If the Bafta awards are anything to go by, next weekend’s Oscar ceremony could be a very unhappy occasion for Steven Spielberg. Until the recent Bafta results, Spielberg’s Lincoln, the story of the American president abolishing slavery in the USA, was frontrunner for three of the top Academy Awards — best picture, best director and best actor, Daniel Day-Lewis. But now, worst-case scenario, it could end up with just the best actor prize.
Ben Affleck’s Argo came from behind to pip Lincoln for best picture and best director at the British Academy. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee Oscars, of course, but since many Bafta voters are also members of the American Academy, Argo, telling of the ingenious rescue of six American hostages in Iran in the late 1970s, seems to have the momentum.
Affleck himself won’t win in Hollywood — he hasn’t been nominated. But Spielberg wasn’t nominated by Bafta either. It’s bizarre. How can a film be thought one of the best while the most important person responsible, the director, isn’t reckoned up to much? But Argo could now be the popular favourite for best picture.
I still think both Lincoln and Spielberg will win, though, because Lincoln is more serious than Argo — Oscar likes serious — and concerns an iconic figure and an important part of American history. Besides, it’s the better of two very good films.
Meanwhile, best actor is surely a foregone conclusion — Day-Lewis, for his towering performance as Lincoln. His closest rival is probably Joaquin Phoenix, playing a religious guru’s disciple in The Master. But Phoenix has expressed some contempt for Oscar and the voters tend to resent stuff like that.
Best actress is interesting. The 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, who portrays a woman slipping into dementia in the French film Amour, could well repeat her Bafta victory. But Jennifer Lawrence of Silver Linings Playbook, the much-admired — though not particularly by me — story of the relationship between two variously disturbed people, and Jessica Chastain, who leads the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, are strong contenders. Chastain deserves it most.
Best supporting actor? Maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman, a Hollywood favourite, for The Master but Christoph Waltz is way better than all his rivals as a bounty hunter in Quentin Tarantino’s slavery-related western Django Unchained and should win.
As for best supporting actress, if Oscar follows Bafta it will be Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables, but if American flag-waving sways the voters it will go to Sally Field for Lincoln.
So there you are. Oscar night could be a triumph for Spielberg and Lincoln or a minor disaster. I suspect the former but when discussing awards and the movie business, it’s always wise to remember what William Goldman said: “Nobody knows anything.”
Coverage of the 2013 Oscars ceremony is live On Sky Movies Oscars from 11:30pm on Sunday 24 February