It wasn't a good year for great films, but it was a pretty good year for good films, making this year's Oscar race a little more wide open than usual.
Many Las Vegas sports books post odds on the Oscar races but it's all good speculative fun as U.S. casinos prohibit wagering on entertainment events that have known outcomes. If you really want to put some money down search out some international online sites where laws aren't quite as prohibitive. Kevin Bradley, sports book manager for Bovada, a sports betting site licensed in Canada told the Los Angeles Times that Oscar business is up 20% from last year.
Bradley, who has been tracking the race since the award season began, said the biggest movement has been in the best picture race. "Four score and seven weeks ago, everybody was betting 'Lincoln,'" quipped Avello. "Now, nobody. It's all 'Argo.'" The Ben Affleck-directed thriller has become a 1-2 favorite to win.
Far less scientific was late night host Jimmy Fallon. He used puppies to predict which film would take the top honor. For the record, the pups also went with "Argo."
For those handicapping the race from the comfort of their couch, predicting the winners is a lot like taking the SATs: if you can eliminate one or two wrong answers, you significantly increase your chances of success.
It is with that in mind that we tackle the six most prestigious prizes at the 85th annual Academy Awards.
Weirdly, despite director/star Ben Affleck being snubbed in the Best Director category, the Iran Hostage Crisis drama has been gaining steam, picking up awards across the country, including at the Golden Globes. Many of the other nominees have glaring "weaknesses" that will likely prevent them from offering much competition: "Amour" is in French; "Beasts of the Southern Wild" made only $12 million; "Django Unchained" and "Zero Dark 30" are too controversial… "Argo" is the only nominee that made a ton of money, and was both serious and fun.
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
With Affleck (and "Zero Dark 30"'s Kathryn Bigelow) out of the picture, this comes down to a couple of previous winners, Lee ("Brokeback Mountain" in 2005) and Spielberg ("Saving Private Ryan" in 1998, "Schindler's List" in 1993). Spielberg's "Lincoln" stars our greatest living actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, playing the guy who freed the slaves, while Lee's "Life of Pi" is visually breathtaking, but otherwise unsatisfying.
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"
We'll say it one more time: "Lincoln" stars our greatest living actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, playing the guy who freed the slaves.
Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva spoke French in "Amour", while Quevenzhané Wallis ("Beasts Of The Southern Wild") and Naomi Watts (“The Impossible”) starred in films that grossed a combined $30 million. None of this is to take away from any of their performances, but the race is down to Lawrence and Chastain, two of Hollywood's most talented and beautiful young actresses, who gave turns that couldn’t be much more different--Lawrence was brilliant and funny as an emotionally troubled young woman in the feel-good hit "Silver Linings Playbook," and Chastain brought a smoldering intensity to the hunt for Bin Laden in "Zero Dark Thrity." We're leaning toward Lawrence in part because of the controversy surrounding "ZD30."
Best Supporting Actor
Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"
In most other films, Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") or Christoph Waltz ("Django Unchained") would be the leads, but these guys found themselves, fairly or not, relegated to second-banana status for their nominated roles. Arkin was his usual awesome self, but no more, and his character was too far removed from the center of the film. This will come down to the grizzled veterans, Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") and Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), each of whom already has one of these trophies on their mantle. De Niro could have the edge simply because the Academy is so thrilled to see him doing good work again.
Best Supporting Actress
Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
With all due respect to Amy Adams ("The Master"), Sally Field ("Lincoln"), Helen Hunt ("The Sessions") and Jacki Weaver ("Silver Linings Playbook"), this race was won when Hathaway sang the final note of "I Dreamed a Dream." In fact, Hathaway probably also gave the second-best supporting turn of any actress in 2012, with her work as Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises.