winning a few years ago against David Fincher, so I have no problems with him being absent here.

J: I didn’t mind the close-ups.

E: I didn’t mind some of the close-ups. I think Anne Hathaway benefited from it for “I Dreamed A Dream.” But that’s the bulk of what he did—disorienting close-ups. It took away from the “epic” scale of the musical.

Of the nominees, who would you throw out?

J: Well, Beasts of the Southern Wild could take a backseat for me.

E: Since the precursors have largely gone to Affleck and Argo, it’s a guessing game, but who do you think will win here?

J: I think it’s a two-way race between Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg. I’d go with Lee.

E: Another fun fact: the last time Lee or Spielberg won, their respective films lost Best Picture. If either wins this year, it looks like that may happen again.

J: Oh, Brokeback Mountain. I was so mad that year.

E: I actually think the two may split the vote, and my off-the-wall prediction for the night goes here. I think Michael Haneke may pull an upset.

J: See, I’m wondering if that might happen with Spielberg and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. Lee, though, made a movie many thought couldn’t be made. Plus, aren’t most of Pi’s nominations in technical categories?

E: They are. And I think there’s a solid case to be made for Lee. Or Spielberg, who spent about a decade getting this film to screen.

J: That amount of time may be the kicker for Spielberg. I’m thinking the tech voters will go for Lee, though, and that could be the crucial factor in this race.

E: Regarding Haneke: he’s never been nominated, in spite of a lot of appreciation for his work. And Amouris based on subject matter that hit close to home for him. The man’s 70.

So you’re on board for a Lee win. Do you think he should win here, though?

J: Yeah, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he should win, too. You?

E: Haneke feels like the best option here.

Will Win: Michael Haneke (Elijah), Ang Lee (Joseph)
Should Win: Michael Haneke (Elijah), Ang Lee (Joseph)
Should Be Nominated: Ben Affleck, Argo; Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

E: Let’s just say it: Daniel Day-Lewis will almost definitely win.

J: Yes, and it’s almost unfair. It’s like he’s superhuman. He’s not even from this planet when he takes a role.

E: He’s very picky with his roles, which is part of what makes him so good.

J: It’s like, “Daniel Day-Lewis is acting this year. All other actors should stay home.” He embodied what I would have imagined Lincoln to be like in real life. It was obvious he studied the man.

E: He definitely preps for his roles. It’s also probably one of the biggest Oscar bait roles in recent years.

J: That’s true. I mean, it’s Abraham Lincoln. The other roles here just cannot compare.

E: Let’s imagine that the impossible happens, though, and someone else wins. Who could possibly steal it? I’m going to go with Hugh Jackman. He’s well-liked in the industry. He did a bang-up job as Jean Valjean.

J: But so many people have played Valjean on stage, and although I haven’t seen every single one, I’m not sure he did anything to the character that hasn’t been done a million other times.

E: Except sing live on film. Which Les Misérables’ PR team loves to remind people about constantly.

J: They sing every flippin’ night of the week.

E: Those performances are different from a film release. It’s also what makes Anne Hathaway’s performance stand out. In a theater, you’re singing to the rafters. With the film, there’s more room for nuance.

J: If there’s a dark horse, I’d put money on it being Joaquin Phoenix. Even though he criticizes this whole awards thing. I think he’s just an amazing actor, and I like rooting for the underdog.

E: Phoenix is definitely an underdog. I don’t see him coming close, though. I think, if anything, he just barely got this nomination over John Hawkes for The Sessions.

J: I would have nixed Bradley Cooper from this category.

E: Why?

J: Because when you compare the performances in that film, no one compares to Lawrence. I think there may have been a shot for Hawkes over Cooper. And the role Cooper’s nominated for doesn’t scream Best Actor.

E: I don’t buy your logic, regarding the performances in Silver Linings Playbook. Going by it, we should just have one nominated performance per film, period. There go away the nods for Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field for Lincoln.

J: I just don’t like Cooper, I guess. I think a million guys could have played that role.

E: The role was originally intended for Mark Wahlberg.

J: And it would’ve been the same.

E: I actually like Cooper in the role. Maybe it’s some residual affection I have for his role on Alias. But I think it’s much harder to do comedy well than it is to do drama, and I think Cooper nailed it.

J: Honestly, I think without the muscle of Harvey Weinstein, Cooper would not have a nomination.

Would you replace anyone in this category?

E: As much as I’d like to see Hawkes in this category, I can’t think of who I’d replace him with. I think we both know who you’d replace Hawkes with, though.

J: Uh-huh. We sure do.

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should Be Nominated: John Hawkes, The Sessions

Best Actress


Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

E: Fun facts: at 85, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest nominee in this category. If she wins, she’ll win on her 86th birthday, and she’ll be the oldest acting winner ever. Quvenzhané Wallis, meanwhile, is the youngest nominee ever in this category at nine. More interestingly, though: she’s nominated for a film she made when she was six.

J: Let’s talk about Quvenzhané. How aware of what you’re doing are you at six? I just don’t think the nomination was warranted, and there’s no way she’s going to win.

E: I think that, for a six-year-old, she gave an outstanding performance. The nomination is the win for her. She’s already in talks with Will Smith and Jay-Z to star in their new film adaptation of Annie, so she’s gotten something out of this.

J: I feel like this is one of the toughest categories to predict. There are arguments that can be made for the other four.

E: Yeah—let’s get to it.

J: Jennifer Lawrence was fantastic in a quirky, feel-good film. There’s a depth to her acting that isn’t there with everyone else. But she’s got a long career ahead of her, so as much as I want her to win, I’m not ready for her to win.

E: She definitely has more range than the other nominees here. This is also her second nomination in this category in three years.

J: Winter’s Bone? Now if that had come out this year, I would be rooting for her in that role.

E: Plus, she’s the hottest thing in Hollywood these days, thanks to the phenomenal success of The Hunger Games.

J: She was amazing. I’m torn because I want her to win, get up on stage and say some stupid, funny shit. But has she paid her dues?

E: I think the “long career” argument, by the way, actually works better for her biggest competition here. And screw dues. She did a remarkable job in a role written in mind for an older actress. I’m sure some voters will think she’s too young. She’s not.

J: I also think that Silver Linings Playbook, in an initial viewing, can be seen as something light that lacks depth. It plays as an R-rated comedy sometimes, and I think that might work against her. But she’s serious. Her range is amazing. And I’m just so conflicted.

E: If Lawrence doesn’t win, it’s got to be Chastain, right?

J: Jessica Chastain…I admire her grit in this movie, but there’s definitely a bit of depth missing to me.

E: It’s not your typical female role, particularly in regards to the type that win this category. There’s little back story and few standout moments typical of Best Actress-winning performances. In the scene discussing Bin Laden’s hiding place, though, her reaction when asked who “the girl” in the room is—“I’m the motherfucker that found this place, sir”—is probably my favorite single line from a performance this year.

J: I actually think Naomi Watts has a chance to sneak up and steal this from both Lawrence and Chastain, even though she’s almost dead for the second half of the film. That’s not hurting Anne Hathaway, though. Watts moved me. I was just sitting there the entire time, absorbing the struggle she went through.

E: There are plenty of actors who love her here. Reese Witherspoon basically wrote a public letter saying how Watts had her vote because she sympathized as a mother. What hurts is that she’s the film’s sole nominee.

J: I’d love to see any of the three win it.

E: If there’s someone who can come between Lawrence and Chastain, though, I think it may be Emmanuelle Riva. Amour made an impact in the nomination round this year. And it’s a devastating performance, without the histrionics of Watts’ performance.

J: I think the whole “torture” debate plays against Chastain, and the surface levity of the film plays against Lawrence. I’ll go with…Emmanuelle Riva winning.

E: I think Jennifer Lawrence will edge out Jessica Chastain just barely. I’d be fine with either of them winning, though.

Now who’s missing here? I’ll go ahead and say that I think Marion Cotillard was completely deserving of a nomination for Rust and Bone. I think it was a great, lived-in performance. I’d replace Wallis with Cotillard, ultimately. Otherwise, it’s a solid lineup this year.

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence (Elijah), Emmanuelle Riva (Joseph)
Should Win: Jennifer Lawrence
Should Be Nominated: Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone

Best Supporting Actor


Alan Arkin, Argo
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

J: I could give two shits about this category, because the Academy snubbed Ezra Miller. He should be in this category, no doubt. I would have taken DeNiro straight out of this category in a heartbeat.

E: Agreed. DeNiro’s better than he’s been in years, just because he’s been coasting for years. In any case, he doesn’t need another Oscar.

J: No, especially not for this film.

E: Fun fact about this category: this is the first time ever that an acting category consists solely of previous winners.

J: Did you read some Oscar fact book before you sat down with me?

E: I just know my random bits of Oscar trivia.

J: I did think Tommy Lee Jones was amazing in Lincoln. I’d like to see the award go to Jones over, say, DeNiro or Arkin just because of the depth of his role.

E: Of those three, yes, I’d give it to Jones. As much attention as Day-Lewis is getting for Lincoln, I think Jones gave the most intriguing performance in the film.

J: Alan Arkin’s character in Argo was played the same way as his Oscar-winning performance in Little Miss Sunshine. He plays cranky, kooky, aggressive comedy well. But not well enough to get a second award.

E: I totally agree. If they wanted to give a nomination to an Argo actor, I would’ve loved to see John Goodman land a nomination. Between his performances in ArgoFlight and Trouble with the Curve, he really brought it as a character actor this year.

J: I would’ve even taken a Ben Affleck nomination in this category.

E: But he was really the lead of his film.

J: Helen Hunt got a Supporting nomination, and she’s basically the co-lead of The Sessions. There was no story without her.

E: But John Hawkes was definitely the center of that film. Categorizations get tricky sometimes. In this category, for example, I think it’s easy to argue that Christoph Waltz was a lead in Django Unchained, not a supporting player. He drives the first two-thirds of the film, easily. But his character ultimately supports Django.

J: Who do you think is going to win?

E: I’d absolutely love to see Christoph Waltz win here. There’s something magical about the marriage of Waltz’s performance and Tarantino’s screenplay. It’s different from their previous collaboration inInglourious Basterds, which resulted in a win in this category for Waltz, but it’s just as good. That being said, I think Jones will ultimately win, and it’s not undeserved for him.

J: I do think this category would’ve been better with Javier Bardem, Ezra Miller, and/or Matthew McConaughey. I’m fine with almost everything in the category, though, except for the Miller snub. The Academy really shied away from youth here. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s 45, and everybody else is in their 50s or higher. And Hoffman looks 60 any damn way.

E: Waltz is 56, but seems slightly younger. It helps that he’s in a Tarantino film. But the rest…talk about a category filled with old white men. If it were up to me, I’d replace Arkin with Miller and call it a day.

J: Agreed.

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones (Joseph), Christoph Waltz (Elijah)
Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones (Joseph), Christoph Waltz (Elijah)
Should Be Nominated: Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Supporting Actress


Amy Adams, The Master
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Sally Field, Lincoln

E: What do you think of the nominees this year?

J: Anne Hathaway has this category locked down.

E: Oh, clearly.

J: But it’s kind of unfortunate, because had her character not had “I Dreamed a Dream,” I doubt there would even be a nomination. It’s as if the song itself should get the Oscar.

E: It’s similar to Jennifer Hudson’s win a few years ago. “And I Am Telling You” is what won Hudson her Oscar in this category.

Of the five nominees, Anne deserves it the most, I think. She has so little screentime, but her take on “I Dreamed a Dream” made for four of the most memorable minutes of film in 2012, period.

That’s not to knock the other nominees. Hunt and Field in particular gave great turns in their respective films, and after years of not having much presence on screen, it was great to see both return with really juicy roles.

J: I’d like to see the award go to Helen Hunt. She was great, and I just like Helen Hunt. But if Anne Hathaway doesn’t win, I think it’ll go to Sally Field, because they like her—they really like her!

E: Maybe. It’s weird to think about Sally Field winning, though. If she somehow wins, she’ll have three wins from three career nominations. Put it another way: she’ll have as many Oscars as Meryl Streep, with a better success ratio.

Plus, Steven Spielberg has never directed an actor to an Oscar win before. He’ll likely do that for the first time this year, maybe twice in one night. I don’t see Sally being one of those wins.

J: They just need to give Amy Adams a damn Oscar. Now.

E: Amy’s an interesting case. This is her fourth nomination in this category. Clearly, people like her. I don’t think she’ll win an Oscar, though, until her Janis Joplin biopic comes out.

J: Well, I sure hope that she gets a statue soon.

E: Me too. The only “WTF” nominee this year is Jacki Weaver. She’s fine, but she’s almost completely in the background of her film. I can’t think of a single standout scene from her.

J: I think that Judi Dench getting a nomination for Skyfall would’ve been better.

E: Me too. I could also see Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy—she managed to build some buzz for that…committed performance.

J: This is a no-brainer, though. Anne has this category on lockdown. The weight loss, the singing, the snot, the tears—they all scream Oscar.

E: Agreed. If Anne doesn’t win, it will be a huge shock.

Will Win: Anne Hathaway
Should Win: Anne Hathaway (Elijah), Helen Hunt (Joseph)
Should Be Nominated: Judi Dench, Skyfall

Best Original Screenplay


John Gatins, Flight
Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke, Amour
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom

J: I’m thinking the Academy is going to award Moonrise Kingdom. It was a critical darling, reaching a bigger audience than his previous films.

E: But it’s the only nomination for the film.

J: Well, I think that in terms of “original,” it’s definitely the most original screenplay in this category, thoughDjango Unchained is a close second.

E: It’s a great screenplay, don’t get me wrong. And I think it would be a great winner. I don’t think the Academy loved the film enough for it to win here, though. I actually think they’ll go with Amour, or possiblyDjango UnchainedZero Dark Thirty’s out, I think—the controversy’s proven too much. And Flight’s inclusion here is random and unexpected.

J: Yeah, I definitely think Zero Dark Thirty has no chance. Flight should be taken out, too.

E: Back to Amour, I think this is the film’s most likely shot in a category that’s not Foreign Film.

J: Really, I would have loved to see Looper nominated here. It was fresh and original.

E: Oh, I definitely agree there. Looper would’ve been a great choice here for a nomination. I would even support a Looper win.

J: I guess I should’ve really said that I want originality to be rewarded, and there’s nothing more original here than Moonrise Kingdom. If I follow the logic of the Academy going with “older” choices, though, Amourwill probably win.

E: I’d actually support a Zero Dark Thirty win here. I don’t think it will happen, but for the opening sequence alone… That’s probably the most powerful film opening I saw in 2012. It really sets the mood for the entire picture.

J: I guess I’m rooting against it because the story was already written, in a sense. But I agree: both the beginning and the ending of that film made my heart race.

E: I have to disagree with your reasoning for opposing a Zero Dark Thirty win here. While it’s based on actual events, the story itself is one that hasn’t been told before. Hell, if The King’s Speech and Milk can win this category in recent years, with more of their stories known before the films were made, Zero Dark Thirty deserves a shot. It’s more original than either of those stories.

Will Win: Amour
Should Win: Moonrise Kingdom (Joseph), Django Unchained (Elijah)
Should Be Nominated: Rian Johnson, Looper

Best Adapted Screenplay


Chris Terrio, Argo
David Magee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Tony Kushner, Lincoln

E: First off, if I could pull out any of the nominees, I’d pull out Life of Pi. The film was so schmaltzy, and that’s in large part due to the script.

J: There’s definitely some stiff competition in this category. I’d pull out Lincoln for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, any day of the week.

E: I disagree—not on putting in Perks, but pulling Lincoln. I think Tony Kushner did a fantastic job with the screenplay, which went through numerous edits to condense it into a single filmable story, as opposed to a sweeping biopic.

Lincoln’s the frontrunner here, I think. The closest competition may be Silver Linings Playbook.

J: I will say the ending of Lincoln was the most creative way to weave his assassination into the story, but I expected a bit more fire from the film.

E: I think the problems with Lincoln come down more to directorial decisions than any screenplay or acting issues.

J: No talk about Beasts of the Southern Wild here? Because I could pull Beasts in favor of Perks, too.

E: I’d be fine with that scenario. Perks stands out to me over the nominees here because of its interesting back story: Stephen Chbosky, the author of the original book, also handled the screenplay, and he managed to edit the material in a way that worked beautifully.

J: I’m very disappointed that it wasn’t shown any love.

E: I blame it in large part on Summit and Lionsgate. Why they didn’t attempt to go with a wider release for this film, I don’t understand.

J: Yeah, I don’t understand its distribution either. If it had adopted a format similar to Silver Linings Playbook, I think we would’ve seen some more attention for Perks.

E: I wouldn’t rule out a win for Argo here. Outside of Best Picture, it’s not a frontrunner anywhere, but the soft support for Lincoln may work in Argo’s favor.

J: I’m going to go with Silver Linings Playbook.

Will Win: Argo (Elijah), Silver Linings Playbook (Joseph)
Should Win: Lincoln (Elijah), Silver Linings Playbook (Joseph)
Should Be Nominated: Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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