Oscar Predictions: Stephanie Zacharek on Who Will (and Who Should) Win on Hollywood's Biggest Night

Each Wednesday for the past five months, my colleague S.T. VanAirsdale has fearlessly navigated the ever-shifting Academy Awards tides with his weekly Oscar Index, a gig that’s enough to make even the most intrepid seafaring mortal long for dry land. It’s in sight, Stu! By this coming Monday morning, all of our meticulously calibrated predictions, as well as our wayward hopes for our own personal favorites, will amount to little more than scraps of speared whale blubber, receding in the distance as we move toward next year’s Oscar broadcast. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still time to savor the last-minute glitter wave. To that end, here are my own Oscar predictions for each category, followed by the candidates I wish would win.


I loved The Artist when I first saw it last May, and I’ve seen it twice since. It has, of course, become de rigueur to adopt the “It’s not so great” stance when talking about the picture. But that’s not where my heart lies, and I’ve already spent ample time, both publicly (over at Slate Movie Club) and privately, defending the movie from the “Meh” Brigade. So, yeah, I hope it wins. But I also have a great deal of fondness for both Moneyball and Midnight in Paris, as well as for War Horse, whose old-school movie grandness appears to be sorely out of fashion, and more’s the pity.

Will win: The Artist

Should win: The Artist


I still don’t understand how you can have nine Best Picture nominees and only five Best Director nominees. What, does the Academy think these pictures direct themselves? Of course, in the case of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you’d be forgiven for thinking so, but never mind. Woody Allen has given us his best movie in years –  many years – with Midnight in Paris, so I would probably quaff an extra dose of Champagne if he were to win. But my Best Director choice nearly always aligns with my Best Picture choice, which leads us to Hazanavicius.

Will win: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Should win: Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist


As I voted in numerous critics' groups at the end of 2011, I put the same three names on every Best Actor ballot: Jean Dujardin, Gary Oldman and Brad Pitt (the latter for Moneyball only, though I concede that in The Tree of Life, he works his ass off for a director who cares little for actors). I would be thrilled if any of the three were to win, with perhaps a slight edge – about the width of a pencil mustache – going to Dujardin.

Will win: Jean Dujardin

Should win: Jean Dujardin or Brad Pitt or Gary Oldman – please don’t make me choose!


Although Michelle Williams gave my favorite female performance of the year, in My Week with Marilyn, for so many years now I’ve been watching Viola Davis doing superb work – always the quiet, unflashy kind – that I would be thrilled to see her win for The Help. Poor Glenn Close – I don’t want to look at Albert’s or anyone else’s nobbs, thanks very much. And while I greatly dislike Meryl Streep’s high-toned mimicry in The Iron Lady, the one thing that would really drive me ‘round the bend is another trilling, faux-gracious acceptance speech from La Streep. Oh God, no, please.

Will win: Viola Davis, The Help

Should win: Viola Davis, The Help


This is the category for which I have the least enthusiasm: These performances are all fine, but I don’t see any sparks of mad genius in them. (Not even Branagh’s amusing channeling of Olivier qualifies.) I can live with a Christopher Plummer win, if only because it’s about time for Old Mr. Grouchypants.

Will win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Should win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners


Octavia Spencer is the real charmer in this category, and she has the benefit of being both an unknown and the underdog. Jessica Chastain is lovely in The Help, but she’s even better in a little-seen movie from a few years back called Jolene, in which she played a forerunner of the same character. Bérénice Bejo is extremely winning in The Artist, but I’d still prefer to see Spencer win. While it’s laudatory that the Academy should nominate a comedic actress for this award, I’d prefer it not to be the brassy McCarthy. And while McTeer is quite moving in Albert Nobbs, I truly am looking forward, as I said earlier, to a nobb-free Sunday evening.

Will win: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Should win: Octavia Spencer, The Help


I have my fingers crossed for either Guillame Schiffman for The Artist or Janusz Kaminski for the unfairly maligned – and gorgeous — War Horse. (I wish Kaminski could follow me around with a key light every moment of my life – I’d kill to look as luminous as that horse does.) But I fear the winner will be Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life. I love Lubezski, but not The Tree of Life‘s brand of sterile, calculated beauty.

Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life

Should win: Guillame Schiffman for The Artist or Janusz Kaminski for War Horse.


Generally, I’m with Mark Harris: I don’t much care about this category. Except when I do. And this year, I found what I thought was a firm favorite in Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s lovely, mostly hand-drawn Latin jazz romance Chico & Rita.. Then I saw Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli’s A Cat in Paris – another hand-drawn adventure, this one about a winsome and mysterious cat burglar padding his way through the world’s most mysterious and beautiful city – and I fell even more deeply in love. I would be thrilled to see either picture win, though I suspect the honor will go to Gore Verbinski’s Rango, which is at least clever and lively.

Will win: Rango

Should win: A Cat in Paris or Chico & Rita

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  • DaveH says:

    To call the beauty of the Tree of Life 'sterile' is borderline ludicrous. If you read about the production of the film, especially in the middle section it was the very opposite of calculated.
    The images were captured in a very fluid and difficult environment, which to me makes them all the more remarkable.

    I can understand your not liking the film, but I find your dismissal of the stunning work done by Lubezki on this film to be baseless.

    'It is beautiful and it is meant to be' is not a bad thing.

    • j'accuse! says:

      Stephanie...just when I thought I was out...you pulled me back in...with that picture from The Tree Of Life before the jump. Then bam! You went w/ The Artist as deserving best picture. Le sigh...

      Also, just because Sean Penn got pissed because he clipped his wings, that doesn't mean Malick doesn't care for actors. Bit...presumtuous on your part.

      Likewise, I concur w/ DAVEH, Lubezki did genius work and deserves the award, and not just because it will likely be the only recognition a great film like The Tree Of Life deserves.

      Again, all due respect Stephanie, just...the thing about Malick and actors especially...man. Just because he doesn't bend over backward to mold his vision to the whims of people like Sean Penn doesn't mean the guy doesn't care for actors.

  • AS says:

    War Horse for cinematography? Is that a joke? Did you see the final scene of that film? It was lit so poorly I was overcome by a fit of laughter.

    As far as who should win BP, there's not a single great film nominated so I could care less. I suppose Moneyball is the best of the bunch but that's not saying much. I just hope by some miracle Viola Davis doesn't win.

    P.S. Can't wait to see Octavia Spencer, aka The Frog, taken over by pure shock and surprise upon her name being read.

  • I don't think Alison Willmore would so much count herself part of the "Meh" Brigade, but rather someone who disavows blanketing -- or rather, burrowing, homing herself in/within movie comfort: your defending what is grand in Hollywood is Alison's' "understandably" taking "comfort in evoking the past" (while she, rather, is engaging with what is "messy," "prickly," "current" and "vital"). I mention this because if you take a look at the top ten lists, two of the three excellent critics at this site -- your own and Alison's -- have essentially opposite takes on what makes for movie excellence these days, what makes for moral product these days.

    I know that Kael once essentially wrote Woody Allen off as someone who mostly just wanted a comfortable position on the sidelines, doing nothing with his ability to cut people down, his keen powers of observation, that would leave him conspicuous for being affronting-- possibly cast off -- and I think that many of the most lauded films of this year could be judged loved, for in their considerable Art, drawing you, housing you away from life's concussive short-changes and derouting vicissitudes. The argument would go, "If you're not parking yourself in some credited, alluring island/hotel of safe retreat, you're still part of the public / societal conversation -- you still matter (otherwise, quite frankly, I can barely let myself to recognize you)." I myself felt in some of your top films a love of film-making (of Old Hollywood ... of life!!!) that is too, so strikingly to be felt and obvious, vivid and vital, to be dismissed this way, and in Alison's, some discontent and anger over what actually is a manifestation of something grand and beautiful ... in the now (say a current youngin's hatred for the ongoing bloated self-contentedness, self-love, of the baby-boom generation, or generally of self-entitled “douches.”). But I also sense some of the irritating, perhaps ghastly, retreat in your list, some tombing, and something vital, engaged, combative and interactive in Alison's.

  • Essess says:

    Why the Albert Nobbs hate? It's an uneven film, true, but Glenn Close is actually remarkable in it. She radiates fear of being found out, and ultimately, false hope through the tightly controlled body language.She succeeds in making Nobbs a deeply sad figure by doing very little. Janet McTeer's fabulous, but has the much flashier role to work with.

  • Markus says:

    stephanie, so glad you got to hear the faux gracious Streep acceptance speech for Meryl's #3 Oscar. Looking forward for you to hear it again when she wins #4 for August Osage County. I am just so happy to see Meryl win and you and your pundit colleagues so pissed....

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