Oscars 2012: Lincoln as the Frontrunner?

It is still June, a good seven months away from the Oscars and yet pundits are already starting to talk about this year’s potential contenders. I honestly don’t mind — just like an election, it’s interesting to see movies and names being tossed into the Oscar conversation and the list of potential nominees and winners getting whittled down as the actual date approaches. That’s what I find interesting.

A good place to start is Gold Derby’s list of predicted winners which lists the initial predictions for the major categories. Currently sitting at the top of the Best Picture list is Steven Spielberg’s upcoming movie, Lincoln.

Based on the biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the movie will feature Daniel-Day Lewis in the titular role. Supporting him is a stellar cast comprised of Sally Field as Mary Todd,  Joseph Gordon-Levitt as their eldest son Robert and Tommy Lee Jones as Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Tony Kushner, who has worked on the script for six years, is the screenwriter.

Abe Lincoln is America’s most mythical president, and the movie will focus on “the political collision of Lincoln and the powerful men of his cabinet on the road to abolition and the end of the Civil War.”  Based on the premise alone, this seems like pretty powerful Oscar bait, potentially evoking the same sense of gravitas and grandeur displayed by previous Best Picture winners such as Gandhi, The King’s Speech and Spielberg’s own Schindler’s List. The movie’s Oscar success will be pegged on Daniel Day-Lewis performance, on whether or not he can tap into the brooding, melancholic demeanor of Lincoln.

But I am quite skeptical about its Oscar success. Around this time last year, War Horse was being touted as the film to beat and was on top of that very same list at Gold Derby. And the reason why it failed was because of Spielberg’s heavy-handed direction, an outmoded, saccharine take on the goodness of man. Ultimately, what undid War Horse was its very Spielberg-ness — the calculated sentimentality, the arduous attempts at humanism and that John Williams score that hammered home the film’s pathos.

I have no reason to believe that Spielberg will try to turn things around and let Lincoln’s tragic life speak for itself, but I am willing to be pleasantly surprised. Again, it all depends if Day-Lewis will turn in a knock-out performance, but barring that, this film feels like it’s massively being overrated.

Here’s my initial list for  which movies I think will be the core ten  Best Picture nominees, ranked by likelihood of winning:

1. Les Miserables – Tom Hooper

2. The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson

3. Lincoln – Steven Spielberg

4.  Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino

5. The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild – Benh Zeitlin

7. Zero Dark Thirty – Kathryn Bigelow

8. Life of Pi – Ang Lee

9. Anna Karenina – Joe Wright

10. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson

Of course take all of this with a grain of salt. Like I said, what’s fun is seeing this list evolve and morph in all kinds of unexpected ways.

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