Oscar picks: A very Kentucky Academy Awards

Actor and director Ben Affleck, left, producer Grant Heslov, center, and producer George Clooney pose with the award for best motion picture - drama for "Argo" backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (c) AP photo by Jordan Strauss.

Actor and director Ben Affleck, left, producer Grant Heslov, center, and producer George Clooney pose with the award for best motion picture – drama for “Argo” backstage at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (c) AP photo by Jordan Strauss.

Sunday night’s Oscars will be drenched in the usual glitz and glamour of Hollywood. But there, among the nominees, is some earthy authenticity that will be familiar to Kentuckians.

Most years, there is some rooting interest for the Bluegrass State in the Academy Awards. But this year, the odds and the status make it particularly interesting and promising for Kentucky.

Nothing may be more interesting than the race for best picture. As awards season started, it seemed Steven Spielberg had made a slam dunk in Lincoln, an invigorating tale of 16th President and Kentucky native Abraham Lincoln.

But then a funny thing happened at the Golden Globe Awards. Argo, Ben Affleck’s well-regarded tale of the rescue of six American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, won best dramatic feature. Affleck won best director. This came after the Academy’s well-publicized snub of Affleck in the best director category when the Oscar nominations came out the previous week.

At the time, I wrote it off as one of those Golden Globe-Academy splits. The Globes are a press award while the Oscars are given by artists and industry people. And the Globes are celebrity obsessed – to be polite – so of course they award Affleck.

But then Argo went on a roll.

It got the best ensemble cast prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Affleck, who again was not nominated for the director Oscar, won the award for direction of a feature film. The Producers Guild named it best picture. It won scads of critic polls.

Agro became a frontrunner.

Lest we think this would be a Kentucky loss, check the credits for the producers, who get the best picture Oscars: Affleck, Grant Heslov and George Clooney … is a beautiful man, the Kentucky for Kentucky folks have conditioned us to say. It would be Clooney’s second Oscar. (And we thought he had a quiet year.)

If Lincoln won, there are no Kentuckians that would actually receive the Oscar, but it would be the idea that biggest biopic of the Commonwealth’s No. 1 son won best picture that would give us a nice warm feeling.

But it just does not have that winning track record. Now Daniel Day-Lewis is a mortal lock to win his third best actor Oscar playing Lincoln, gathering up everything on his way to Sunday night. That will put him in extremely rare company with other three-time winners Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter Brennan, and Ingrid Bergman. And Day-Lewis will be the only one of that group to win all his Oscars – including My Left Foot in 1990 and There Will Be Blood in 2008 – for lead actor performances. That would leave him only one peer to look up to: Katherine Hepburn, who has four Oscars, all for leading actress performances. With Day-Lewis still a youthful 55, he has a shot at joining her.

Contemplate. Shudder.

But what will win best picture?

Despite Argo’s momentum, Lincoln still feels more like a best picture Oscar-winner to me. And the director snub really makes me hesitant to stamp Argo with a “will win,” because even if the best picture’s director does not win, he or she is usually at least nominated. But then the dominant narrative coming from experts like Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times’ Carpetbagger blog is the snub generated sympathy for Affleck and his film.

Here’s what ultimately persuades me to pick Argo: The Oscars are an industry award, and Hollywood likes movies about movies — last year’s The Artist, anyone? And Argo is about movies, or the specter of movies, doing something really good. Look for that beautiful man and his Argo compatriots on the podium at the end of Oscar night.

Oscar and Jennifer Lawrence. Are they getting together Sunday night? (c) AP photo by Chris Pizzello.

Oscar and Jennifer Lawrence. Are they getting together Sunday night? (c) AP photo by Chris Pizzello.

Now to another Kentucky rooting interest: that whippersnapper from Louisville, Jennifer Lawrence. She started the year – March to March — big playing reluctant revolutionary Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and is ending it favored to win best actress for that act-off Silver Linings Playbook. And she has been gathering up the trophies on the way to Oscar night, including the Golden Globe and SAG best actress awards.

This is her second nomination, and she is only 22. Once again, watch out Kate Hepburn.

Our other rooting interest in all likelihood won’t have such a great night. Sally Field had the good sense to come to Lexington, hometown of her character, Mary Todd Lincoln, to prepare for the role. So we would love to see her win. But best supporting actress is where Les Miserables has been getting love for Anne Hathaway’s performance, and that will probably continue here.

That leaves us with two wildcard categories among the Big 6: best supporting actor and best director.

Best supporting actor has three very real contenders: Tommy Lee Jones in a highly-regarded turn as adamant abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, Christoph Waltz (who had a much better Saturday Night Live turn than Jennifer Lawrence) in yet another supporting turn in a Quentin Tarantino film with Django Unchained, and Robert De Niro in a Silver Linings Playbook turn that reminded us he’s a great actor.

Oddsmakers are all over the place. Some favor Waltz, though as a winner in 2010 for Inglorious Basterds, it seems too soon for a repeat. There is a belief that how you act in awards season counts, and Tommy Lee Jones’ scowling through the Golden Globes probably did him no favors. De Niro, on the other hand, seems to have been revived by his Silver Linings performance and playing the game perfectly, so I am betting on him for the feel-good award of the evening.

Best director … If you think Argo will win best picture, then this field is open. Love for Lincoln with a Spielberg win? Honoring Ang Lee for wrangling the many elements of Life of Pi? David O. Russell as a great director of actors for Silver Linings? Or the surprises: Michael Heneke for the compelling quiet of Amour or Benh Zeitlin for the indie achievement of Beasts of the Southern Wild. I would love to see Zeitlin win for the most astonishingly original thing on this list. I will put my bet with Russell, because the biggest voting block in the Academy is actors, and with four acting nominations, there seems to be a lot of love for what he got out of the Silver Linings cast.

And, I take a deep breath, because this feels like one of the most unpredictable Oscar races in years. But if it goes this way, three Oscars for a film starring a Kentucky native, who wins herself; the other top acting Oscar for a man playing our most celebrated son; and another Kentuckian taking home one of the prizes for best picture, this would be a very Kentucky Academy Awards.

 Recap:

  • Best picture – Argo
  • Best director – David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Best actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Best actor – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Best supporting actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Best supporting actor – Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
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