This year's Oscar nominations caught many movie lovers by surprise.
Before the announcement two weeks ago, the four movies thought to have the best chance at taking home Oscar's top prize were "Lincoln," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Les Miserables" and "Argo." So, it wasn't a shock when those four movies were among nine films included for Best Picture.
However, Oscar buffs know that Best Picture and Best Director usually go to the same film. At the very least, the Best Picture winner secured a Best Director nomination (1989's "Driving Miss Daisy" was the last movie to win without a directing nod).
And of those four frontrunners, the only one that also turned up in the directing category was "Lincoln."
Does that mean the Steven Spielberg-directed historical drama is a shoo-in to sweep the awards? Not necessarily. It could mean that Oscar voters are more divided than usual, which could lead to upsets and/or a "spreading of the wealth" among several movies.
The Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics' Choice Awards and the Golden Globes may provide a little guidance, but none of the voting members for either of those televised events has a vote in the Academy Awards. This is one of those years where it may be wise to see the results of the Producer's Guild Awards (which will be announced Saturday), the Screen Actors Guild Awards (8 p.m. Sunday on TNT and TBS) and the Director's Guild Awards (Feb. 2) before predicting what will happen on Feb. 24 when the gold statues are awarded.
But I can't wait until then to kick off the Tribune Chronicle's and Shout Out's annual Oscar Contest. Here's what I think will happen in the top categories at the 85th Academy Awards, and readers can fill out the ballot on this page or go online at www.tribtoday.com to enter their picks and compete for the $100 cash prize.
I reserve the right to change (or, in one case, make) my picks until Feb. 21, the same day reader entries are due. Good luck.
I'm going to go with "Lincoln" for Best Picture until something happens with SAG, PGA or DGA to make me question its frontrunner status.
Because of the director/picture rule, its strongest challenger might be "The Silver Linings Playbook," and there is a possibility that Steven Spielberg could pick up his third Best Director statue while voters give Best Picture to this crowd-pleasing romantic dramedy.
If Ben Affleck wins Best Director for "Argo" from the DGA, it may indicate the movie has enough respect among voters to become the default choice for those whose first pick didn't get nominated ("The Master," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Skyfall") or who think something like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" or "Amour" is too much of a longshot on which to waste their vote. I think it has a better chance of winning than "Zero Dark Thirty," which has been wounded unfairly by the torture debate, or "Les Miserables," which seems to have as many detractors as fans.
"Life of Pi" may get some technical awards, but it doesn't feel like a significant challenger here. "Amour" likely will win Best Foreign Language Film, so voters will skip it here. "Django Unchained" is too violent and over-the-top to garner broad support. And for the micro-budgeted "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the cliche "It's an honor just to be nominated" is true.
Steven Spielberg already has two directing Oscars ("Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List"). Hollywood will respect both the artistic achievement and how Spielberg turned a wonky historical drama into a box-office smash ($161 million and 10 consecutive weeks in the box office top 10) and give him his third.
David O. Russell ("The Silver Linings Playbook") seems to be the likely choice for voters who believe two directing Oscars is plenty for Spielberg. But this also feels like the kind of year where a longshot pick like Michael Haneke ("Amour") could blow up everyone's predictions.
Daniel Day-Lewis for "Lincoln" is as sure of a sure thing as there is this year. If you're tempted to pick any of the other four nominees, you might want to call Gambler's Anonymous. You are susceptible to taking unnecessary risks.
Jessica Chastain won the Golden Globe for Best Actress Drama and Jennifer Lawrence picked up the Golden Globe for Best Actress Comedy or Musical. It's likely that one of them will win here.
But I can't decide which one. Both have recent Oscar nominations but no wins. Traditionally, I'd go with Chastain in the more dramatic role, but Lawrence's young widow is no lightweight rom-com character. A couple of the more liberal Oscar voters already have said they wouldn't vote for "Zero Dark Thirty" because of its handling of torture in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden. If that attitude extends down ticket, it might be just enough to hurt Chastain.
And then there is Quvenzhane Wallis. I didn't think voters would nominate someone that young for Best Actress. I was wrong. Now, I'm wondering if there might be enough voters thinking, "I don't care if Quvenzhane Wallis was only 6 when she made 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.' She carried that movie on her tiny shoulders." A win for Wallis, the youngest Best Actress nominee ever, or Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest Best Actress nominee ever, would give voters a chance to make history.
The SAG Awards may provide some clarity. I'm leaning Lawrence, but for now I'm calling this one a toss-up. I'll make up my mind by Feb. 21.
Best Supporting Actor
This may be the toughest of the eight categories in the Oscar Contest to gauge. All of the nominees are previous winners and did excellent work. Christoph Waltz won the Golden Globe, but he also is the most recent Oscar winner of the five, and I don't think voters will pick him again this soon. Alan Arkin is great in "Argo," but I don't think his part is as substantial as the other competitors.
If I had a vote, it would be for Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master," and that film's three acting nominations indicate the movie has a significant bloc of supporters.
But I think the prize is going to come down to a battle between Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") and Robert De Niro ("The Silver Linings Playbook"). De Niro already has two Oscars, but he hasn't won in 32 years ("Raging Bull") and he hasn't been nominated for 21 years ("Cape Fear"). After years of well-paying but less-than-challenging film roles, I think voters will reward De Niro for reminding audiences why he is so revered.
Best Supporting Actress
In my review of "Les Miserables," I wrote that Anne Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" may the be the best four minutes of any movie in 2012. Even those who hate the musical seem to have grudging respect for Hathaway's work in it. Unless Oscar voters are holding a grudge against her for her co-hosting job of the ceremonies with James Franco a couple of years ago, she will win Best Supporting Actress.
The best chance of an upset comes from Sally Field. Oscar voters really like her - sorry, couldn't resist. Since the supporting acting awards usually are presented in the first 90 minutes of the show, wins by Field and/or Jones could be the first indication of a "Lincoln" sweep.
Best Animated Film
It's always risky to bet against Pixar here - "Cars" is the only nominated Pixar movie to lose in this category, and "Cars 2" is the only Pixar feature not to get a nomination since the category was created in 2001. "Brave" could land the studio its seventh win.
But I think voters will pick "Frankenweenie." It was directed by Tim Burton, a filmmaker respected for his live-action work. And its black-and-white style and nods to classic horror films will appeal to older Oscar voters.
Its biggest obstacle is that "Frankenweenie," "Brave" and "Wreck It Ralph" all fall under the Disney umbrella, so it can't count on a unified vote from the corporate faithful. But I think the Disney vote and the general Oscar vote will galvanize behind Burton.
Best Original Song
Everybody loves Adele, in part because she comes off so natural and disarming when accepting accolades. She can be counted on to give a great, cheeky acceptance speech, and Hollywood likes to put on a good show. Giving an award to her song from "Skyfall" also is a way of honoring the success of the latest James Bond film.
"Skyfall" will win.
If there's a dark horse challenger, it would be "Suddenly" from "Les Miserables," but "Skyfall" is too big of a hit from too popular of an artist from too beloved of a film franchise to lose.