2013 OSCAR PREDICTIONS: Director and Screenplay

This, for me, is probably the most interesting time of the year as far as Oscars are concerned. In the midst of the fall festival season, anything seems possible, but by the time we close the curtain on the Toronto International Film Festival, it’ll be a just handful of films still left as genuine contenders.

I’ve turned my eye on Best Picture and the acting categories already. Today, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay are on queued up. Five questions, five answers, five predicted films in each of the categories. Here we go:

1.) All Aboard the Argo Train?
Has Ben Affleck already sewed up Best Director? Maybe. He’ll definitely earn a nomination after his latest, Argo, floored its audiences at the Telluride Film Festival. He’s the kind of talent, I suspect, Academy members are ready to reward. He’s an actor-turned-filmmaker (a not-so-secret favorite of the voting body), and he’s got an unblemished record behind the camera (even if Gone Baby Gone and The Town weren’t major Oscar players). Look for another sizable bounce in buzz when it reaches a wider audience at TIFF. A monetarily successful opening next month will confirm its front-runner status.

2.) Is It Finally the Year of the Auteur?
The last two Oscar ceremonies have given us semi-unknown Best Director winners (The King’s Speech‘s Tom Hooper, The Artist‘s Michel Hazanavicius). Always in the back of my mind when predicting Oscars is what past complaints voters will subliminally take to heart when casting their votes. With possible Oscar plays from auteurs like Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Michael Haneke in the mix, will the Academy lean toward rewarding an established vet? To say yes might seem cynical, but I just don’t see them going with a Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Ben Lewin (The Sessions, see below), or even Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) again.

3.) Can a Late Entry Shake Things Up?
The recent announcement of a late 2012 release for Gus Van Sant’s fracking drama Promised Land means the pool of contenders is a little deeper, and though Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder was heartily booed after its Venice Film Festival premiere, only a fool would rule it out of the race completely (The Tree of Life, which earned Best Picture and Best Director nominations, was booed at Cannes last year). For now, both of these films are on the outside looking in (Promised Land because we don’t know all that much about it, To the Wonder because we still don’t know if it’s a 2012 release). Things can easily change, though, and there’s always a chance something else will sneak in under the wire to really shake up the race.

4.) What Kind of Contender is The Sessions?
Outside of the acting categories, Ben Lewin’s Sundance sensation The Sessions isn’t garnering much Oscar buzz. Presumably, that’s because it isn’t a showy director’s piece like fellow Sundance sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild. But it seems like a legit threat in Best Adapted Screenplay. This begs the question: If a film can pick up three nominations in acting and a screenplay nod, can it sneak into Best Picture/Best Director? With the acting and writing branches behind a film, isn’t it an automatic threat for recognition in the ceremony’s two biggest categories?

5.) Any Writers Want an Original Screenplay Oscar? Anyone? Bueller???
Calling this year a weak one when it comes to original screenplays would be disingenuous. Moonrise Kingdom, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Take This Waltz all feature nomination-worthy writing. But the latter two are long shots at best. And if you knock off a few obvious candidates (PTA for The Master, Tarantino for Django Unchained), you’re left with a lot of uncertainty. Amour? Seven Psychopaths? Looper? All films I’m excited for, but not one of them is an Original Screenplay slam dunk. Very tricky.

Best Director
Ben Affleck, Argo
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Adapted Screenplay
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
The Sessions

Best Original Screenplay
Django Unchained
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom

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