It's Superbowl Sunday, but I'm thinking about the Oscars (presumably because I can't generate much enthusiasm about either the 49ers or the Ravens). In recent years, I have become increasingly fascinated by the combined science/art of predicting winners. It's a lot more about politics and reading tea leaves than it is about rewarding deserved craftsmanship. That comes into it, to be sure, but a study of the Academy Awards' past reveals it's a secondary consideration. So, when I make my predictions, I try to limit the impact of quality to a small variable in the overall equation. I also don't grumble (at least not much) about oversights, snubs, or other such things.
In keeping with my "new" philosophy of shorter, more frequent blogs, I'm going to reveal my predictions in stages. This will enable me to discuss in some detail why I think certain films are going to win. Rather than just throwing out titles and letting people try to beat me in a contest, I want to provide some rationale. Ironically, this may make it easier to score higher than I do because it will be abundantly clear where I'm guessing. And, when it comes to some of the secondary categories, choosing between the two or three frontrunners can be a shot in the dark.
Looking over the entire 2013 field, I see six locks. By the term "lock," I mean I feel a certainty >95% that these films/people are going to win. If I was into betting on the Oscars, I'd put a lot of money on them. If you're entering a contest against me, these aren't the categories to veer in a different direction - you'll almost certainly lose if you do so. I pick 21 categories, so there are 15 in which I consider there to be at least some doubt about who's going to win.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln"): As no-brainers go, this one's near the top. It's one of those rare picks that really is all about the quality of the acting. In my opinion, Day-Lewis doesn't just give the best performance of 2013 but one of the Top 10 all-time performances, sitting alongside George C. Scott as one of the two best cinematic interpretations of a real-life historical figure in a Hollywood movie. The other four actors in this category will have to be content with their nominations. Day-Lewis will break the record by winning his third Best Actor statue.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathway ("Les Miserables"): Hollywood likes the plucky actress, who has made some bold choices over the year to put her early years as a Disney princess in the rear-view mirror. This isn't her most daring role to date but she sings and touches the heart. There's not a lot of strong sentiment out there for any of the other four contenders, thereby eliminating the possibility of a so-called "dark horse." In fact, no one's talking about anyone else for this Oscar. She wins it, lapping the field and then some.
Best Cinematography: "Life of Pi": The Academy will want to give Life of Pi something and that "something" will come in a couple of technical categories. The general impression is that the movie looks tremendous even in 3-D. The film's lasting impression is purely visual so this makes sense. I saw it months ago and, when I think about it, I remember how it looked much more than how it felt. Hollywood will react the same way to it.
Best Foreign Language Film: "Amour": Another no-brainer. Generally speaking, when a foreign language film garners nominations in other categories, it at least captures this one. Of the nominees, it's also the one with the highest profile and that never hurts.
Best Song: "Skyfall": Anything associated with Adele is golden these days; this gives the Academy a chance to award her something. The win will be as much for "Rolling in the Deep" as for "Skyfall." The film's acoustic nods to classic Bond theme songs will also play a part, tapping a wellspring of nostalgia. It also helps that the four other candidates are unremarkable and unmemorable, including the new song from Les Miserables.
Best Visual Effects: "Life of Pi": When considering who wins this category and why I consider it to be a lock, you have to look at history. The Academy rarely gives this award to a big, splashy crowd-pleaser. It's given to an "artistic" endeavor that uses effects. Last year, for example, Hugo beat out both a Transformers film and a Harry Potter film. So, in 2013, don't expect The Hobbit or Prometheus or The Avengers to take home the award.
Next: Follow the momentum.