It's time to play one of our favorite yearly games at Times Community News: Can You Outguess the Features Editor? And no, that's not a rhetorical question. You probably can.
Last year, incurable Oscar junkie that I am, I challenged readers to beat my predictions for the top six categories of the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Whatever brazen confidence I may have had going in quickly got erased when two readers guessed five out of six winners correctly, trouncing my meager three of six.
As some of my friends know, I'm quite an expert when it comes to Oscar's past. If you stop me on the street and blurt out any year between 1928 and 2011, I can name the film that won that year's Best Picture within five seconds. Or perhaps you'll try a harder one: What was the last film to win the top prize without being nominated for Best Director? Who holds the record for most acting nominations without ever winning?
The answers, obviously, are "Driving Miss Daisy" and Peter O'Toole. But that photographic memory doesn't always serve me well when predicting Oscar's future. Did I really say in print last year that Melissa McCarthy would win Best Supporting Actress for "Bridesmaids"? And did I really expect "Brokeback Mountain" to top "Crash" for Best Picture in 2005? Wait a minute — everyone expected that. Oscar is full of surprises, some more welcome than others.
But my wounds from the past are healed, and so 2013's contest is officially on. If you think you can predict the winners better than I can, email your picks for each category to firstname.lastname@example.org and include your full name, age and city of residence. If you win, you'll get a mention in the paper after the Feb. 24 ceremony. You'll also get to point and laugh at me if you see me on the street — provided that you beat me, of course.
And so we're off! Here are my (kind of) savvy predictions for each of the top prizes:
A note, first of all: I really don't care for this new system of nominating more than five movies for the top prize. When the field is stretched that thin, it always comes down to a handful of movies that have a chance and a larger handful ("The Blind Side"?) that don't. Usually, the five films that nab a Best Director nomination can be considered the "real" Best Picture nominees, except....
Except that this year, I'm going out on a limb and predicting an upset win for "Argo" as Best Picture. Yes, "Lincoln" is anointed right now as the frontrunner, but so were "Saving Private Ryan," "The Social Network" and, for that matter, "Brokeback Mountain" once. "Argo" has momentum from winning the Golden Globe; it's the kind of crowd-pleaser that voters may check off if they figure that "everyone else" is picking "Lincoln"; and it has added sympathy due to Ben Affleck's snub in the Best Director category.
The pick: "Argo"
It's rare that this category causes the biggest furor, but with an all-star lineup of directors (Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, Quentin Tarantino) shut out this year, it had more than a few jaws dropping. For the surprise contenders, Benh Zeitlin ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") and Michael Haneke ("Amour"), the nomination is the award; David O. Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook") and Ang Lee ("Life of Pi") will likely see their movies honored for acting and technical feats, respectively. That leaves Steven Spielberg, who should cruise to an easy win for "Lincoln."
The pick: Steven Spielberg
He played one of the icons of American history; he imbued a larger-than-life president with subtle human qualities; he added doses of wit and earthiness to balance the somber political themes. But enough about Bill Murray in "Hyde Park on Hudson"! Daniel Day-Lewis, despite winning in this category twice already, appears to have almost no chance of losing for "Lincoln." Sadly passed over for a nomination was Suraj Sharma, who put on an astonishing one-man show (well, one man and one tiger) for most of "Life of Pi."
The pick: Daniel Day-Lewis
My heart says that Quvenzhané Wallis will sneak in for "Beasts" — Anna Paquin's win for "The Piano" showed that kids can pull upsets on occasion. But this one looks to be between Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook" and Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty." The fact that voters nominated "Silver" in all four acting categories shows strong support, but Chastain may benefit from Bigelow being overlooked as Best Director. It's almost a tossup, but I'm going to go with the CIA agent over the basket case.
The pick: Jessica Chastain
Best Supporting Actor
No beginner's luck in this category — five former winners! At least two of them will probably be disqualified for sameness: Alan Arkin ("Argo") won a few years ago for playing a similar character in "Little Miss Sunshine," and Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") recently won for another Tarantino film. The likeliest bet looks to be Tommy Lee Jones, who won nearly 20 years ago and did solid work as a heroic senator in "Lincoln."
The pick: Tommy Lee Jones
Best Supporting Actress
Sometimes, the Academy will honor a movie by honoring one performance, and that looks to be the case with Anne Hathaway and "Les Miserables." Almost neck-and-neck with her is Sally Field for playing the first lady in "Lincoln," but since Hathaway is just about the only aspect of "Les Miz" that even many naysayers are leaving alone, I predict she'll triumph here.
The pick: Anne Hathaway