Will Win: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Sorry, Academy voters. You can’t write-in Ben Affleck in this category. It’s the one award the actor-turned-director definitely won’t win, since it’s the snub that fueled the juggernaut behind Argo. So who among the actual nominees could get it?
Affleck won the Directors Guild Award, so that prize is useless as an indicator. Benh Zeitlin, the newcomer nominated for Beasts of the Southern Wild, was a surprise nominee and is unlikely to prevail. Michael Haneke’s work on Amour is much admired by those who saw that drama about an aging couple at the end of life, but it will be a tight race between Spielberg, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.
I’ve repeated this a lot, but it’s worth saying again: Life of Pi is a massive directorial achievement, combining water, digital effects, animals, a new actor, and 3-D imagery — all complications which would make a lesser director tremble with terror. In fact, three other prominent filmmakers tried and failed to bring it to the screen. If Lee takes the award, it will be well earned.
Runner-Up: A week ago, for the print-edition predictions I gave Steven Spielberg the slight edge to win. But Spielberg has the disadvantage of being Spielberg. Whatever admiration he has earned from his peers, it’s veined with a fair amount of envy. Put it this way: It’s very difficult for some members of the Academy to give an “Employee of the Year” prize to the guy who owns the store. Will admiration for Lincoln be enough to overcome that? Based on voters I’ve spoken to, I’d say maybe — but if it does, only barely.
Surprise: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook. A few voters have said they’re voting for him because they feel it’s worth honoring subtlety over scale. No recreations of Civil War-era Washington, D.C. or digital tigers prowling life boats here. If enough ballots are cast for this family grappling with love, football, and mental instability, it could be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history.
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