Oscars 2013: the early favourites

Peering through the pre-award season haze to find potential Academy favourites

The 85th Academy Awards are just over nine weeks away, but the favourites and not-so-favourites have already started to come into focus, and the campaigning has definitely begun.

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Thanks to endless minor industry back-slapping events, such as the SAGs, the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes (which announced its nominations last week), we already have a fairly clear idea which films and actors will be fighting it out for the little gold men. But who are they?

On target? Jessica Chastain in controversial hopeful 'Zero Dark Thirty' (Credit: Rex)
Best Picture

The frontrunner: It’s a tough field this year and the slight favourite, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’, is jostling with three other serious contenders. First up is ‘Les Miserables’, which earned kudos from critics for eschewing lip-synching. Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’ isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as a technical feat it’s definitely gong-worthy. Then we come to Bin Laden assassination epic ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. It’s an intense and technically flawless drama, but will the similarity to Kathryn Bigelow’s first Oscar winner ‘The Hurt Locker’, as well as a mildly controversial torture scene, dent its chances?

The dark horse:Django Unchained’? ‘Silver Linings Playbook’? No… how about ‘Avengers Assemble’? Surprisingly for a spandex-fest, it not only made a river of cash in 2012, but earned rave reviews from critics. Remember, ten films can receive a Best Picture nod, so a nomination at least could be worth a flutter.

Convincing... Day-Lewis' unrecognisable as Abraham Lincoln (Credit: Rex)
Best Actor

The frontrunner: Daniel Day-Lewis is no stranger to acceptance speeches, and chances are he’s already got one planned for the night. He’s a heavy favourite for playing doomed president Abraham Lincoln and of course he’s already won two Best Actor Oscars already. Nominal competition comes in the shape of Denzel Washington, who’s emotional performance as a pilot with a drink problem in ‘Flight’ has been a bit of a sleeper – the betting odds slowly shortening. Then there’s Hugh Jackman’s surprising turn in ‘Les Miserables’. It’s definitely worth a nod - he did the tunes without lip-synching!

The dark horse: After four years away from “serious acting”, Joaquin Phoenix has had a shower and a shave and is back disturbing us again in ‘The Master’. But he’s just not that much of an underdog for us. Now, Bradley Copper? He’s more like it. Shaking off the typecasting hangover… of the ‘The Hangover’… and showing us some real understated acting chops in classy relationship drama ‘Silver Linings Playbook’.

Understated... Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in 'Silver Linings Playbook' (Credit: Rex)
Best Actress

The frontrunner: In the noisy haze of the pre-Oscar buzz it’s difficult to hear a bad word said about Jennifer Lawrence. And to be honest, why would such words exist? The 22 year-old’s performance as a young widow in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (yep, that again) was a stunner. Another star with Oscar form, she got her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for ‘Winter’s Bone’. But if we’re really talking about young talent here, then what about Quvenzhane Wallis? At just 10 years-old the ‘Beast Of The Southern Wild’ star would be the youngest winner ever, let alone youngest nominee. And, until Lawrence showed up, Quvenzhane was odds-on favourite.

The dark horse: Jessica Chastain’s turn in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ seems an obvious choice for those who want to bet against Lawrence, but enough about these spring chickens - bring on the dames. It just wouldn’t be the Oscar’s without ‘Hitchcock’s’ Helen Mirren, but we reckon a truly patriotic bet would be Judi Dench for ‘Skyfall’. After more than 17 years as Bond’s boss M, she deserves a decent leaving gift. Sadly we don’t think it’ll happen.

Ben Affleck takes charge on the set of 'Argo' (Credit: Rex)
Best Director

The frontrunner:
Best director is definitely this year’s most open category, but once again ‘Lincoln’ is just about standing out from the crowd (probably due to the hat). Steven Spielberg’s film screams ‘epic’ at the Academy, whilst tickling their patriotic gland. But there’s a stranger in our Oscar’s midst: Ben Affleck. Ten years ago if someone told you Affleck would end up an Oscar worthy director, you would have made them watch ‘Pearl Harbor’… and then punched them.  But he made ‘Gone Baby Gone’, which was impressive, and the ‘The Town’, which was really impressive - and now we have ‘Argo’. Can you see where this is going? Affleck’s trailing Spielberg slightly in the betting, but if he does win it would rank as one of the more impressive turn-arounds in recent Hollywood history.

The dark horse: Quentin Tarantino has shuffled into the reckoning after new film ‘Django Unchained’ surprisingly scooped five Golden Globe nominations. However, his delirious anti-slavery western could be too bloody for sensitive (and usually incredibly old) Oscar voters.

The 85th Academy Awards are scheduled for Sunday 24 February 2013