Steve Persall makes his Oscar picks

Published Feb. 22, 2013

Obviously there are now three certainties in life: death, taxes and Daniel Day-Lewis winning an Academy Award on Sunday for Lincoln. Any other prediction spoils your Oscar office pool perfection. Then again, any of the remaining 23 categories could do the same. The 85th annual Academy Awards (7 p.m. Sunday on ABC) contains a level of suspense that too many previous shows didn't, and all it took was leaving Ben Affleck off the best director list while every major pre-Oscar balloting went his way. The academy's snub created a domino effect of speculation: Will Affleck's Argo get enough sympathy votes to win best picture? If that happens, who wins the best director Oscar that historically goes hand-in-hand with the big prize, and other choices that often fall in line? A month ago, Lincoln appeared unstoppable, leading the pack with 12 nominations.

Anything seems possible this year. (Except for host Seth MacFarlane behaving himself on stage.) For the 20th time in this job I'm offering calculated guesses about what's inside those envelopes. I've never picked every category correctly, which should make me as hesitant as Mary Todd Lincoln going to see a play. But even being wrong is part of Oscar night's fun. Besides, I can count on Daniel Day-Lewis to keep me from being shut out entirely. Right?

My predictions:

Best Picture

Amour; Argo; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Django Unchained; Les Misérables; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Silver Linings Playbook; Zero Dark Thirty

Persall's pick: The academy is already embarrassed by leaving Ben Affleck off the best director list. Voters won't allow themselves to be the only major group not choosing Argo as the best picture of 2012.

Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour; Ang Lee, Life of Pi; David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook; Steven Spielberg, Lincoln; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Persall's pick: The academy's snub of Ben Affleck (Argo) has been ridiculed for weeks while he picked up every directing prize. Now it's a question of whether Steven Spielberg will graciously hand over the Oscar when he wins for Lincoln.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook; Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master; Denzel Washington, Flight

Persall's pick: Are you kidding? If the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., ever needs a vacation they'll just put Daniel Day-Lewis on display.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Naomi Watts, The Impossible

Persall's pick: There isn't a seasoned, overdue nominee like Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep on the list, so the academy resorts to its favorite pastime in this category: anointing a rising star. Step up, Jennifer Lawrence.

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, Argo; Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln; Robert de Niro, Silver Linings Playbook; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

Planning your weekend?

Planning your weekend?

Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter

We’ll deliver ideas every Thursday for going out, staying home or spending time outdoors.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Persall's pick: The past five winners of the Screen Actors Guild award in this category proceeded to win Oscars. Actors comprise the largest voting branch in the academy. Therefore, the logical guess in the acting competition is Tommy Lee Jones.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master; Sally Field, Lincoln; Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables; Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Persall's pick: Despite the rest of her movie and the equally tiresome hype, Anne Hathaway's single-take, sung live version of I Dreamed a Dream left me breathlessly convinced she'll win.

Original Song

Before My Time from Chasing Ice; Pi's Lullaby from Life of Pi; Suddenly from Les Misérables; Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted; Skyfall from Skyfall

Persall's pick: It wouldn't be an awards show without Adele accepting a prize. Skyfall will become the first Oscar-winning Billboard Top 10 hit since Eminem's Lose Yourself a decade ago.

Animated Feature Film

Frankenweenie; The Pirates! Band of Misfits; Wreck-It Ralph; ParaNorman; Brave

Persall's pick: Anything but the boring Brave. I'll guessing Tim Burton (Frankenweenie) finally wins an Oscar, for expanding the short film that got him fired from Disney nearly 30 years ago.

Foreign Language Film

Amour (Austria); A Royal Affair (Denmark); Kon-Tiki (Norway); No (Chile); War Witch (Canada)

Persall's pick: Along with best actor this is the easiest category to mark on your Oscar ballot. Amour is a somber masterpiece, and four other nominations in major categories confirms the academy's admiration.

Original Screenplay

Amour; Django Unchained; Flight; Moonrise Kingdom; Zero Dark Thirty

Persall's pick: Best picture nominees are always favored in the category. However, Zero Dark Thirty's narrative is hotly contested and foreign language films won only twice in the past half-century. By process of elimination that leaves Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) claiming his second Oscar.

Adapted Screenplay

Argo; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Silver Linings Playbook

Persall's pick: Chris Terrio (Argo) blended material from both a book and magazine article into a seamless narrative, part political thriller, part Hollywood satire.


Anna Karenina; Django Unchained; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Skyfall

Persall's pick: Claudio Miranda's camera work in Life of Pi revitalized an increasingly tiresome 3-D gimmick, much as last year's winner Hugo did, and Avatar before that.

Costume Design

Anna Karenina; Les Misérables; Lincoln; Mirror Mirror; Snow White and the Huntsman

Persall's pick: The ravishing fashions of Anna Karenina are closer to 1950s couture than 19th century Russian aristocracy but anachronistic chic should pay off with an Oscar.

Documentary Feature

5 Broken Cameras; The Gatekeepers; How to Survive a Plague; The Invisible War; Searching for Sugar Man

Persall's pick: Searching for Sugar Man, exploring the fate of a 1970s folk musician from Detroit, forgotten by nearly everyone except two South African fans.

Documentary Short

Inocente; Kings Point; Mondays at Racine; Open Heart; Redemption

Persall's pick: Always a difficult category but solely on a personal whim I'll guess Open Heart, following Rwandan children on a journey to receive life-saving heart treatments.

Film Editing

Argo; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Silver Linings Playbook; Zero Dark Thirty

Persall's pick: Argo, since William Goldenberg essentially melded two genres set in three worlds (Tehran, Hollywood and Washington, D.C.) into a singular popcorn flick.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Hitchcock; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Les Misérables

Persall's pick: No movie contained as much hair to design or makeup to apply than The Hobbit. Also, one of the movie's nominees is named Peter Swords King, which just seems right for a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy.

Original Score

Anna Karenina; Argo; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Skyfall

Persall's pick: Only one nominee doesn't have a distinctly "been there, heard that" quality: Mychael Danna's spiritual, mystical score for Life of Pi.

Production Design

Anna Karenina; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Les Misérables; Life of Pi; Lincoln

Persall's pick: Personally, I'd vote for Anna Karenina's ingenious use of a music box theater conveying the same 19th century scope as Les Misérables, the movie academy members will be compelled to reward.

Animated Short

Adam and Dog; Fresh Guacamole; Head Over Heels; Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"; Paperman

Persall's pick: Paperman, a Disney production packing more romance into seven minutes than most feature-length films. The envelope should be folded into a paper airplane in its honor.

Live Action Short

Asad; Buzkashi Boys; Curfew; Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw); Henry

Persall's pick: Henry is thematically similar to Amour, which the academy clearly admires. Death of a Shadow is the most cinematically ambitious nominee with its steampunk design and trippy sci-fi romance. But Curfew is the lone English-language nominee, which should give it enough advantage with voters to clinch the Oscar.

Sound Editing

Argo; Django Unchained; Life of Pi; Skyfall; Zero Dark Thirty

AND . . .

Sound Mixing

Argo; Les Misérables; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Skyfall

Persall's picks: Quick rules of thumb for predicting sound-related Oscars: "Editing" means integrating sound effects, and the award is typically won by loud action flicks. "Mixing" is the layering of those effects plus voices, music, etc., and that award often goes to movies with an abundance of melody, especially musicals. Therefore, we'll go with Skyfall's bombast in the sound editing category and Les Misérables' lack of lip-synched singing in the mixing competition.

Visual Effects

The Avengers; The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; Life of Pi; Prometheus; Snow White and the Huntsman

Persall's pick: For all the superheroes, sci-fi and fairy tales on screen in 2012, nothing surpassed Life of Pi's 3-D wonders and wildlife reproductions, especially that wondrously computer-generated Bengal tiger.