85th Annual Academy Award Predictions

The 85th Annual Academy Awards go live tonight, putting a nice button on 2012's mainstream filmmaking (the Saturn, Nebula, and Bram Stoker Awards are still to come to wrap up the year in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy). I will be live blogging again like I did with the Grammys, but I wanted to get my final predictions in first, category by category. Animated Short

Best Animated Short PapermanThis category is all but locked up for Pixar at this point. "Paperman" has such a strong campaign narrative going that people who didn't even see the shorts at all are voting for it. I'm pulling for a "Fresh Guacamole" upset but I know the more likely spoiler is "Adam and Dog."

Will Win: "Paperman" Spoiler: "Adam and Dog" My Pick: "Fresh Guacamole"

Documentary Short

Best Documentary Short InocenteThis category is a tight one. "Inocente" has won the most acclaim throughout the year but it's a slighter documentary about a young artist confronting negativity. "Open Heart" feels more important and has also been received well, focusing on children needing heart transplants in Rwanda. I haven't seen the nominees here, so I have no personal pick.

Will Win: "Inocente" Spoiler: "Open Heart"

Live Action Short

Best Live Action Short CurfewAnother category I haven't seen the nominees in. All I keep hearing is how the field this year is incredibly depressing with the exception of "Curfew." It's as close to a lock as these lesser-seen categories get.

Will Win: "Curfew"

Original Score

Best Original ScoreLife of Pi seems like the likely winner. In a strong year with a good mix of veterans and newcomers elevating films with scores, it's good to bet on the most exotic or innovative. Life of Pi stands out for not being traditional Western music. Anna Karenina has a very flashy score that could pull out ahead if enough voters actually watched the beautiful romance.

Will Win: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi Spoiler: Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina My Pick: Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina

Original Song

Best Original SongIsn't it amazing how guaranteeing five song nominees resulted in five strong song nominees making the cut? Fancy how that works. This is Adele and Paul Epworth's award for "Skyfall." Great song, excellent performance, and it's used very well in the film. I'd say Adele and Paul Epworth are a tighter lock than Anne Hathaway at this point.

Will Win: Adele and Paul Epworth, "Skyfall," Skyfall My Pick: Adele and Paul Epworth, "Skyfall," Skyfall

Sound Editing

Best Sound EditingI don't know how many times this can be explained before people (specifically the voters judging by another year of clueless anonymous ballot commentary) understand. Sound Editing is the creation and manipulation of sounds in a film. This is the old-fashioned Foley artist on the radio drama or the behind the scenes special exploring the creation of the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

This is one of the tighter races of the night. The warfare and explosions in Zero Dark Thirty fulfill the "loudest is best" prophecy of boomsplosion blockbuster films winning this award, but so do Skyfall and Life of Pi. Do the voters go for real world accuracy, action spectacle, or modern fantasy?

Will Win: Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi Spoiler: Paul N.J. Ottosson, Zero Dark Thirty My Pick: Paul N.J. Ottosson, Zero Dark Thirty

Sound Mixing

Best Sound MixingSound Mixing, contrary to what Les Miserables's genius campaign wants you to believe, is not the recording of live sound on set. Sound Mixing is how all the sounds in a film--dialogue, score, effects, etc.--are layered and balanced for the final cut of the film. Les Miserables will win because they sold a good story to uninformed voters about what Sound Mixing is.

Will Win: Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables Spoiler: Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson, Skyfall My Pick: Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson, Skyfall


We have strong competing narratives in Cinematography this year. Roger Deakins is nominated for a stunningly beautiful James Bond film. He has 10 nominations to his name and no wins. The man is a huge innovator in the field of cinematography and this might be the chance to finally award him for his contributions to cinema.

Janusz Kaminski and Seamus McGarvey provided cinematography that kept two could-be snoozefests moving in Lincoln and Anna Karenina. They used a clever mix of digital and traditional cinematography to add stylish interest to very tried stories.

Best CinematographyAnd then there's Claudio Mirando and his work on Life of Pi. This is almost entirely digital cinematography, something the Academy has been rewarding since Avatar revived the 3D film industry. The difference here is that Mirando's work is super-realistic in a fantasy world and helps sell the did it or didn't it happen narrative of Life of Pi.

Will Win: Claudio Mirando, Life of Pi Spoiler: Roger Deakins, Skyfall My Pick: Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina

Costume Design

There's only one narrative going on in this category and I don't think it's gained enough momentum to take the win. Eiko Ishioka, the visionary costume designer behind Bram Stoker's Dracula and Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, passed away last year before her final film, Mirror Mirror, was released. It is a beautiful showcase of her unique design perspective and elevates a very flat fairy tale reimagining into a spectacle worth watching.

Best CostumesUnfortunately, Mirror Mirror was not as widely seen as any of the other nominees and high fantasy work doesn't do as well in this category as period accuracy. This is a battle between Anna Karenina's elaborate period gowns and Les Miserables' character-defining rich versus poor day to day wear.

Will Win: Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina Spoiler: Paco Delgado, Les Miserables My Pick: Eiko Ishioka, Mirror Mirror

Film Editing

Best EditingIf there was ever a category that was just abused to shovel more awards at a film, it's Film Editing. It is a rare year that the Best Picture winner does not walk away with Best Editing and this doesn't look like an off year for the trend. Any of the five nominees could walk away with Best Editing because the five nominees are the five strongest contenders for Best Picture. Argo has been the favorite all season, with Silver Linings Playbook dominating the indie awards and Life of Pi snatching up the other technical awards all over the place. This will be an informative category tonight.

Will Win: William Goldenberg, Argo Spoiler: Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, Silver Linings Playbook My Pick: William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor, Zero Dark Thirty

Makeup and Hairstyling

Best Makeup and HairstylingThis is Les Miserables' category to lose. I'm a big fan of the look of Hitchcock, but it would have fared better in Production Design or even Costume Design than being reduced to the fat suit in the mind of voters. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a lot of strong looks, but it still comes from a film series they've already rewarded.

Will Win: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables Spoiler: Peter King, Rick Findlater, and Tami Lane, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey My Pick: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables

Production Design

Production Design is the overall look of the film. It's the props, set dressing, set location, etc. in the film. It can even encompass the other design categories like Makeup and Hairstyling, Cinematography, and Costume Design. It's hard to articulate what makes strong production design outside of the context of the film. You know it when you see it but everyone sees things a different way.

Best Production DesignLes Miserables is very grand in its scope. Anna Karenina is very pronounced with the onscreen stagecraft and separation between the audience, the onstage characters, and the catwalks of the lower class. Life of Pi has a great look but is almost all digital production design. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Lincoln are strong but not particularly innovative.

Will Win: Katie Spencer (set decorator) and Sarah Greenwood (production designer), Anna Karenina Spoiler: Eve Stewart (production designer) and Anna Lynch-Robinson (set decorator), Les Miserables Should Win: Katie Spencer (set decorator) and Sarah Greenwood (production designer), Anna Karenina

Visual Effects

Best Visual EffectsIt's really sad for me that this, of all categories, has a clear front-runner. This is not a knock against Life of Pi. The creation of the animals, ocean, and various fantasy elements is strong. It should not, however, have run away with a category featuring Prometheus' brilliant digital makeup and action set pieces and The Avengers' spot-on recreation of NYC and flawless integration of digital and live action models throughout the film (even substituting well-shot live actors for digital renderings when the final edit required different angles). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has some great moments, too. The only weak link in the category is Snow White & The Huntsman because the award-worthy Visual Effects are really CGI Makeup and Hairstyling.

Will Win: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, and Donald Elliott, Life of Pi My Pick: Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, and Daniel Sudick, The Avengers

Adapted Screenplay

Adapted ScreenplayThis category is a two-way battle between Tony Kushner's thrilling Lincoln and Chris Terrio's crowd-pleasing Argo. Expect "Argo [expletive deleted] yourself" to top long form storytelling because the Academy snubbed Ben Affleck for Director and we have to be punished in every other big category for it. Silver Linings Playbook is in the mix, but probably peaked too late to catch up to the two season-long front-runners.

Will Win: Chris Terrio, Argo Spoiler: Tony Kushner, Lincoln My Pick: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Original Screenplay

Original ScreenplayThis category is one of the two three-way races that will finally be decided tonight. Will the Academy go big for Michael Haneke and award his dark and thoughtful Amour? Will they reward a brilliant tribute and evisceration of revenge dramas and exploitation films in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained? Or will they go all in for political relevance and tight suspense for Mark Boal's Zero Dark Thirty?

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained Spoiler: Michael Haneke, Amour My Pick: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained


This is the hardest category to pick. Critical consensus in and out of the Academy focused on two great directors for the year: Ben Affleck for Argo and Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty. Neither one is nominated, so we're left with a field that won awards in Europe, indie festivals, and comedy categories. Stephen Spielberg has become the default prediction for Lincoln, but he hasn't picked up a single Director award all season. I find that troubling.

Best DirectorAng Lee has picked up a few awards for Life of Pi and the focus on the technical categories could mean the voters view it as a behind the scenes achievement. Benh Zeitlin has also been given a lot of accolades for his debut feature film, especially for the Academy Award-nominated performance he coaxed out of little Quvenzhane Wallis (not to mention a cast of non-actors). Beasts of the Southern Wild is viewed as a directorial showcase even more than Life of Pi and that could give Zeitlin the edge if Spielberg and Lee split the vote.

Will Win: Ang Lee, Life of Pi Spoiler: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild My Pick: Michael Haneke, Amour

Supporting Actor

Supporting ActorAnother hard category to get a feel for. Supporting Actor has weighed heavily in favor of Tommy Lee Jones' performance in Lincoln all season. However, when he lost awards, they went to either Christoph Waltz or Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained. Waltz and Jones are neck and neck at this point. The only question is whether people won't vote for Waltz because it's technically a leading role.

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln Spoiler: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained My Pick: A write-in ballot for Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths

Supporting Actress

Supporting ActressThe only way Anne Hathaway doesn't win tonight for Les Miserables is if the Academy likes, and I mean really likes, Sally Field. Amy Adams' performance in The Master is very strong but I can't see that film actually breaking out as a winner in the acting categories tonight. The campaign wasn't big enough. Helen Hunt, too, falls prey to a smaller film. It's Blockbuster v. Blockbuster in a battle of which permanently perky and super smart actress has the most fans in the Academy.

Will Win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables Spoiler: Sally Field, Lincoln My Pick: Helen Hunt, The Sessions


Best Actor

This isn't even a contest (though it should be). Daniel Day-Lewis wins for being folksy and long-winded in Lincoln.

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln My Pick: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook


Best ActressThis is the other three-way race tonight. Jennifer Lawrence has the longest stretch of momentum behind her for Silver Linings Playbook; I feel she would have been a lock if she was nominated for The Hunger Games, a far better film. Jessica Chastain has the it factor behind her and started to dull Lawrence's shine with her central (but dull as dishwater and non-emotive or even present) work in Zero Dark Thirty. Emannuelle Riva is winning the awards in every country except for America for a riveting performance in Amour that garnered enough nominations as a film to be noticed by the Academy at large.

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook Spoiler: Emannuelle Riva, Amour My Pick: Emannuelle Riva, Amour

Animated Feature

Wreck-It Ralph is going to be hard to beat. It did the best commercially and critically of all the nominees. Paranorman and Brave have their fans, but also a lot of detractors.

Animated Feature

Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph Spoiler: Paranorman My Pick: Wreck-It Ralph

Documentary Feature

Searching for Sugar Man has the momentum and the easiest to digest subject matter of the Documentary nominees. The Gatekeepers and How to Survive a Plague have also garnered a lot of attention but all eyes are on Sugar Man right now.

Documentary Feature

Will Win: Searching for Sugar Man Spoiler: The Gatekeepers My Pick: 5 Broken Cameras

Foreign Language Film

Amour seems like the obvious choice, but obvious is not this category's modus operandi. Amelie scored a ton of nominations and didn't take home a single prize, not even Foreign Language Film. Haneke's The White Ribbon couldn't even get nominated in this category three years ago after winning many precursors in the US. His style is very depressing and that can open the door for another victor. Kon-Tiki is a crowd-pleaser, War Witch has that young actor sheen that did so well for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and No has excellent reviews.

Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Amour, Austria Spoiler: Kon-Tiki, Norway My Pick: Amour, Austria


I mentioned the five-way race earlier in this post. Here's a recap: the Best Picture winner will be Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, or Zero Dark Thirty. Argo has the Ben Affleck was robbed narrative that I hate so much. Life of Pi has visual wizardry and technical execution. Lincoln has an almost hypnotic effect on the audience, turning whether or not the 13th Amendment was passed into great suspense. Silver Linings Playbook is considered a strong ensemble comedy with a great, realistic tone for reasons I don't understand. And Zero Dark Thirty is technically well-executed with a sharp political edge.

Best Picture

Will Win: Argo Spoiler: Lincoln My Pick: Beasts of the Southern Wild

What are you predictions? Sound off below.

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