Note: Rules for the "Beat Berardinelli" contest will be announced in a few days, both in the forums and in ReelThoughts. The contest will be open starting at noon ET on Sunday, February 17.
One of the things to remember about the Oscars is that momentum plays a huge role in determining who will win. Whatever is the "hot pick" when most Academy members are filling out their ballots (typically during the first two weeks of February) will likely take home the statue. The 1999 Best Picture Oscar is a great case study of the importance of momentum. Four weeks prior to the Oscarcast, it was widely believed Saving Private Ryan was a lock. But, largely as a result of a forceful advertising and marketing campaign backed by the Weinsteins, Shakespeare in Love somehow managed to win. In the years to come, Saving Private Ryan would easily eclipse Shakespeare as the most memorable mainstream film of 1998, but like Michelle Kwan at the Olympics, it missed out on the Gold.
Best Picture: "Argo": In early November, I made a foolish statement that I thought Argo would probably win the Best Picture Oscar. But as the holidays came and went, it was Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln, almost to the point that the Spielberg film looked like a lock. Then the momentum shift started. It's fun to speculate why Argo's status changed from dark horse to frontrunner, but it likely had something to do with Ben Affleck's snub in the Director category. Even during those days when it had a commanding lead, Lincoln was always a "soft" frontrunner - a film people admired but that didn't have deep rooted support. The ease with which Argo supplanted it is evidence of that. Now, Argo has won four major awards to Lincoln's zero, and I fully expect it to win this one as well.
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook": At one point, Lawrence was viewed as being neck-in-neck with Jessica Chastain but as Silver Lining's star rose, Zero Dark Thirty's fell. One can debate whether Zero Dark Thirty deserves the stain on its reputation but, regardless of the validity of the criticism, it has hurt the film's chances in almost every category, including Best Actress. Meanwhile, everyone seems to love Lawrence, so she stands as the current frontrunner.
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln": Lincoln's Best Picture collapse won't hurt it in other categories. It should still go home with a boatload of Oscars, including this one. Having said that, if there's going to be an upset in the six major categories, this is it. I like Jones' chances (and really want to hear his speech) but Christoph Waltz has a puncher's opportunity here. Had Waltz not won so recently, I might have picked him, but I think the Academy will be motivated to give it to the grumpy Jones.
Best Director: Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln": Hmmm - the DGA winner (almost always a sure-fire predictor of the Oscar winner) can't win here because he wasn't nominated. So that leaves plan B: Spielberg. This is a case of him winning by default. His nearest competitor, Ang Lee, is a weak second choice. Still, one could make a case that voting for Lee would somehow be a protest vote for Affleck. I don't buy it but some people are selling it. Director and Picture would have been much more interesting races had Affleck been nominated here.
Best Costume Design: "Anna Karenina": Films based on great period piece novels always have an edge here. Les Mis could win but my sense is that Anna will take this one home. Maybe Production Design as well, but that's a tougher call and belongs in the "tossup" group.
Best Documentary: "Searching for Sugar Man": Momentum has taken this into the "lock" category. No one is talking about any of the other nominees. Of course, the Documentary category is so fickle that even seeming locks sometimes lose.
Best Makeup: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey": Anthony Hopkins didn't look that much like Alfred Hitchcock and how much makeup was really necessary in Les Miserables? All those hobbits, dwarves, elves, and wizards should at least get Peter Jackson an acknowledgment in this category.
Best Sound Editing: "Zero Dark Thirty": If you want to look for a category where Zero Dark Thirty has a good chance of winning, this is it. Don't count out Skyfall but I think the Academy will want to acknowledge Bigelow's film at some point (you just don't ignore the movie that won a lion's share of the critics' awards) and this is as good a place as any. It's in play for Original Screenplay, but that's belongs in the "tossup" group.
Best Sound Mixing: "Les Miserables": Hollywood was duly impressed by the way in which Tom Hooper elected to live-record the songs and that will be rightfully reflected by a win here. I almost put this in the "locks" category but decided there's an outside, outside chance of Skyfall sneaking in.
Best Adapted Screenplay: "Lincoln": My sense is that Argo doesn't have very long coattails. In fact, its only win may be Best Picture (although I also think it will win in one of the tossup categories). The powerful momentum wave Argo has ridden at the top of the ticket isn't evident here. If anything, Lincoln has increased the distance between itself and Argo in this category. In general, the sense I get from reading tea leaves is that there's still a lot of goodwill for Lincoln but that the Affleck snub has to be redressed and the best place to do that is in Best Picture.
Next time: the remaining five categories, which I consider to be "tossups." Those are the ones where I have the best chance of being outguessed.