Academy Award Predictions 2013: Is 'Argo' The Clear Front-Runner?

Hey, Mike. That sound you just heard was everyone at Warner Bros. breathing a sigh of relief:is a hit, meaning it has cleared another hurdle on its charge toward Best Picture.
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Welcome to For Your Consideration, HuffPost Entertainment's weekly breakdown of all things Oscar. Between now and Feb. 25, 2013, executive arts and entertainment editor Michael Hogan and entertainment editor Christopher Rosen will chat about awards season and which films will make the most noise at the 85th annual Academy Awards.

Rosen: Hey, Mike. That sound you just heard was everyone at Warner Bros. breathing a sigh of relief: "Argo" is a hit, meaning it has cleared another hurdle on its charge toward Best Picture. Having finally seen the film, I think it's a no-brainer for multiple nominations, owing to an unarguably excellent last hour that makes it almost impossible to dislike. Whereas "The Master" ends with a shrug, "Argo" closes with a bang and an American flag. Couple that with Ben Affleck being everyone's comeback kid, and it's a lock -- even if the film actually isn't as good as the breathless praise it has gotten since Telluride might suggest.

Speaking of "The Master," well, we might be the only people speaking of "The Master." Where did the buzz go? What was once the belle of this ball has been pushed down by "Argo," "Lincoln," "Life of Pi" and "Silver Linings Playbook" over the last month. Even Joaquin Phoenix's superior work has been overshadowed, thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis, who is the goods in "Lincoln." If I had to pick now, it would be Day-Lewis to win, perhaps Denzel Washington -- earning raves from the New York Film Festival crowd for "Flight" -- to place and Joaquin to show.

Some questions: Does Anne Hathaway have any shot at earning a Best Actress nomination for "The Dark Knight Rises"? (No.) Could Affleck sneak into the Best Actor race on charm alone? (Maybe.) If "Zero Dark Thirty" is as good as its most recent trailer, does that put Jessica Chastain and Kathryn Bigelow back at the Oscars?

Hogan: Yes, "Argo" is a hit, and apparently its Academy screening was a complete love fest, which isn't entirely surprising. After all, the film's central message couldn't be more Oscar-friendly: Hollywood really can save the world, or at least contribute mightily to the cause of justice. Even the gentle mockery of Hollywood (you can be a fraud here, as long as you're a colorful fraud!) is delivered like a bouquet. And one of the key lines in the film, where Affleck tells an agent (in so many words), "My story is the only thing standing between you and a torture chamber," speaks to the central prejudice of the film business: regimes come and go, but in the end stories are what make us fully human.

And yes, you're absolutely right about the comeback narrative. Affleck has happily advanced it too, in interviews with HuffPost and elsewhere, as if he somehow guessed that casting himself as a prodigal auteur would help him win the role of Oscar recipient this February. I'm hearing that "Argo" is the Best Picture front-runner right now, but that there's still time for Bigelow, Tom Hooper and even Quentin Tarantino to salt Affleck's game.

Meanwhile, "Flight" sort of came out of nowhere, didn't it? If this really is one of the best roles of Denzel Washington's career, then poor Joaquin Phoenix really is in trouble. And yes, "The Master" seems to have lost virtually all of its once-considerable momentum. All the non-pros I know keep saying they want to see it, but somehow they don't ever make it to the theater. And they all know one person who told them it sucked. I still love the movie -- its "flaws" are what make it fascinating, in my opinion -- but I'm starting to make peace with the notion that Joaquin Phoenix will not be using the Academy Award podium for his special brand of performance art this year after all. Then again, there is still plenty of time for Harvey to provoke someone in the L. Ron Hubbard family to publicly denounce the film, thereby prompting an additional 5 million Americans to rush out and see it in all its 70-millimeter glory.

But enough about what we agree on. Let's talk about "Cloud Atlas." I saw only an hour of it and had to flee for safety. A friend, who loved the book, compared it to "Ishtar" in an email to me. But I hear you loved the damn thing. Are you serious? And do you think Tom Hanks and Halle Berry actually have a shot for Best Actor and Actress noms, respectively?

Rosen: Not only am I serious, but I think "Cloud Atlas" might be my favorite movie so far this year. It's a Spotify blockbuster; six discordant genres stuffed into the same film, yet made whole by the common thread that we are all human beings and everything we do has consequences -- be it now, or 106 winters after the Fall. What Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done is fairly incredible: They've taken the sprawling television aesthetic of a show like "Lost" or "The Sopranos" and figured out a way to apply it to feature filmmaking. I was in from the first minute to the last, and even at two-and-a-half hours wasn't restless or bored; rather, I found it invigorating to watch. "Cloud Atlas" is an effortless high-wire act.

Now, with that said, I don't think it has any chance of being a major Oscar player -- not that a passion project like this is made to win Oscars in the first place. Tom Hanks is better than he's been in at least a decade, but the Best Actor field is entirely too crowded for him to make a dent. Halle Berry is solid, but she's not as good or showy as any of the other Best Actress contenders (I'd rather see Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the out-of-left-field nominee this year). If any of the actors are going to crash the Oscar party, it'll be Jim Broadbent, who simply owns his section of "Cloud Atlas" and makes a big impression in his other roles. As for the film's other potential nominations, like "The Matrix," I think "Cloud Atlas" could succeed in the below-the-line categories: Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Makeup (some of it is goofy; some of it is incredible). It even has a shot at Best Adapted Screenplay, though with so many of the year's biggest films adapted from books or articles ("Argo," "Life of Pi," "Les Miserables," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Lincoln"), that category might be tough to crack.

Speaking of party-crashers: What do we make of the fawning praise for "Skyfall." It's not only the "best Bond ever" according to pretty much everyone, but apparently Javier Bardem gives a performance that ranks alongside his work in "No Country For Old Men" and Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight." With Sam Mendes, John Logan and Roger Deakins -- all Oscar-nominated and/or -crowned for previous work -- as the creative forces behind "Skyfall," does James Bond get his first Best Picture nomination? Does Bardem short-circuit the Supporting Actor race and immediately become a top contender?

Hogan: That sound you just heard was my head exploding when you said that "Cloud Atlas" was your favorite movie of this or any year. But especially this jam-packed-with-awesome-movies year! Well, to each his own. And in fact, your enthusiasm reflects one of the big strengths "Cloud Atlas" has in its bid to become one of the 10 Best Picture finalists. Sure, plenty of people will agree with me that it stinks, but the people who love it really love it, and the Academy nominating structure rewards titles that have passionate followers. You don't need that many votes to get through the door, but you do need voters who are excited to vote for you, not wavering between the Middle East mission movie about Bin Laden and the one about the Iranian hostage crisis (to take a random example!).

I saw "Skyfall" on Saturday and enjoyed it immensely. Bardem is 50 shades of crazy, in the most enjoyable way, but the role is more comically cartoonish than either his Anton in "No Country" or Heath's Joker in "The Dark Knight." So I'd say a nomination is a long-shot, but Bardem is such a beloved and respected actor, and he's so game-for-anything here, that I think there's at least a chance. Without giving anything away, I also think it would be a mistake to count out Dame Judi Dench in the Supporting Actress category. She's an awards machine, obviously, and this edition of the franchise gives her a lot to do.

Finally, what do we think about HuffPost blogger and all-around overachiever James Franco getting an Oscar campaign for "Spring Breakers"? Could millions of squealing, semi-traumatized Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens fans power him to Oscar redemption? And if he and Anne Hathaway both get nominated, do they present together? Awkward!

Rosen: I have no doubt "Cloud Atlas" is going to be the most polarizing movie of this year. Maybe even the last five years. There is no in between on it: Either you love it or loathe it, which is part of what makes me appreciate the finished product even more. At the very least, the film is getting a reaction, which is more than you can say for tepid Oscar fare like -- well, almost everything nominated last year. It's interesting that you mentioned how passionate voters are the key to Oscar glory, and I feel that's why "Argo" is a clear favorite right now. People love it, and, as you deftly pointed out, it's a valentine to making movies. How many Oscar voters see themselves in Alan Arkin's performance as a grizzled-but-well-meaning producer?

As for "Skyfall": (a) I'm jealous that you saw it, and (b) all of a sudden, Best Supporting Actor is loaded. You've got Arkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert De Niro and then a scrum of real possibilities. Does John Goodman get in for "Argo" (he was better than Arkin, btw)? What about Matthew McConaughey for "Magic Mike" and his year of incredible performances? I mentioned Jim Broadbent before, but I think he's a possibility as well. Then you've got Russell Crowe ("Les Miserables"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("Django Unchained") and Hal Holbrook ("The Promised Land") looming in December, plus a guy like Albert Brooks, snubbed last year for "Drive" but perhaps in the Academy wheelhouse with his role in "This Is 40." This is to say nothing of Bardem, Dwight Henry ("Beasts of the Southern Wild") and, yes, James Franco. As much as I'd love to see Franco nominated for what I can only imagine is the craziest performance of the year, the category is too jam-packed right now with both veterans and movie stars. If anyone is going to get that "Robert Downey Jr. in 'Tropic Thunder'" surprise nom, it'll be McConaughey.

Which brings me to Dench. While Best Supporting Actor is overflowing with possibilities, where are the Supporting Actresses? Anne Hathaway and Amy Adams are locks, but many people were divided on Sally Field's "Lincoln" performance and the buzz is so quiet on "The Sessions" right now that I wonder if Helen Hunt will even get nominated. Then it's a battle for the final spot, with everyone from Samantha Barks ("Les Miserables") to Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty") as potential choices. So why not Dame Judi, who won for eight minutes of work in "Shakespeare in Love"? This seems like a category ripe for an upset or three, and who better than Dench to muck it up? (Unless the "venerable British actress" slot goes to Maggie Smith for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Why do I feel that film is going to get eight nominations, leaving you and I to scratch our heads?)

Hogan: Thank you, Chris, for continually bringing up "Exotic Marigold Hotel." I feel like we need to organize a field trip to see it. Maybe we can invite our loyal Gold Rush readers to join us -- if any actually exist!


'Argo' Stills

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